150 heads of government are gathering in Paris today for the start of a groundbreaking climate summit hosted by the United Nations. Over the next twelve days, they'll work to come up with a comprehensive plan to lower global greenhouse gas emissions and combat human-caused climate change. You'll likely hear a lot of talk about the Paris Climate Summit in the coming weeks — here are a few reasons you should pay attention:
1. It's inciting worldwide activism
More than 2,300 climate marches were held over the weekend in anticipation of the Summit. Sunday was dubbed the "the biggest day of climate action the planet has ever seen," and 175 countries — from Fiji to Finland — gathered in some sort of environmental activism.
2. It's making a mark on Paris
Though climate marches in Paris were banned due to security concerns following this month's terrorist attacks, Parisians are still finding ways to show their solidarity with the cause. More than 10,000 pairs of shoes (including those of Pope Francis) were placed on the Place de la Republique yesterday to replace the marchers who would have filled the busy Square. On the other side of the city, 500 faces were projected onto France’s National Assembly building to send the message that climate change effects everyone. The Eiffel Tower is also sporting a green makeover: The iconic landmark will sprout into a "virtual forest" over the next few weeks.
3. It's happening in the wake of the hottest year on record
2015 is expected to overtake 2014 as the hottest year on record. As of October 2015, the earth had warmed by 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880. Though it may not sound like a lot, this increase has fueled extreme weather events and increased the risk of hunger and communicable disease, contributing to the deaths of an estimated 400,000 people a year — most of whom live in developing countries.
It's becoming harder and harder to deny that human activity contributes to climate change. 76 percent of Americans now reportedly believe that human-spurred climate change is happening, and 66 percent agree the U.S. should join a binding international agreement to cut down on emissions that add to the greenhouse effect — a process in which chemicals like CO2 and methane gather in the atmosphere to trap heat on the earth's surface. In his opening remarks at the Paris Summit, Obama spoke of the role the talks will play in determining our global future.
"That's what we seek in these next two weeks — not simply an agreement to roll back the pollution we put into the skies, but an agreement that helps us lift people from poverty without condemning the next generation to a planet that is beyond its capacity to repair," the President said. "This is the moment we finally decide to save our planet."
4. It's a new way to approach climate goals
Unlike previous global climate talks that have proposed sweeping emissions targets, the Paris Summit is calling upon countries to create their own individual plans to combat climate change. Nearly 200 countries are expected to submit their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, or INDCs. The Summit's leaders will review the hundreds of INDC targets and collaborate on how to enforce and fund them on a global scale.
5. Its pledges are promising
Most of the participating countries have already released their pledges, and these submitted INDCs account for nearly 95% of emitting landmass worldwide. The four largest emitters — China, USA, Russia and India — have all pledged to cut greenhouse gases by at least 20% before 2030. Earlier this year, the US enacted a Clean Power Plan that sets strict limits on carbon emissions from coal power plants and China adapted a cap-and-trade energy system that gives companies financial incentives to cut down on pollution.
6. It's bringing in some major investments
Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Branson and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos are just a few of the 27 philanthropists who have signed onto Bill Gates' clean energy coalition. The Microsoft founder's "Breakthrough Energy Coalition" fund is expected to invest billions of dollars in the research and development of clean energy sources following the Paris Summit.
7. It could change your daily routine
Though its exact outcome won't be known for another couple of weeks, it's safe to say that the Paris Climate Summit will leave a palpable mark on the world. Prepare to see a lot more solar panels, a lot fewer coal-fired power plants and a much keener global awareness of how people's consumption habits ultimately impact our shared environment.
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