After attending the London Climate March yesterday, it was good to hear this morning that the UK prime minister is seeking legally binding emissions targets at the Paris conference, along with help for poorer countries.

I was lucky enough to be at the front of the London Climate March, leading the way and leading the chants, along with around 50,000 other climate change campaigners in London, who were all demanding a strong global deal on climate action at the Paris conference, which opened today. 785,000 people marched worldwide – a record number overall and a record-breaking number in 20 of the cities that took part.

The People's March for Climate, Justice and Jobs – London. 29/11/15.
London, UK. 29/11/15. Tens of thousands march through central London ahead of the Paris Climate Conference. (© Rob Pinney / Avaaz)

COP21, as the conference is known, is seen as a make-or-break conference. The last chance for the two-decades-old UN process to bring nations together to tackle what many scientists regard as the biggest single threat to humanity. Nearly 150 heads of state and government officials from  countries around the world will attend the two-week talks, which are seen as crucial if we are to stand any chance of controlling greenhouse gas emissions before it’s too late.

Countries are aiming to agree on financial support to help poor nations to cut emissions and cope with the effects of extreme weather. They also hope to set targets on limiting global emissions that would come into effect from 2020, when current commitments run out.

Legal Framework

Nobody really believes that a plan will be put in place that will lead to a world of zero emissions or one that will limit global warming to within the so-called danger level of 2C. As such, whatever happens, many will condemn the process as a failure. What is really important though, is that leaders agree a robust legal framework that will ensure that targets are improved upon on a stepped basis, as technology develops.

As the UN General Secretary pointed out in his opening speech today, the agreement must be lasting and must not need continually renegotiating. It must be a credible starting point, with a mechanism that includes five year review cycles at the very least. Crucially though, it must balance responsibilities of developed and developing countries.

The UK’s Climate Change Act is a strong domestic framework to deal with emissions and we need to see a similarly robust system at the international level.

Climate Aid

Developed countries must also keep their promise of delivering $100bn of climate aid per year to poorer countries by 2020. Ban Ki-moon has correctly called for the climate deal to include a framework for monitoring those financial flows. This money will go to helping countries adapt and strengthen their infrastructure to cope with the effects of extreme weather.

Will the climate negotiations succeed?

Elements of an agreement are slowly falling into place. Almost every country in the world, including all the biggest economies, have submitted their individual plans on how they will reduce emissions from 2020 onwards, when current comitments expire. The US and China, the two biggest emitters, made a joint announcement on their emissions, for the first time, in a marked show of unity.

They must do better than the last big summit in Copenhagen in 2009 when all that was achieved was a “political declaration”. Whilst major developed and developing countries jointly agreed emissions targets for the first time, it fell short of the formal treaty that many had hoped for.

Many things are expected to be different this time. At Copenhagen, the text of a potential deal was too unwieldy to produce a formal treaty. Whereas the text for Paris has been slimmed down to just over 20 pages, which will hopefully make it possible to get it signed off in the two weeks of the talks.

Most of the world’s biggest economies have now publicly declared they want a deal. However, at the UN talks, small and desperately poor countries have just as much say as the richest. They may not be so happy to oblige if they don’t feel they are getting fair treatment. It’s all to play for. For now, all we can do is hope.

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