Looking at the COP21 Negotiations

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, President-designate of COP21, and Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate change Christiana Figueres (L) attend the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) at Le Bourget, near Paris, France

Some key takeaways from the negotiations that concluded yesterday in Paris, called “the world’s greatest diplomatic success” by the Guardian, “a big, big deal” by This Week, and “the treaty that dare not speak its  name” by National Review.

The Document

  • The final agreement includes at least seven key elements, as parsed by NYT reporters, namely temperature increase, forests, financing, transparency, fossil-fuel reserves, loss/damage, and 5 year contributions. (Analysts are still breaking down the full implications post hoc, but this brief by Michael Levi of CFR is helpful.)
  • In true diplomatic form, one word (“shall” instead of “should”) nearly derailed the entire process.
  • If you haven’t explored how these negotiations work before, you need to know that brackets “[” and “]” are an essential tool in the negotiations, and part of the game. For the full post-game analysis, including samples of the language as it evolved through the past weeks–see Deconstructing Paris–an essential blog.


The Players

  • President Obama has demonstrated that his critics may be correct–he does have a master plan and can achieve it–and demonstrated his global diplomacy mastery in Paris.
  • And a key negotiator-in-chief behind Paris, Christiana Figueres, is a Colombian who heads the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change secretariat; her strategy is explored in the New Yorker profile last August.
  • Bill Gates stepped up to marshall a new coalition from Silicon Valley–but also reaching out to India–and led to a $2B investment in R&D for clean energy.


The Process

  • Indaba, a negotiation strategy of the Zulu and Xhosa peoples of southern Africa may have played a role in fostering large-group consensus. It involves gathering red lines from all interested parties–thus speeding up the process to agreement.
  • An article published in Nature used game theory to explore a possible negotiated outcome. Were they right?
  • The agreement is not binding. Does that matter?
  • Jargon, vocabulary, or technical know-how. Whatever you call it, here are the terms to know.
  • Sometimes skilled negotiations don’t work–because negotiators are influenced by their psychology and can prioritize fairness over a rational offer–and ultimately walk away from a deal. (David Victor, Lab of Law and International Regulation, UCSD)


Civil Society

  • Two New Zealanders created  #COP21Tracker, the worlds largest Google Doc (?) to follow the diplomatic negotiation process
  • @ParisAgreement also provided helpful analysis, in 140 characters or less, of course
  • Follow a rag tag group of students on the Duke to Paris Facebook page as they try to make sense of the process

An Interview with Bill Gates on the Future of Energy – The Atlantic

Do high-stakes international negotiations work?

What does a very smart and committed person like Bill Gates think about them? In the upcoming Paris UN Climate Change Conference in December 2015  member states are expected to achieve consensus–even though major breakthroughs are not guaranteed–on a path forward to address this challenge facing the global commons.

Here is what Gates said an interview today in The Atlantic:

It’s good to have people making commitments. It’s really good. But if you really look at those commitments—which are not binding, but even if you say they will all be achieved—they fall dramatically short of the reductions required to reduce CO2 emissions enough to prevent a scenario where global temperatures rise 2 degrees Celsius. I mean, these commitments won’t even be a third of what you need.And one of the interesting things about this problem is, if you have a country that says, “Okay, we’re going to get on a pathway for an 80 percent reduction in CO2 by 2050,” it might make a commitment that “Hey, by 2030, we’ll be at 30 percent reduction.” But that first 30 percent is dramatically, dramatically easier than getting to 80 percent. So everything that’s hard has been saved for post-2030—and even these 2030 commitments aren’t enough. And many of them won’t be achieved.

Source: An Interview with Bill Gates on the Future of Energy – The Atlantic

Soft Skills Meet Science: How “Worldviews” Shape Science Policy Debates

Shouldn’t science be able to resolve the climate change issue? Apparently not. And for anyone interested in the communication issues under the hood it is important to understand why raw intelligence cannot account for disagreements.  Dan Kahan at Yale, working with Donald Braman, is on it, as featured in the Chronicle Review. They found that measuring individuals on an egalitarian-hierarchal and indvidualism-communitarian scales helped to create four possible “worldviews” that explain conflicting takes on a myriad of issues.

Senior legal scholars immediately objected, the start of a long line of smart people affronted by Kahan’s findings. Their protests boil down to a gut reaction: “This couldn’t possibly apply to me!” There are many exemplars of the genre, with The New York Times’s Paul Krugman providing an excellent case this year, skewing Kahan’s work to fit his belief that Democrats value science more than Republicans do. Few people can admit that they let their cultural values trump facts. Could you? “We get a lot from our communities,” Braman says. “They help us think through problems.” This was Douglas’s basic insight, and it explains why campaigners have spent decades arguing over cultural fault lines. The notion that truth can’t resolve a factual debate—it’s threatening.

Douglas, however, was also troubled, and evasive on what questions might elicit worldviews, a vagueness, Braman says, that also “allowed her to apply the theory to whatever she wanted.” Douglas (who died in 2007) told them she had not meant to describe fixed personality traits; to her, worldviews were fluid. At work, you may behave like a hierarchical individualist, but in your softball league, you may turn communitarian. The work is fine, she eventually told Kahan, but it’s not cultural theory as she intended it. They should get a new name.

via Seeking a Climate Change – The Chronicle Review – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Getting Serious at the Table

What can realistically be accomplished during the coming climate change negotiations?

The reality is that 300 years of economic growth in the industrialized countries have been fueled by the combustion of fossil fuels — coal, petroleum and natural gas. We still depend on these. And the large emerging economies of China, India, Brazil, South Korea, Mexico and South Africa are rapidly putting in place new infrastructure that is also dependent on burning fossil fuels.

Two points are important to understand if we’re going to be serious about attacking this problem.

One, it will be costly. An economic assessment might be “difficult, but not impossible.” And two, things become more challenging when we move from the economics to the politics.

Doing what is necessary to achieve the United Nations’ target for reducing emissions would reduce economic growth by about 0.06 percent annually from now through 2100, according to the I.P.C.C. That sounds trivial, but by the end of the century it means a 5 percent loss of worldwide economic activity per year.

via Climate Realities – NYTimes.com.

The end of the world as we know It?

Could unsustainable resource exploitation combined with unequal wealth distribution be the end of modern society?  A new NASA Goddard Space Flight Center study suggests the possibility, using simulations of civilizational survivability.  Could this be how “our” world ends–with a bang instead of a wimper?

The NASA-funded HANDY model offers a highly credible wake-up call to governments, corporations and business – and consumers – to recognise that ‘business as usual’ cannot be sustained, and that policy and structural changes are required immediately.

Although the study is largely theoretical, a number of other more empirically-focused studies – by KPMG and the UK Government Office of Science for instance – have warned that the convergence of food, water and energy crises could create a ‘perfect storm’ within about fifteen years. But these ‘business as usual’ forecasts could be very conservative.

via Nasa-funded study: industrial civilisation headed for ‘irreversible collapse’? | Nafeez Ahmed | theguardian.com.

For more, Jared Diamond has written a book on the subject, chock full of examples of historical indicators that reveal how past civilizations have ended.  Key factors include human impact on the environment, climate change,  changing alliances, and dysfunctional political and cultural practices.

Negotiation Drags On at COP19 in Warsaw

Doesn’t China have an obligation to reduce its greenhouse emissions? Ongoing (and thus far, contentious) negotiations in Warsaw this week reveal the PRC’s “you first” approach–a policy approach that is explored in this Dot Earth interview with Zou Ji, deputy director of China’s National Center for Climate Change Strategy:

For the other aspect, its international responsibility, my understanding is China will take its responsibilities as a large developing country, but certainly subject to its capabilities, also on an equitable basis. China will make the decision not only with the understanding of its own situation …but also the overall design of the global responsibility system, including looking at the share of burden or benefits in the process from other countries – for example the United States, Europe, Japan.

In these aspects China continues to keep the idea of common but differentiated responsibilities [background], very frankly.… China insists in the position to make the framework [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] the political and legal basis for the global regime and we do not see the necessity or need to rewrite or interpret the convention. There have been a lot of changes in the past years, but our observation is for the basis of the convention, its principles and supporting scientific facts, there have been no significant changes.

via A Closer Look at China’s ‘You First’ Stance in Climate Treaty Talks – NYTimes.com.

Other updates from 19th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Warsaw:

  • Why one group calls a coalition of Australia, Canada and Japan the “climate saboteurs
  • Full coverage, including live blogging from The Guardian and the G77 + China (132 countries) “walkout” during talks about “loss and damage”
  • Follow the negotiations blow-by-blow @Twitter #cop19 climate

Bulgaria’s Air Is Dirtiest in Europe, Study Finds, Followed by Poland – NYTimes.com

Wood burning, slow modernization, and Soviet era mismanagement are to blame:

But Bulgaria is hardly alone in having air quality challenges. While Bulgarian cities lead in the concentration of particulates, Poland is a frequent runner-up, and cities in northern Italy lead in ozone, according to separate data provided by the agency.

Over all, in the 10 years measured by the report — from 2002 to 2011 — air pollutants are generally on the decline in Europe. But particulates and ozone remain a problem. An increase in the percentage of urban populations in Europe being exposed to levels of particulate matter from 2010 to 2011 suggested some backsliding, the report said. The development was attributed to dry spells in the period, which slow the dispersal of particulates. But it also could reveal a growing reliance on wood burning for home heating in some countries during the financial crisis, the agency said.

via Bulgaria’s Air Is Dirtiest in Europe, Study Finds, Followed by Poland – NYTimes.com.