1. Why are the talks important?
The talks are about agreeing a plan to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, such as more severe droughts, floods and storms. In practice, that means getting us on track to keep global warming below 2°C – this is the agreed threshold that we must not let the planet's warming exceed if we are to avoid catastrophic effects of climate change. Scientists have warned large parts of Kenya's coast, including Mombasa City, could be submerged by rising Indian Ocean this century if this is not checked. Unusual droughts and floods in many places are expected to worsen in coming years.
2. So what should be done? Cut our carbon emissions - as fast as possible, halting deforestation and reducing the use of fossil fuels.
3. What do we hope to come out of the Paris talks?
An internationally legally binding treaty. Not a declaration or other empty promises, but something that legally binds nations and holds them to their commitment.
That's where Intended Nationally Determined Contributions – or INDCs – come in. These are the pledges that countries have made towards emissions reductions in advance of the talks.
However, these aren't legal commitments – they are more like indications of intentions for the 155 countries, including Kenya, that have submitted them. But one of the aims of COP is to try and get parties to agree a level of legal "bindingness" at Paris. In the INDCs, countries explain how they will reduce carbon emissions by changing their transportation, energy, agriculture, forestry, and housing sectors so they emit less carbon dioxide.
4. Surely it all depends on the political will of states, right?
Absolutely. But the political landscape is looking a lot more promising than it has at previous meetings.
5. Why are the talks called COP21? This is because they’re the 21st meeting of the Conference of Parties—nations that make up the UN Framework on Climate Change, an international treaty which acknowledges that climate change is real and aims to stabilise it.
Source: GreenPeace and UNFCC