Controlling the global emissions of greenhouse gases and easing of the negative consequences of the resulting climate change has been addressed for decades without any great success. At the COP 21 meeting in Paris the world’s leaders meet again to engineer an effective global climate agreement. The success is not guaranteed (Where the defined criterion for success is not letting the global mean temperature increase by more than two degrees).
But why is the climate change issue wicked problem to alleviate? The main reason is that economic, distributional, geographical and even psychological factors all complicate the possibilities of reaching an effective international agreement. More specifically, high abatement costs, benefits that appear in the future as non-experienced damages from reducing emissions, the main contributors to the problem are not equal to the countries expected to experience the highest damage, the climate signal still being weak and all sectors and all people contribute to the global increased stock of climate change just to mention some (Brandt, 2014).
As a consequence, the negotiations have been plagued by free-riding incentives, various fairness issues resulting in disagreements over who is responsible, and who should do the lion’s share of reductions, and who should pay for green development and adaptation in poor areas that are heavily affected by climate change. There is even a large share of decision makers and public who has doubted the severity of climate change in the first place. And on top of that a UN-consensus mechanism that implies a least common denominator approach (Brandt, 2003) and weak international enforcement mechanisms that secure compliance.
End the end, despite the effort of 20 COP meetings, global emission of GHG has been rising steadily up to now and showing no signs of slowing down.
Is there any hope for the current and future negotiations?
Compared to the failed negotiations in COP15 meeting sin Copenhagen, two significant changes in key factors that affect the probability of a more successful outcome of the COP21 has happened, and provides some ground for optimism:
- Non-carbon based energy producing technology and systems are developing fast
- The climate signal is getting more distinct
Changes in both these factors might together be a game changer. The reason is that the first reduces free riding incentives and enable large first mover advantages (Brandt and Svendsen, 2006). And secondly, the perceived risk of climate change is now getting more visible, through rapid temperature changes, increased storms activity and generally an intensification of climate related extreme events all over the world.
Both these changes put pressure on the negotiation process, e.g., from green companies (Brandt and Svendsen, 2006) and even “carbon cities” while the other generally makes it easier to ratify more ambitious national climate policies.
Whether this is sufficient to change the global climate policy in a more ambitious way, the next days will tell – and at least one major stumbling block remains: who is going to pay and who is to receive the resources from the green development fund.
- Brandt, U.S (2003), ‘Are Uniform Solutions Focal? The Case of International Environmental Problems’, Environmental and Resource Economics, 25, 357-376.
- Brandt, U.S. and G.T. Svendsen (2006), ‘Climate change negotiations and first-mover advantages: the case of the wind turbine industry’, Energy Policy, 34, 1175-1184.
- Brandt, U.S. (2014), ‘The implication of extreme events on policy responses’, Journal of Risk Research, 17, 221-240.