The main point of the COP21 talks happening now in Paris, France is to hold the ever-increasing global average temperature rise to two degrees Celsius or less. It's a tall order, with very little agreement on how, exactly, it should work. For now, let's focus on some of the automotive aspects, including an appearance by Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

The headline sponsor of the Sustainable Innovation Forum happening in Paris later this week, for example, is BMW and its i brand of plug-in vehicles. The European Automobile Manufacturers' Association (ACEA) issued a carefully worded statement saying that while it was committed to, "further reducing CO2 emissions from both vehicles and production processes," but, as ACEA Secretary General Erik Jonnaert said in the statement, "It is obvious that a more 'comprehensive' approach is necessary to address all the aspects that affect emissions during the use phase of a vehicle." The ACEA's statement continues, "The need for a comprehensive approach to further reduce CO2 emissions from road transport should be reflected in the EU's implementation of the COP21 agreement." In other words, don't make COP21 all about dirty tailpipes, ok?

Musk, though, was ready to take a bigger stance. He went to Paris to talk about what it will take – or is taking, depending on your viewpoint – to move us away from the fossil fuel era. His presentation is a relaxed, professorial, spiel, full of pretty slides and a convincing message. The "essence of the problem," he said, is how much carbon we're taking from the ground and putting into the air. This is pretty obvious, and it's also pretty obvious that Musk's involvement in Tesla and SolarCity play a role here. "We are going to exit the fossil fuel era," he said. "It is inevitable." The goal, he said, is to do this as quickly as possible, which will cause the least problems. Figuring out how to increase the amount of solar in the grid is easier than dealing with underwater cities, seemed to be the gist. You can read more on Musk's hour-long talk at the Sorbonne here or watch the video above (the introduction takes up the first 3:30, if you want to skip ahead).

Also in Paris, an unprecedented number of world leaders joined together Monday to give a boost to difficult, years-long efforts to fight climate change collectively. The sweeping speeches and flurry of diplomatic meetings were just day 1 of two weeks of UN-led talks.

The 151 presidents, prime ministers, kings, princes and a chancellor meeting Monday are trying to do what governments have never done before: get all countries to agree to contribute to slow global warming. Here's a look at what happened Monday and what's next.


This year is on track to be the hottest since people started keeping track. Several recent years also broke heat records. On average, the world has already warmed more than 1 degree C since pre-industrial times, and the majority of the world's climate scientists agree that is largely due to man-made emissions of heat-trapping gases.

It's not just the temperature rising. Glaciers are melting, sea levels rising, and extreme weather events such as heat waves are happening more often. Leaders of island nations speaking Monday appealed for help from bigger countries to ensure their very long-term survival as countries.

The last global climate treaty, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, only required rich countries to reduce those carbon emissions, mainly from burning oil, gas and coal. The US, then the world's biggest emitter, didn't take part.

In 2009, governments meeting in Copenhagen tried to reach a global accord requiring commitments from rich and poor countries alike - and famously failed. Leaders speaking Monday referred to that failure and insisted they don't want to repeat it - but many of the old battle lines remain, between north and south, developed economies and still developing economies.


A big tension is over whether to continue dividing the world between rich countries and poor. The US, the European Union and other developed countries say this time all countries must chip in. Most countries are chipping in – but India and many others want the Paris agreement to state clearly that the developed countries have a bigger responsibility to fight global warming.

Money is another sore point. Many countries wouldn't be able to cut emissions and switch to cleaner energy without help. They also need help to adapt to climate change, which would continue for decades even if emissions were to stop today. The developed countries are willing to help but want countries like China to pitch in too.

The US Congress is also a hurdle. Many countries including the European Union want a legally binding agreement. But an international treaty imposing emissions limits on the US isn't likely to be approved by the Republican-controlled Congress. So negotiators are trying to find a compromise where parts of the deal area binding and others, such as the emissions targets, are not. That may allow President Barack Obama to approve the deal without going to Congress.


Unusually, the world leaders came at the beginning of the two-week talks, because the French organizers hoped that would motivate negotiators to seek a more ambitious deal — and that the talks won't end like in Copenhagen, when leaders showed up at the end but no one was ready to make enough compromises to clinch a strong deal.

Once the leaders go home, the hard work falls to negotiators from more than 190 countries to whittle down a 54-page draft document into something shorter and more coherent. That means many countries will not get what they wanted, and compromises will be necessary. Each word will be hotly debated.

The talks may fail. Even if they reach an accord, many fear the resulting document will be too weak to make a difference.

The talks are led by the UN's climate change agency, which has been leading negotiations on global warming since the early 1990s. Many refer to the meeting happening now in Paris as the COP21, which means the 21st meeting of the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The AP contributed to this report.

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