From: David Victor, Yale Environment360
Published February 2, 2015 08:39 AM

Is there an emerging consensus on climate change action?

Once again, the world is on a sprint toward a new agreement on global climate change. The last time this happened — in 2009 — the sprint ended in acrimony in Copenhagen. This time, the signs are more auspicious. As someone who has been writing for nearly 25 years about the difficulties of making serious progress on climate change, I am more optimistic today than I have been in a very long time. When governments gather in Paris late this year, I believe they are likely to adopt a watershed strategy for slowing climate change.  

I’m optimistic for two reasons. First, the logic of Paris is new. In the past, governments have tried to negotiate single, massive, and integrated 

A shift in strategy was evident at climate talks in Lima in December, where Peru’s Manuel Pulgar served as conference president.

treaties that all nations would supposedly sign and honor. That was the logic of the 1997 Kyoto treaty — a logic that continued in Copenhagen when governments tried to finalize an agreement that would replace Kyoto. But what they found was that single integrated undertakings are just too difficult to craft. There are so many different countries, with different interests and capabilities, that efficiently finding a single common agreement is all but impossible.  

Worse, making that agreement legally binding was scaring some countries. For the U.S., a binding treaty would require Senate ratification — an impossible hurdle to clear. And for most of the emerging economies that account for all the growth in world emissions, a binding treaty was daunting because those nations did not know exactly what they could reliably commit and honor.  

What’s new is a more flexible approach — in effect, an umbrella under which lots of countries can make different commitments. For some 

This new approach relies heavily on national pledges for action – a so-called ‘bottom-up’ strategy.

countries those commitments will be binding — something that is important to the European Union, for example — while for many others the effort will take on a more voluntary character. This new approach relies heavily on national pledges for action — a so-called “bottom-up” strategy to contrast with the “top-down” treaty-drafting efforts of the past two decades.


GOLFX /">Flooded street image via Shutterstock.

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