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How has Paris 2015 changed the landscape and rhetoric surrounding climate change?

4 February 2016

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Reported by Adele Julier, NERC-Funded CSaP Policy Intern (January 2016 - April 2016)

In the first seminar of this series, CSaP Visiting Research Fellow, Professor Charles Kennel (Professor Emeritus at Scripps Institution of Oceanography) introduced two speakers who shared their thoughts on how Paris 2015 had changed the landscape and rhetoric surrounding climate change.

Dr Emily Shuckburgh (British Antarctic Survey) began the seminar by outlining the science behind the 2°C warming scenario goal, highlighting that 2015 had been on average 1°C warmer than pre-industrial temperatures, and that the world is already experiencing increased severity and frequency of previously rare weather events. She stressed that there is no scientific definition of ‘dangerous’, and that science’s role in informing climate talks is to provide solid evidence upon which to base decisions.

‘In the 4 degree warming scenario, by 2100, 25% of mammals and 50% of plants would lose 50% of their habitat. Keeping to 2°C halves that risk’

Dr Shuckburgh’s presentation was a combination of (sometimes alarming) climate change statistics and a frank look at what the pledges made at Paris really mean. The general (if optimistic) consensus seems to be that the pledges might, if coupled with negative emissions, hold the world to the 2°C warming scenario. In a very optimistic situation, the 1.5°C scenario, advocated for by the Alliance of Small Island States could be possible, although unlikely.

Dr Joanna Depledge (Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Cambridge) took a more political look at Paris, emphasising how it represented, not the first, but the third or fourth step towards a world-wide climate consensus. She noted major shifts in how countries behaved, such as China, who were more flexible in their approach to negotiations than ever before, and the Alliance of Small Island States, who pushed hard for an ambitious 1.5°C warming target.

In her view, this was the first time that there seemed to be a real consensus that something needed to be done on a world-wide scale. This change in attitude had a knock-on effect on businesses and investors, many of whom, because of the overwhelmingly positive political message from Paris, are re-examining their own practices. Dr Depledge also highlighted the role of consumer choice in driving low-carbon lifestyles, but acknowledged that this would need to be incentivised by the low-carbon option representing value for money.

‘The conference was beautifully prepared; French diplomacy, and agenda design were great’

Professor Kennel rounded off the session by echoing the speakers’ comments and contemplating the effects of Paris as a catalyst for green innovation. He also considered that perhaps the lasting cultural legacy of Paris (all of the associated events surrounding the negotiations) may well be remembered in history, as we remember the world fairs of the 19th and 20th Centuries.

Various insightful questions were fielded from the audience, leading to discussions on topics such as how the political economy has changed due to Paris, the role of the European Union, and how public perception of the climate talks might shape carbon emissions and innovation.

The climate seminars series are hosted by Christ's College Cambridge. If you would like to sign up to other seminars in this series, please click here.

(Banner image from Santiago Medem on Flickr)

Dr Joanna Depledge

Climate Policy Journal

Professor Charles Kennel

University of California San Diego

Dr Emily Shuckburgh

University of Cambridge