Olivia Zhao

On November 5, the MIT Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research (CEEPR) joined the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change and the Program on Science, Technology, and Society at Harvard University to convene a discussion on the upcoming United Nations Climate Change summit in Paris. A panel of experts shared what they realistically expect out of the summit, officially referred to as the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), or “COP21”.

Henry D. Jacoby, a Professor in the MIT Sloan School of Management, outlined projected emissions based on the voluntary mitigation contributions pledged by countries ahead of the Paris summit. Given the expectation of continued emissions growth in the developing world, he expressed concern about achieving the summit’s goal of limiting global temperature increases to 2o Celsius and warned that “if we can’t stop the growth of greenhouse emissions in the period between 2015 and 2040, worse things than 2o Celsius will lie in the rearview mirror.” Jacoby presented a three-pronged goal for COP21:

  1. Credible review procedures and a harmonized accounting system to assess countries’ progress in achieving their commitments;
  2. durable cycles to periodically re-evaluate and strengthen emission reduction efforts;
  3. the ability to finance initiatives in developing countries, whose emissions goals are often conditional on external aid.

Michael Grubb, Professor of International Energy and Climate Change Policy at University College London, shifted the focus to regional emissions differences. Grubb highlighted the imprudence in generalizing climate policy without considering the individual national context, and suggested that COP21 would mark a switch to broader climate policy that includes action by both developed and developing nations. He expressed optimism, speaking with “90 percent confidence that Paris will reach a deal” due to a favorable geopolitical context, such as China’s domestic action against emissions growth. Grubb ended by emphasizing the responsibility of the UNFCCC to also encourage bilateral and plurilateral agreements between nations or regions to curb emissions.

Valerie J. Karplus, a Professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management and director of the Tsinghua-MIT China Energy and Climate Project, explained how Chinese emission reductions result from a conversation about mitigation as well as the interplay of energy-intensive industry investments, resource needs, household consumption, and the health effects of conventional air pollution. Karplus has worked on modeling the effects of a proposed carbon pricing system on emissions, atmospheric chemistry, air quality, and health. Karplus said that China’s pledge to peak emissions by 2030 is credible and consistent with their pollution and economic modernization goals. She cautioned, however, that success will require institutional changes to balance growth with low carbon goals.

Common themes in the discussion included the need for a trusted and transparent emissions reporting regime and mechanisms to leverage climate finance from the private sector. Although much attention is focused on emissions mitigation, other themes such as adaptation, loss and damage, and technology transfer underscore the complexity of negotiations faced by the international community as it converges in Paris.

This MIT CEEPR event can be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=4sjToCSigYA