You might have heard global warming is a thing. So have world leaders. They're getting together to agree on a plan to do something about it. This meeting is a very long time coming.
WHAT'S GOING ON?
This month, reps from almost 200 countries are huddling in Paris for the UN's Climate Change Conference. Yup, Paris. In the wake of the Nov. 13th terrorist attacks in the city that left 130 people dead, world leaders decided to move forward with the summit, along with LOTS of extra security.
WHAT'S THE GOAL HERE?
For everyone to sign off on a global climate change pact that would cut greenhouse gas emissions (hint: your car, some power plants), and slow the rise in global temps.
GIMME SOME BACKGROUND.
Global climate change talks have been going on for literally decades. But until now, the US has mostly been on the sidelines. Back in the '90s, a climate deal called the Kyoto protocol was written and eventually agreed to by almost 200 countries. It set up legally binding emissions goals for developed countries the first time. Then-US Vice Prez Al Gore gave it two big green thumbs up. But Congress -- annoyed that it didn't include developing countries like China, and worried about how it could affect the US economy -- said 'ummm, no thanks.' Without support from the US, one of the world's gasiest countries, global climate change talks basically stalled.
SO WHAT'S HAPPENED SINCE?
For decades, people in the US and around the world have been debating whether global warming is real, and whether human activity has anything to do with it. Recently, many in the US have shifted into the 'yup, it's real' camp. After making climate change a huge part of his presidential campaign, President Obama met with leaders of the world's other major polluters (think: China, India) in '09 at a conference in Copenhagen; they agreed to cut their emissions for the first time but no legally binding agreement was ever officially inked. Womp.
SO WHERE ARE WE NOW?
Paris. Lots of heads of state will be there, including Obama, Chinese President Xi Jinping, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Indian PM Narendra Modi. For the first time ever, they're all expected to agree to a real, live climate deal. There are just a few details to work out.
Mainly, cash money. Developing nations (like China and India) think investing in clean technology and new Earth-friendly infrastructure sound great. But they're not feeling super kumbaya about having to pay for it. Especially since developed countries (like the US, Germany, Japan) were able to pollute for years while building their economies, without worrying about the consequences. Developed countries have agreed they should help foot some of the climate change bill.
WHAT DO PEOPLE THINK?
Pope Francis is saying 'amen': this year he officially said humans are to blame for global warming, marking a huge attitude shift for the Catholic Church. GOP lawmakers are saying 'hey, hey, hey what is going on here?' and want to give the final sign-off to whatever Obama promises in Paris. Democratic presidential candidates say global warming is a huge problem, and are backing Obama's plans to do a deal. Many GOP candidates think climate change is a thing, but aren't sure how to deal with it. Other GOP candidates aren't sure human activity is a factor at all. And others don't think global warming is real. So yup, this deal will be an election issue.
UN scientists estimate that in recent years, hundreds of thousands of people have died in extreme weather events related to global warming. And the UN says that number is set to go up the worse climate change gets. Bottom line: now is a good time to get the world on the same page, and get a deal done.