What’s at Stake in Paris - Diplomacy & Policy at the Climate Change Talks

Nov. 22, 2015


Opening the joint CLIMATE CHANGE DIPLOMACY WEEK event series, speakers and leading climate change experts from both Harvard and beyond participated in a panel discussion titled "What's at Stake in Paris?: Diplomacy and Policy at the Climate Change Talks," moderated by the Future of Diplomacy Project Faculty Director, focus, and co-hosted with the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements on November 9. The speakers comprised of Sturgis Hooper Professor of Geology at Harvard University, Daniel Schrag;former Costa Rican Minister of Environment and Energy, René Castro; former Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs and chief climate negotiator, Paula Dobriansky; and Albert Pratt Professor of Business and Government and Director of the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements, Robert Stavins. Together panellists weighed in on the upcoming UNFCCC talks to be held in Paris in December and the overarching policy issues at play.

Tradeoffs for developing nations

René Castro, former Costa Rican Minister of Environment and Energy, began the panel discussion by raising the economic tradeoffs that developing countries such as Costa Rica face when formulating climate change policy. He underlined a new positive trend in countries such as Mexico, Columbia, and Chile toward deploying their own resources to meet self-assigned goals before requesting additional funds from developed countries.

The issue of financing

Paula Dobriansky, former climate change negotiator for the US, raised the issue of financing for both climate mitigation and adaptation. "Adaptation will and should be part of the discourse," stated Dobriansky. Ms. Dobriansky advocated looking to the business community and the private sector for creative funding mechanisms and stressed the importance of follow-through via a "pledge and review" system.

The importance of the US-China partnership

Dan Schrag, Sturgis Hooper Professor of Geology, expressed confidence about reaching an agreement at the Paris conference, citing the US-China initiative on climate change as the key driver of success. He praised China's commitment to divert 20% of energy to non-fossil sources and expressed wishes that the US had the same target. "In the long-run it's de-fossilization that matters, that's where I'm really optimistic about the future," stated Schrag, maintaining that the fraction and growth of energy from non-fossil sources is what really counts.

"In it for the long-term"

A member of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, Schrag argued that there is too great a focus on "short-term reduction" in current climate change negotiations. Looking beyond 5-10 years, Schrag advocated investments in "critical technology" such as deep de-carbonization, praising China's efforts to invest heavily in nuclear technology. "China is trying to perfect traditional nuclear technology the way they did to coal plants - that's not going to matter by 2030 but by 2070 it could be the way they shut down their existing coal plants," Schrag declared. “It [nuclear technology] is probably one of the most significant things happening," he added.

Schrag also cited other forms of critical technology, such as Chinese-manufactured solar panels and US-designed electric cars, as critical pieces for long-run carbon reduction. He called upon the design of "paralllel alternative metrics" that capture the long-term carbon reduction impact of these forms of critical investments.

6 measures of success at Paris

Robert Stavins, Director of the Harvard Project on Climate Agreement, concluded the panel discuss by offering 6 measures of success at Paris: first, 90% of global emissions to be covered compared to 40% (as under the Kyoto protocol); second, US, China, and other nations to push for credible reporting and transparency requirements; third, progress to be made to implement a system for financing climate adaptation and mitigation; fourth, a time schedule to be put in effect enforcing countries to resubmit Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) every 5 years; fifth, developed and developing countries to put aside unproductive disagreements and finally resolve the "loss and damage" article; sixth, countries to step away from the 2 degrees sea temperature target as a metric for success.

For a full recording of the event, click here:

For more information on this publication: Please contact Future of Diplomacy Project
For Academic Citation:What’s at Stake in Paris - Diplomacy & Policy at the Climate Change Talks.” News, , November 22, 2015.