Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has indicated to the French government that he will be attending the opening of the UN Climate Change Conference 2015 to be held in Paris on November 30. A small but high-level delegation is gearing up to go to Paris because the event will see many world leaders in attendance, including Barack Obama, Xi Jinping, David Cameron and Narendra Modi, who have already confirmed their attendance at the summit. The objective of COP21, as the summit is being called, is to unite all the world’s nations in a single agreement on curbing climate change.

The French government has wisely decided to invite the heads of state to attend the first day of the conference to avoid what happened during the Copenhagen Summit with some heads of state forced into making backroom deals in a desperate attempt to prevent the summit from collapsing during its last few hours. This time, the idea is to provide a “political impetus at the beginning” of the conference. For the past few months, the French government has undertaken a global diplomatic effort to prepare the ground for the crucial talks and ensure that they are a success. In Pakistan, the French embassy has organised a number of events on the upcoming COP21.

Recently, the embassy hosted the Deputy Special Representative to the Paris Climate Conference, Ambassador Phillipe Lacoste. He was invited by the Centre for Climate Research and Development at COMSATS University for an interactive session with academics. Ambassador Lacoste spoke about the objectives of COP21, which would hopefully result in a “legally binding instrument that would limit the increase of temperature to two degrees Celsius”. If nothing is done about climate change and it remains “business as usual”, we are heading towards a temperature rise of anywhere between four to six degrees Celsius which would be disastrous for the human race.

In Paris, the governments of more than 190 nations will spend two weeks thrashing out a new global agreement. The current commitments

on greenhouse gas emissions run out in 2020, so governments are expected to produce an agreement on what happens for the decade after that and potentially beyond. Ambassador Lacoste hoped that the Paris conference would ensure an open and transparent process, admitting that “it will be difficult for 195 parties to reach a consensus”. It will be up to the ministers to make political decisions in the end.

There have been several negotiations held already to prepare the text of the agreement for Paris and according to Ambassador Lacoste, the draft text is now a “20-page document; it is not a negotiating text, just a compilation with options”. Through this structure, it is hoped that a legally binding instrument will emerge by the end of the conference that will enter into operation in 2020 and last until 2030 and beyond.

So far, 156 countries have submitted voluntary Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) on what they are planning to do to cut carbon emissions domestically. Pakistan finally submitted its INDCs document recently. These contributions, some conditional (depending on financial aid), others unconditional, have been aggregated together but many think tanks are saying that these are not enough to meet the two degrees goal. However, according to Ambassador Lacoste, “from five or six degrees of warming, we have come down to 2.7 or three degrees”, which is a positive start and shows that national contributions are an important component of a possible agreement.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 23rd,  2015.

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