The Paris Climate Summit: Prospects for a Global Agreement

The Paris Climate Summit: Prospects for a Global Agreement
Nov 12, 2015

Big hopes are riding on the 2015 United Nations climate change conference planned for November 30 - December 11 in Paris, where more than 190 nations will strive to hammer out an international agreement aimed at lowering global temperatures through significant reductions in manmade greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. But the meeting, known as COP21, or the 21stSession of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), is also attracting a fair amount of skepticism.

For good reason: More than two decades of UN climate summit meetings have yielded limited results. The Kyoto Protocol (1997) established GHG emissions reduction commitments for a small number of industrialized countries from 2008 to 2012, but was not ratified by the U.S. because it made no demands on developing countries. Overcoming this hurdle, the Copenhagen meeting (2009) produced voluntary pledges from both developed and developing countries through the year 2020 that promised little headway in keeping global temperatures below the 2° Celsius threshold identified by the UNFCCC as necessary to avoid the most serious impacts of climate change.

Now, as some 40,000 attendees and 80 heads of state prepare to converge on Paris, the stakes are high, said Michael Mehling, Executive Director of the MIT Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research (CEEPR) as he introduced a panel discussion, “The Paris Climate Summit: Prospects for a Global Agreement,” on Nov. 5 at MIT’s Tang Center.   

“This time around, we really know that we’ve pretty much run out of time, meaning we do not have the luxury of endless further negotiating rounds,” Mehling warned. “So in many ways, the climate summit in Paris is a make-it-or-break-it test for UN-led international climate diplomacy.”

In their remarks on the upcoming Paris talks, the panellists—Henry D. Jacoby, the William F. Pounds Professor of Management, Emeritus at the MIT Sloan School of Management, former director of CEEPR and former co-director of the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global ChangeMichael Grubb, Professor of International Energy and Climate Change Policy at University College London; and Valerie Karplus, Assistant Professor of Global Economics and Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management and Director of the Tsinghua-MIT China Energy and Climate Project (CECP)—expressed guarded optimism. 

Associated Joint Program People: