Blog Post

Questions for COP 21: Before Paris and After

Nov 19, 2015 | Brian P. Flannery, Raymond J. Kopp, Clayton Munnings
Elliot Gilfix | flickr

The 21st annual Conference of Parties (COP 21), in Paris is rapidly approaching, with anticipation building for how challenging differences will be resolved to produce a universal agreement for action on climate change. No doubt differences will remain after Paris that will require ongoing attention as efforts turn next to implementation.

In this blog series, Questions for COP 21: Before Paris and After, we pose several questions that are currently confronting negotiators and ministers. For each, we provide background describing the current negotiation, explain what is at stake, and suggest how the process might address them. The questions are not independent, but linked in complex ways. Researchers at RFF and many of our colleagues are already engaged on several of these topics. Following Paris, we will update this series and invite perspectives on how the issues were actually addressed, what to look for going forward, and what new research will follow.

Questions for COP 21:

  1. Long-term goal: Does the 2 °C goal encourage or discourage long-term cooperation?
  2. Transparency: How should a transparency process be designed to ensure credible analysis, reporting, and review of intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs)?
  3. Compliance: Does strong compliance promote or inhibit strong actions?
  4. Mitigation: Can an agreement based on cycles to review and periodically renew voluntary climate pledges deliver ambitious, long-term global emissions reductions?
  5. Markets: What role should the Paris Agreement play in greenhouse gas markets?
  6. Finance: Can financial aid be mobilized and effectively utilized at the scale that may be required to assist and compensate developing nations?

Perhaps the greatest challenge facing COP 21 is that the national actions already submitted as INDCs will not be adequate to realize the long-established goal: to place the world on track to limit warming to less than 2 °C. This is a challenge for national political leaders, not negotiators. Only recently have they begun to temper expectations, but it may be too late. Once again pressures are growing, as in Copenhagen six years ago, for an ambitious outcome.

It appears that the Paris Agreement will establish an ongoing process based on cycles to review and periodically renew proposals. Longer-term outcomes will depend on how the process and actions evolve going forward. No doubt leaders will argue that future steps can deliver the goal. However, the 2 °C goal itself has become increasingly controversial: proponents feel it can be achieved with sufficient political will, while others already regard it as infeasible. It represents yet another polarizing obstacle in an arena with far too many divisions.

In many respects the questions that we posed shed light on the ultimate challenge:

  • What can the international process achieve going forward?
  • What decisions can best promote progress?
  • How will science, technology, policy and process contribute to managing climate risks.

Paris will launch us all on a new path to consider and act on these challenges.