CoP21 Paris--can research help to curb climate change?

Author:Williamson, Roger

The appalling massacres in France have highjacked the media (and to some extent political) attention away from the climate diplomacy of CoP21 and onto combatting terrorism. Concerns about security mean that public protest will be curbed. Paris is now primarily associated with terrorism and fears for safety, not concerted action for climate change. It is necessary to maintain focus not only on the dramatic security issues, but on the entire range of threats to humane living conditions on the planet.

The WIDER context: the importance of analysis

Amartya Sen, in this year's WIDER Annual Lecture, spoke of both the content of the environmental challenge (for example, whether nuclear power is an adequate response to the need to move away from burning fossil fuels) as well as seeking to improve the evaluative framework within which decisions should be made (in this instance, the need to elaborate a robust methodology for assessing societal risk through time).

My rule of thumb is as follows: each time there is a scientific report, the situation seems more serious and complex. And more sophisticated climate models make additional layers of complexity and feedback loops apparent. As the news becomes worse and more complicated, analysis can induce paralysis.

For example, as a result of the main 'set piece' discussion on energy and climate change at the UNU-WIDER 30th conference, should one be discouraged that the pre-Paris pledges do not add up to sufficient reductions to keep global warming below the 2[degrees]C threshold or encouraged at the huge technical possibilities of a renewable energy network?

Channing Arndt helpfully shows a way forward in a recent blog, emphasizing the importance of the national context as the primary locus for decision-making. UNU-WIDER's Development Under Climate Change Project may be crucial in helping to inform this decision-making. The project assists policy makers in developing countries to address the uncertainties of climate change by translating scientific and biophysical processes into economic outcomes, which can then be addressed through policy.

National responsibilities are important, but context is crucial

Key jargon often needs unpacking and sometimes makes sense if you think about it. 'Common but differentiated responsibilities' means that recognition of the importance of context is essential, or in the case of low-lying small island states like Kiribati, faced with complete disappearance if sea level rises...

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