For two weeks at the end of this month, world leaders through the United Nations will meet in Paris for talks to decide what each country should do to help solve the global climate crisis. After negotiating for more than two decades, this year is critical for the world to get to a strong agreement to curb greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in a fair and effective way that every nation in the world agrees to. No pressure, right?
Here’s what you need to know before the climate talks start.
1. Don’t let diplomacy scare you
The climate talks deal with complex issues, and common terminology can be a good starting point for the leaders of every nation to begin to reach common ground. But try to say “Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action” without falling asleep mid-sentence. Yeah, I didn’t think so. As most diplomatic proceedings go, the climate talks are filled with ten-word acronyms that make the process and outcomes hard to understand and inaccessible to the casual observer.
Forget all of the jargon. The climate talks can really be distilled to three basic issues that can be understood using a dairy cow as an analogy for solving climate change. Go with me here.
Three farmers share one dairy cow. Farmer A is wealthy enough to buy a cow and has enjoyed the bounty of milk from the cow for many years. Farmer B has been saving money for many years and finally has enough to buy into the cow and is usually able to get milk whenever she needs it. Farmer C is not able to share the cost of the cow, but can buy a few pints of milk for himself each week. Unfortunately, the bucket that the farmers use to milk the cow each day has a hole in it and milk has been slowly leaking. The farmers realized that not only are they losing milk, but the hole in the bucket is getting bigger and they have no plan to fix it.
The farmers — with differing responsibilities and capabilities — must decide: Who fixes the leaky bucket? Who pays for the spilled milk?
And: How do the farmers cope without having milk?
In much the same way, climate change negotiators from 190 countries must determine the amount of GHG emissions each country must reduce to mitigate future climate change; who pays to ensure that countries are equipped to adapt to the impacts of climate change happening right now; and how do the countries and populations most vulnerable to climate change receive compensation for the loss and damage to which they cannot adapt?
2. Local action matters
Even though the climate negotiations only happen once a year and seems to be reserved for ancient-looking diplomats in stuffy suits, everyday Hoosiers actually can play a very important, although indirect, role in what happens at the climate talks.
Earlier this year, the U.S. pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. In order to meet this target, it will take every current domestic environmental regulation to go through as planned. This includes emissions reductions through the Clean Power Plan for coal-fired power generation, standards for heavy-duty engines and vehicles, energy efficiency standards, and a whole lot of other things the federal government has yet to rollout.
Communities across Indiana are already coming together across the state to push even harder to make state and federal plans work and to build resilient and thriving economies. Every little bit counts when it comes to the U.S. delivering on its commitment to cut GHG emissions by 26-28 percent.
3. Don’t care about climate change? You should still support a strong climate deal in Paris.
Even if you’re not freaking out about the fact that 2015 is on track to passing 2014 as the hottest year on earth, there are many reasons to still care about seeing world leaders create a new climate agreement. Solving climate change is really about helping people live better lives and prepare for coming challenges in all areas of society — food, energy, education, health and wellbeing, human rights and the economy. Even if you set aside the environmental benefits, aren’t all of those other things still worth improving?