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What the COP? - All You Need to Know About the Paris Climate Summit

12/11/2015 10:50 GMT | Updated 11/11/2016 10:12 GMT

It seems poetically fitting that Paris, named the 'city of lights,' in part, for its birthing of the age of enlightenment, will, in a few weeks, be the host for the most important climate change summit the world has ever seen. Hopefully these negotiations will similarly usher in an age of new thinking, one which shifts the current state of play in how we relate to our planetary home.

First things first, we need to get our heads around some of the jargon and acronyms that the UN is particularly fond of and unpack what is actually going to go down.

It starts with the UNFCCC. That's the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which in a nutshell is an international environmental treaty. It was adopted at what has been donned the 'Earth Summit' in Rio back in 1992 and outlines an action plan to avoid "dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system" AKA man-made global warming. Every year since then a Conference of the Parties (or COP) has been held. This is the annual gathering of the over 190 UN member countries in order to discuss progress in relation to climate change and review the implementation of the treaty.

The 21st of these COPs, COP21, which looms on the horizon is to be held in Paris and in terms of negotiations, stands to be the most important summit on climate change to date. What makes this COP different is that it will produce a climate agreement that will cover all countries, big and small, rich and poor.

Countries have agreed to limit global temperature rise by two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. That is the point at which scientists says we will reach dangerous levels of climate change. Two degrees may not seem like much but to put it in context, the climate change impacts we're already seeing now are at just 0.85 degrees Celsius increase. A two degree world will not be a nice place and we're heading there fast unless we see action in Paris.

Because it's such a big deal all kinds of people have been doing their bit to send a message to the politicians in Paris. From a group of cyclists making a journey across 70 days spanning from Mozambique to Kenya to Christian Aid supporters walking from London to Paris over the next couple of weeks. With the decisions impacting every one of us, people want to ensure their voices are heard- letting leaders know that we care, and we're watching.

What is clear is that the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) - the targets nations have set to reduce their emissions - are likely to not be enough to limit this two degree rise alone. With that, there is an understanding that our future is not purely resting on the shoulders of our leaders. While their positive governance is paramount, they are only representatives of the masses. There is an onus on businesses, cities and localised governments to do more, and of course, the general public too. We all need to participate and to put our stake in the ground for our future. With that, as Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC says, "We look forward to Paris- the city of lights and the city of love for our shared future and shared environment."