Photo: Your questions about the UN climate conference answered

(Credit: Steve Kux)

By Ian Bruce, Science and Policy Director and Steve Kux, Climate Change and Clean Energy Communications and Research Specialist

The goal of the UN negotiations in Paris is to agree on ways countries can co-operate to fight climate change. Some of the major issues being discussed are human rights, the role of indigenous knowledge in evaluating affects, how rich countries can assist poorer countries, accelerating clean energy and what threshold should be considered the limit of allowable temperature rise (1.5 C or 2 C) to keep communities safe.

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Here are answers to some of the questions you asked:

1. How will emissions from agriculture and animal farming factor into the negotiations?

While emissions from raising animals for food is clearly an important part of the problem, global negotiations focus on general issues and leave details up to specific countries.

In Canada, livestock farming is responsible for between 10 and 19 per cent of our total emissions and Canadians on average eat twice as much meat as the rest of the world. By enjoying meatless meals a few times a week and advocating for policies that measure livestock emissions in climate change regulations, we can begin to address this problem at home.

2. Carbon emissions are bad for the environment and human health. When will governments stop providing subsidies to the most polluting industries?

Ending fossil-fuel subsidies would go a long way to helping the world transition to renewable energy, eliminate wasteful energy consumption — even restore a country's finances.

Past and present Canadian governments have committed to eliminate these subsidies, but action has been slow. Our federal government promised new emissions reduction targets within 90 days following the Paris Agreement. The David Suzuki Foundation will work hard to push for ambitious goals that include ending fossil-fuel subsidies, but the more support we have from people like you, the louder our voice will be.

3. Are leaders considering public education programs to curb energy waste and over-consumption?

Public education is critical to addressing climate change, especially teaching people how to reduce energy use. Governments also need to pass laws requiring buildings, vehicles and consumer products to use less energy.

Making better use of the energy we already produce, along with cutting emissions overall will be an important part of the climate action strategies developed by many countries after the conference negotiations end. And financial commitments from developed countries like Canada will help developing countries use energy as efficiently as possible.

4. How much influence do big, carbon-polluting corporations have on the UN climate negotiations?

It's impossible to say what forces influence the priorities of different nations, but business interests are present at the climate conference and considering their perspective is important. Major corporations can have a positive impact on climate action.

During the first week of the conference, some the world's wealthiest people — including Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Richard Branson — came together to form the Breakthrough Energy Coalition to invest in renewable energy, energy storage and agricultural technologies to cut carbon emissions. And several major energy companies have called for an ambitious international agreement that will allow them to reduce their own emissions while remaining competitive globally.

But we still need to push when entrenched interests get in the way of action.

5. How can 196 countries with different interests reach a common agreement? What's the process?

As tempting as it is to think of 196 prime ministers and presidents locked in a room together, the process is slightly different.

Each country is represented at the climate negotiations by ministers (like Canada's minister of environment and climate change) and several professional negotiators working in favour of their nation's interests. They spend long hours together working on the text, debating the wording of each sentence over and over again until an agreement is reached and the document shrinks from nearly 100 pages to something more manageable.

Groups like the David Suzuki Foundation meet with representatives from the various countries and make recommendations about what text should remain in the agreement and what can be removed.

The last conference days are crunch time and we hope an agreement will be reached soon. We've made a lot of progress so far and, although the Paris summit is important, it's just the beginning. The real work starts when officials get back to Canada.

It's great to see so many people interested in the process. Thanks for your questions!

December 9, 2015

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