The 21st Conference of the Parties (CoP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is rapidly approaching. Compared with the last major attempt to set the planet on a more desirable greenhouse gas emissions trajectory, which occurred at CoP15 in 2009 in Copenhagen, CoP21 in Paris will take place on a landscape transformed in at least three crucial ways.
Change 1: From top down to bottom up-countries will now propose their own targets
At CoP15 in Copenhagen, the negotiations adopted a 'top down' approach wherein, essentially, a global emissions trajectory was determined and negotiators sought to parse country-level responsibilities for achieving this trajectory. In contrast, CoP21 in Paris employs a 'bottom up' offer system, wherein individual countries propose what they perceive to be achievable and fair emissions trajectories for their particular circumstances. These offers are formally called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). In this new negotiating framework, the resulting projected global emissions trajectory is the sum of individual country INDCs.
Change 2: Clean energy technology has improved rapidly since CoP15
The rapid pace of technological advance in renewable energy technologies and systems is in the process of influencing the political economy of clean energy. The very high levels of greenhouse gas emissions observed historically and currently represent a colossal market failure. Correction of this failure requires action on the part of governments. However, achieving this required action has suffered from a sort of chicken-and-egg problem. Specifically, development of low-carbon emissions technologies requires government support. When these technologies are small-scale and relatively high-cost, the politics of supporting low-emissions technologies are difficult.
In sum, a circle exists wherein politics drives policy: policy drives technology: and the state of technology circles back to influence politics. Since 2008, the year before CoP15 failed to produce a move towards effective global mitigation, the global solar module price index has fallen by a factor of nearly four, a rate of technical advance vastly more rapid than nearly all predictions. Declines in the cost of wind power have not been as dramatic, but have been rapid by any standard. Investments in energy production have reflected these shifts. In 2014, the newly installed capacity of renewable energy systems surpassed that of...