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The Paris Climate Talks Get Off to an Energetic Start

But they have a huge hill to climb to success. Here's our scorecard of the conference.

Pascal Le Segretain / Getty

The Paris climate talks (COP21), which began today, represent a critical moment for the world, on an issue that normally doesn’t see much progress. But there are a lot of reasons this year’s conference could be different. It’s why we’re putting together this newsletter for the next two weeks, to tell you what looks like progress and what looks like more delay and inaction on rising greenhouse gas emissions.

As part of our ongoing coverage of COP21, we’ll have a scorecard on daily developments, based on the keys for success outlined in our December climate change issue:

Progress Report   November 30, 2015

Commit to cut carbon emissions significantly by 2030.

European leaders and island nations have insisted on a binding treaty to cut carbon. Just as the talks began, however, France backed off a little, a sign the deal may be moving in the direction the U.S. wants, with its ambassador saying the deal “will probably have a dual nature. Some of the clauses will be legally binding.”

Establish reporting and transparency requirements.

On Monday, nearly 40 governments and hundreds of corporations called for an end to fossil fuel subsidies. It’s impossible to reach a transparent agreement if countries continue to distort the price of fossil fuels by subsidizing their cost. The president of New Zealand named fossil fuel subsidies “the missing piece of the climate change puzzle.”

Create a payment system to finance climate adaptation.

Australia announced nearly $1 billion in climate finance on Monday. And the public and private sectors are jumping in as well, with two major announcements to propel clean energy funds from Bill Gates and the White House. But the world is still falling short of its goal to reach $100 billion in annual climate funds by 2020.

Put past disagreements aside.

Developing nations like India think developed ones should do their part. The president of Turkey, for instance, said “responsibility should be assumed by developed countries.” Obama admitted America should “embrace our responsibility to do something about it” as the world’s largest economy and second-largest emitter. But developed nations also can’t tackle the issue alone. Both China and India are now top emitters in their own right, and in one show of unity, China and the U.S. issued a joint statement on the opening of COP21.

Agree to return to the negotiating table regularly.

The U.S.’s major push is to establish a five-year review mechanism to set progressively more ambitious targets. A major sign of progress was when China endorsed the idea in a bilateral agreement with France shortly before the start of the talks.

Rethink the 2-degree target.

Right now, the Paris commitment would limit the world only to about 3.5 degrees Celsius of warming above pre-industrial averages, assuming countries meet their pledges. It’s still too high, but a new MIT-Climate Interactive analysis suggests a lower target is still within reach if countries outdo their own expectations by ratcheting up current pledges before 2030.

There’s a lot of work to be done to bridge traditional divides and indifference over addressing climate change, but—for once—there are some signs of overcoming them. On Sunday, more than 700,000 people worldwide took part in climate marches, after the movement faced a setback when the main Paris march was canceled due to security concerns. President Barack Obama was among the 150 world leaders who showed up on the first day of the talks, and he framed a successful climate agreement as an “act of defiance” against the terrorists who struck Paris in November.

Here’s a roundup of the biggest news from around the conference:

  • Obama brought a message of hope in his speech Monday. (New Republic)
  • Jonathan M. Katz, reporting from the conference, says most world leaders appear to be taking the threat of climate change seriously. (New Republic)
  • A new poll shows that two-thirds of Americans support the U.S. joining a binding climate change agreement. (New York Times)
  • But diplomats and CEOs no longer entertain the notion that an agreement inked by the club of the world’s largest emitters will ever be enough. (New Republic)
  • Low-lying islands are preparing for the worst. Kiribati’s president says his home will become uninhabitable, and Fiji has stepped in to accommodate the Kiribati people. (The Guardian)
  • In Beijing, dense smog, thick enough to obscure entire buildings, caused the government to issue its highest air pollution alert this year. Residents were advised to stay indoors. (New Republic)
  • Bill Gates thinks the world isn’t funding enough clean energy R&D, so he’s stepping in with his own multi-billion-dollar fund. (New Republic)
  • Wondering how much carbon will be emitted by all the diplomats, world leaders, and journalists flying to Paris? About 22 seconds of carbon dioxide to the global yearly total. (Wired)
  • Tomorrow, the House Science committee is holding a hearing to discuss the “pitfalls of unilateral negotiations” at Paris, and Republicans are sure to air their many grievances. (
  • New climate emojis for Paris-related hashtags. (Twitter)