Megan Hall: Welcome to Possibly, where we take on huge problems like the future of our planet and break them down into small questions with unexpected answers. I’m Megan Hall. 

Today, we’re talking about the world’s largest annual climate conference. It’s coming up soon, so Meg Talikoff and Juliana Merullo are here to give us a preview. Hi guys!

Meg Talikoff: Hi!

Juliana Merullo: Hey, Megan. 

Megan Hall: Let’s start with the basics. What’s this conference called, and when’s it happening? 

Juliana Merullo: It’s called the Conference of the Parties, abbreviated as “COP.” It’s organized by the UN and it’ll be held in Dubai in early December

Megan Hall: Why is it called a conference of “parties’?

Meg Talikoff: The “parties” are just delegations from a big group of countries who get together every year to try and do something about climate change. 

Juliana Merullo: The conference started in 1995, and they’re still at it 28 years later. 

Megan Hall: So COP has happened 27 times already! What has it accomplished so far?

Meg Talikoff: Well, all the international agreements about reducing emissions have come out of the conference.  

Juliana Merullo: If you’ve heard of the Paris Agreement, that was the result of the 2015 meeting.

Meg Talikoff: In the Paris Agreement, the parties made non-binding commitments to keep global warming under one and a half degrees celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.

Juliana Merullo: It’s an important goal because if we heat the planet more than that, there will be major consequences.

Megan Hall: How are we doing on that goal?

Juliana Merullo: Not well. So far, no country has agreed to make all the changes that would keep warming to 1.5 degrees. 

Meg Talikoff: But taking stock of how much progress has been made is going to be a big focus of COP this year. 

Megan Hall: So this conference is going be different in terms of how we’re monitoring our progress? 

Meg Talikoff: Yeah! Basically, scientists have written a detailed report on how much progress we’ve made towards the 1.5 degree goal over the past 8 years. 

Juliana Merullo: It’s the first time they’ve done that type of evaluation, so the delegations will have lots to discuss.  

Megan Hall: Do we have any sense of what the results are yet? 

Meg Talikoff: Yeah, we do! Unfortunately, they’re not great. 

Juliana Merullo: According the UN, even if every country in the world does their current plan to curb emissions, greenhouse gasses would still increase 16% by 2030.

Meg Talikoff: Those emissions levels correspond to temperatures rising a whole 2.7 degrees celsius by the end of the century.

Megan Hall: So, why aren’t we meeting our goals?

Meg Talikoff: On some level, it just takes time to wean ourselves off fossil fuels. For example, it’ll be a little while before we have electric car infrastructure that most people trust

Juliana Merullo: Also, experts say it’s easy for countries to say they’re cutting lots of emissions even if they aren’t. 

Megan Hall: Why’s that?

Juliana Merullo: Dr. Amanda Lynch, Chair of the Research Board at the UN World Meteorological Organization, says whether countries meet their commitments or not, it won’t be traced back to them. 

Dr. Amanda Lynch: It’s very hard to ascribe cause and effect of the macro trends, let alone did Argentina make their commitment. 

Meg Talikoff: Countries also get bogged down over who should pay for the transition away from fossil fuels. 

Megan Hall: What do you mean by that? 

Juliana Merullo: For example, China is the world’s biggest emitter, so the U.S. doesn’t want to have to pay for lowering emissions if China doesn’t.

Meg Talikoff: But the U.S. emitted the most for a long time, and China doesn’t think it’s fair to have to clean up after us.

Megan Hall: Okay, so those are the challenges. Do these big conferences ever really accomplish anything or do they just talk a lot? 

Juliana Merullo: Well, the progress is slow. But there are still concrete things happening this year. 

Meg Talikoff: Probably the biggest highlight is that the parties are going to finalize the details of a “loss and damage” fund to help countries who are already suffering from climate change. 

Juliana Merullo: And just a few days ago, President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping publicly agreed to work together to “triple renewable energy capacity by 2030.” 

Meg Talikoff: Experts say that deal will give this Conference of the Parties some momentum. 

Juliana Merullo: Also, everything is a lot better than before the Paris Agreement. It used to be that we were going to heat the planet 4.5 degrees Celsius  by the end of the century.  

Meg Talikoff: So even though we’re haven’t met our goals, we’ve already made a big difference.  

Megan Hall: That’s great to hear! Thanks for giving us a preview, guys. 

That’s it for today. For more information, or to ask a question about the way your choices affect our planet, go to the public’s radio dot org slash possibly. Or subscribe to us wherever you get your podcasts. 

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Possibly is a co-production of The Public’s Radio, Brown University’s Institute for Environment and Society, and Brown’s Climate Solutions Initiative.

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