Success at climate change conference depends on creating pressures to later upscale ambition and close ‘emissions gap’

An anticipated global deal on climate change should encourage countries to upscale their ambition every few years to help overcome an ‘emissions gap’, according to a paper published today (31 August 2015) by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and the ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy at London School of Economics and Political Science.

The authors of the paper – Rodney Boyd, Fergus Green and Professor Lord Nicholas Stern – recognise that a crucial climate change conference in Paris this December is highly unlikely to agree emissions reductions targets that limit global warming to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels.  However, they argue that the conference could be deemed a success if it encourages countries to upscale their ambition in future.

The paper states that “success in Paris will depend largely on whether the new agreement contains elements that create pressures to scale-up ambition in the years following the Paris COP.”

The paper calls for an agreement made in Paris to mandate countries to evaluate their commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at regular time periods. It suggests that countries could upscale their ambition every five years, for example, as new low-carbon technologies become available and the costs of existing technologies continue to fall.

It adds that “many obstacles remain on the road to Paris, and on the longer pathway toward an effective and equitable response to climate change. Most prominently, it is very likely that there will remain a significant gap between the aggregate of national commitments pledged toward the Paris agreement and those consistent with plausible 2°C pathways, meaning commitments will need to be ramped-up in subsequent years.”

The paper also proposes several major targets that countries should focus on to avoid dangerous climate change. These include achieving net zero emissions in the second half of this century, decarbonising electricity production by 2050 at the latest and phasing out coal entirely.

However, several obstacles could prevent a strong deal on climate change being agreed in Paris. For instance, there is considerable domestic opposition from vested interests in some countries, concerns about the fair distribution of climate finance for developing countries and inadequate levels of investment in low- and zero-carbon technology.

The paper argues that the pledges, or ‘intended nationally determined contributions’ (INDCs) that countries have so far submitted ahead of Paris should be seen as ‘initial contributions’ at the start of “an ongoing process of raising ambition over time toward the ultimate goal of net zero emissions within the second half of this century.”

The paper emphasises the importance of international cooperation. It argues that an agreement in Paris provides an opportunity to accelerate low-carbon economic growth, which can help overcome the two major challenges of this century: climate change and poverty.

It concludes: “The prize of successful international climate cooperation is a much more attractive and dynamic form of economic growth and development that creates a much healthier environment for people everywhere, overcomes poverty, and can be sustained over the long term. An agreement in Paris can play a very important role in signaling to the world that this is the future direction of the global economy, and in accelerating concrete initiatives to achieve it. We can and we must get it right.”

Read paper: The road to Paris and beyond

NOTES FOR EDITORS

  1. The Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment (http://www.lse.ac.uk/grantham) was launched at the London School of Economics and Political Science in October 2008. It is funded by The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment (http://www.granthamfoundation.org/).
  1. The ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy (http://www.cccep.ac.uk) is hosted by the University of Leeds and the London School of Economics and Political Science. It is funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council (http://www.esrc.ac.uk/). The Centre’s mission is to advance public and private action on climate change through rigorous, innovative research.