The Outcome




I’ll admit it, I came to COP20 as a dewy-eyed, idealistic college student. After being immersed in the UNFCCC all semester, I was ready to see climate change tackled head on by the thousands of delegates that flew in from almost every country in the world. We came off the plane in Lima filled with excitement for the next two weeks.


I still felt the energy from attending the People’s Climate March in September. The EU had just announced its plans to reduce its total emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and, the previous month, China and the US, had jointly committed to addressing climate change.


The task for COP20 seemed simple enough: use voluntary agreements to create a draft of the Paris agreement. Even jaded COP20 attendees who I talked to felt that an agreement of voluntary commitments would be completed, even if the commitments were not very strong.


However, after two weeks of negotiating, the climate talks seemed on the verge of collapse. A day after the meetings were scheduled to end, a heated discussion ended in over 80 developing countries refusing to back proposals suggested by UN officials.


The delegates pulled a 32-hour marathon session to produce a modest compromise. With the overtime session, 195 countries agreed to adopt a four page document that explains the types of national climate targets they will need to deliver in the next six months.


Countries with the leading economies will submit their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) by March 2015 and others will follow by June.


Still, most NGOs have called the agreement a weak one. A statement signed by Oxfam, Greenpeace, and Christian Aid said the agreement left the world on course of a warming of 4C or worse.


Countries do not need to explain how their INDCs are fair or ambitious. Instead, the UNFCCC will analyze the aggregate effect of all the pledges only a month before COP21 in Paris. Developing countries were placated with text including the importance of loss and damage. However, there is no concrete plan for raising the promised $100 billion by 2020 for developing countries.


Neither did Lima deliver concrete commitments to reduce short term emissions. Samantha Smith, leader of the WWF Global Climate and Energy Initiative said: “The science is clear that delaying action until 2020 will make it near impossible to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, yet political expediency won over scientific urgency. Instead of leadership, they delivered a lackluster plan with little scientific relevancy.”


In the end, the UNFCCC is just one tool for combating climate change. Waiting on politicians may take too long. A ground-up movement may be our best bet to avoid disaster.

Renewable Revolution!


Climate change does pose significant threats to prospects for sustainable development. It impacts our environmental, economic, and social development. With climate change in our radar, our ability to meet basic needs to sustain life would be difficult. The behavior that we are carrying out currently may allow or disallow our use of planet earth by future generations. It is also very difficult for developing countries to develop sustainably due to lack of government policy, finance and adaption plans.

In “Renewable Revolution: Low-Carbon Energy by 2030” by Janet L. Sawin and William R. Moomaw, the focus is on sustainable development but by the reduction of energy usage by using it more efficiently and using mostly renewable energy resources.  “Humanity can prevent catastrophic climate change if we act now and adopt policies that reduce energy usage by unleashing the full potential of energy efficiency in concert with renewable energy resources” (Sawin & Moomsaw, 2009).  This is a valid statement because climate change is first and foremost a challenge to development.  Climate change is not just a pollution problem.  In Sawin and Moomsaw’s article, they also stated that “A combination of political will and the right policies can get the world on track to mitigate climate change in the near term while also meeting demand for energy services, providing energy access for the world’s poorest, boosting the global economy, bolstering energy security, and improving the natural environment and human health” (Sawin & Moomsaw, 2009).

According to “Integrating Development in Climate Change: A Framework Policy Discussion Paper on Key Elements for the Development of the Post-2012 Global Climate Policy Regime” by the South Centre, global cooperation to reduce developed countries’ climate footprint and support developing countries’ adoption and implementation of low carbon sustainable development methods should be a priority. In context of the climate change negotiations, there is hope for developing countries to form policies that would promote and aid sustainable development objectives. The South Centre proposed that the post-2012 framework should support the creation of an international economic system that supports and promotes economic development of developing countries (South Centre, 2007). However, certain aspects need to be accounted for such as the need of flexibility to properly determine what policies are needed for development as well as what is best for adaptation to climate change. Policy parameters for the design of economic and environmental policies that were projected by the South Centre are “…the development policy space for developing countries in the areas of tariff and non-tariff barriers, intellectual property, investment promotion and regulation, regional integration, industrial policy, and finance regulation; and the environment and carbon space to increase GHG emissions, to the extent that may be required to enable them to increase the standards of living of their peoples to levels commensurate with a decent and dignified way of life” (South Centre, 2007).




Sawin & Moomaw, Renewable revolution: low-carbon energy by 2030, Worldwatch Institute, 2009.

South Center, Integrating Development in Climate Change. Nov. 2007.



Transformative Change or Bust

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            Climate change is the largest challenge humanity has ever faced. The problem and solution in its essence are simple: humans are emitting too greenhouse gasses and need to stop these emissions. However, in reality it is exponentially more complicated. The ability to emit greenhouse gasses in unlimited qualities has been built into the fabric of modern society and the global economy, yet, these emissions also threaten to destroy both. The notion of ‘dangerous’ climate change can mean something completely different for each person trying to quantify it; it changes based on region, capacity to adapt, perceptions on the science and so on. For the purposes of this essay dangerous climate change is already happening, at a one-degree increase in global temperatures, and unacceptably dangerous climate change is anything beyond this. Incremental changes in policy and reforms are inherently unable to avoid dangerous circumstances because it is already happening; there is no time to wait for gradual shifts and transitions to a clean energy economy and society. Transformative and radical changes in the way and how much humans consume energy are necessary just to avoid even more dangerousclimate change.

Currently there has already been an observed increase of almost one degree in world temperatures, with roughly 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. There has been relative international consensus, with an agreement to review decision later, that a temperature increase of two degrees Celsius is an acceptable amount of climate change to avoid “dangerous” effects. Thomas Lovejoy, a highly respected biologist, has said that based on what he has observed already in terms of ocean acidification, changes in annual cycles, temperature, precipitation and these effects of biology and biological diversity, the idea of two degrees is to much. He noted that anywhere one looks, “the finger prints of climate change” is visible. Just looking at the Burning Embers Graph, created by the IPCC, risk is created with any amount of temperature change. However, if we quantify dangerous change as beginning with the “high risk” category, that begins after one degree and the “very high” category begins right after two degrees. Climate change has already had measurable consequences such water availability, extreme weather events (such as hurricanes and typhoons) that have impacted human health and safety, and an increase in severity and number of wildfires as well as heat waves.[i] While these impacts have not affected each region and every community equally, clearly the world is already at a stage of dangerous climate change for many.

IPCC AR5 projected global average surface temperature changes in a high emissions scenario (RCP8.5; red) and low emissions scenario (RCP2.6; blue).
IPCC AR5 projected global average surface temperature changes in a high emissions scenario (RCP8.5; red) and low emissions scenario (RCP2.6; blue).

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With the realization that the world is already experiencing ‘dangerous’ climate change, the most aggressively climate-resilient pathway must be chosen. A report by the Worldwatch Institute noted that a transformational, “transition is essential if we are to achieve emissions reductions on the scale that the IPCC says is required by 2050 in order to limit global warming to 2-degrees Celsius.”[ii] The report later specifies that a least eighty-percent below 2000 levels, is required. This signifies a truly revolutionary change in energy consumption for such a short time scale, particularly considering this is based off a goal of two degrees, not just one.

Yet, that does not mean it is not possible. According to the same report by the Worldwatch Institute necessary transformational change is viable in the coming two decades (to achieve the 2050 goal) if a combination of energy efficiency and renewable energy is used. In the “Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability: Summary for Policymakers” the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said with high confidence that, “Transformations in economic, social, technological, and political decisions and actions can enable climate-resilient pathways.”[iii] Transformational changes require mitigation actions on these four levels immediately, through a rapid growth in clean energy implementation and use, a drastically more energy efficient society and economy and the strong political force to promote and implement these changes.

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An effective strategy of mitigation a few decades ago, before climate change was acutely visible, would have involved incremental changes and gradual policy reform to slowly create a low-carbon economy. However, humanity is no longer in this position. The future security of the world depends on avoiding any and all amounts of dangerous climate change. The ability to do this will directly rely on the collective ability to create rapid transformative change that drastically reduces current greenhouse gas emissions.



Work Cited:

Sawin, Janet, and William Moomaw. “Renewable Revolution: Low-Carbon Energy by             2030.” Worldwatch Report (2009): 5-39. Print.


“Summary for Policymakers.” Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and             Vulnerability (2014): 3-30. Print.


[i] “Summary for Policymakers.” Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and             Vulnerability (2014): 3-30. Print.

[ii] Sawin watch 24

[iii] “Summary for Policymakers” 29

A bottom up approach with comprehensive stringency policies

The year 2015 marks when people are hoping to have a new grand proposal on emissions reductions and climate change mitigation processes.  When looking at the various designs in which this proposal can take, a bottom-up approach, with emphasis on comprehensive evolutionary stringency policies would allow for strong participation at the onset, flexible requirements early on and a longevity of commitment.

The first key to any policy is to get a lot of participants.  Historically a bottom-up approach achieves this.  Bodansky uses the UNFCCC as an example of a bottom up approach.  The UNFCCC is one of the largest international regimes ever and they accomplished this by having very minimal stringency policies to be more appealing to Nation-states (Bodansky 2).  Climate change is a global issue, and although Nation states come to the negotiation table already knowing what their individual positions are, they are never the less engaged in negotiations and talking to each other.  This in turn helps to create more cooperation and interdependency. If a country reduces emissions in league with other countries, that country will theoretically also receive the benefits of other nations reducing emissions (Bodansky 2).   This can be supported by Peter Wilson’s definition of idealism international relation theory stating it “will empower world public opinion, and make it a powerful force that no government can resist…(Wilson 1).  Oppositely a top-down approach will not do this, because of the low participation aspect of countries.  However, even though a select few could successfully draft a proposal and use their sway to get in accepted a top-down approach does not include the vast majority of the nations.  In order for Climate change to be successfully combated, especially in the long term, all nations need to be a part of the negotiations and have equal stake.

A traditional bottom-up approach would not be feasible in this situation, because of its lack in stringency.  Bodansky explains that for a bottom-up approach to work stringency has to be: “part of an evolutionary framework that leads to greater action later (Bodansky 2).”  The first step is to have low commitments with high participation.  Next there must be a comprehensive timeline of commitment increases up-front.  One of the drawbacks of the Kyoto protocol is possibly that the second commitment period was to steep. Countries, like Canada ratified the protocol and participated but then dropped out as they realized that the emission reductions were to steep.  Similarly Japan and Russia are thinking of doing something very similar.  The stringency policies should be smaller incremental increases, over a longer period of time.  This way, more countries are engaged over longer periods of time, which would lead to lower emissions in the long-term.  Bodansky talks about a variable geometry structure in which countries can pick and choose which instruments to be a part of.  This would work well in conjunction with optional protocols (Bodansky 3).  For example, the MARPOL (International Convention on the Prevention of Pollutants from Ships) has mandatory protocols that deal with higher risk aspects like oil and noxious liquid, while less risk aspects are deemed as optional protocols (Bodansky 4).  If a bottom up approach were created in which, certain emission reductions were considered mandatory, while others were optional, more countries would participate and hopefully stay involved because of the flexibility aspect.


Wilson, Peter  Idealism in international relations: Originally published in Dowding, K., Encyclopedia of power. Thousand Oaks, USA: SAGE Publications, 2011, pp. 332-333.

Bodansky, Daniel and O’Connor, Sandra Day. “The Durban Platform: Issues and Options for a 2015 Agreement.” December 2012. The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. Web.