CJ Carter, left, and two other delegates from the Youth Arctic Coalition are attending the Paris climate talks in partnership with PBI.

12/8/2015 9:57:27 PM

Focus on the Arctic at COP21

By CJ Carter 

PBI has partnered with the Youth Arctic Coalition and TakingITGlobal to send a delegation to the COP21 climate talks in Paris. This is the second in a series of four blog posts from the talks.

For sea ice and the northern wildlife and peoples that depend on it, the decisions reached at the climate talks in Paris will define the future of the polar environment. The focus this week is to complete a legally binding agreement that will help nations:

  • Reduce emissions
  • Adapt to a changing climate
  • Deal with issues beyond adaptation—especially in vulnerable regions

Considering the grind of 16-hour days, conference schedule chaos, and navigating the Paris metro system, it's important to stop and place the Arctic region within this circus. In a broad sense, these talks are entirely about the Arctic and the future of northern peoples and the polar bears we support. We know the Arctic is warming—at twice the global average in fact. Sea ice habitat for bears and seals is threatened; for indigenous people, hunting and living on the land are becoming more risky and difficult to pass on to the next generation.

With the first week behind us, a second week of negotiations week awaits with the majority of hard negotiating to come.

It's very easy to get lost in the complexity and jargon here at COP21. So, in the spirit of the Arctic I would like to share two parts of the Paris text that we as delegates of Polar Bears International and the Youth Arctic Coalition are tuned into here on the ground:

1. Global Temperature Targets

The main point up for negotiation here is to keep global temperatures from warming to 1.5 degrees or well below 2 degrees Celsius from the time before industrialization. For Arctic sea ice, polar bears, and the rest of the world impacted by climate change, there is a major difference here. A 1.5 rise is the most responsible and ambitious choice—and clearly best for polar bears and the Arctic ecosystem. 

What to Watch: Article 2 on Purpose, Article 4 on Adaptation, Article 17 on National Emissions Targets.

2. Human and Indigenous Rights

These climate talks have shifted away from pure scientific modeling to the human consequences and rights related to impact and adaptation. This is thanks to the work of Inuk advocate and Nobel Prize nominee Sheila Watt-Cloutier and others who have helped us recognize that climate change is a core human justice issue—most notably for the Inuit who are "sentinels of a changing climate."  

Having language here that addresses these separate rights (Declaration of Human Rights and Rights of Indigenous Peoples) in the individual articles, rather than in a preamble, offers much more legal weight.

What to Watch: Article 2 on Purpose and Article 4 on Adaptation 

Every morning a new draft text is released. We read this carefully with the Arctic in mind. As the final week of COP21 begins, the Paris decision text sits at 38 pages with much work to do. This will be an exciting week for us, but a critical one for the Arctic. Veterans say the negotiations, often lasting far into the night, is where "fun goes to die." But, given what's at stake you have to stay sharp, press difficult questions, and help folks stay tuned into the Arctic. Now for that espresso.

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