The Road to Paris: 25 Years of Climate Policy

Editor’s Note: The Millennial Voices series is written by and for Millennials to foster nonpartisan discussion. Chad Dixon is an operator for Viridity Energy in Philadelphia. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

What has happened with global climate policy so far?

For 25 years, lawmakers from every major country have been attempting to agree on a global climate policy. But so far, no such agreement has been reached. 

The 1997 Kyoto Protocal marked the first greenhouse gas emission reduction tready to be adopted at a global climate conference, but the United States and China abstained from making any commitments. When these rules were enforced in 2005, the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme also launched, making it the first and larget emissions trading system in the world.

By 2009, an increase in climate traction from the 2 top emitters, the United States and China, prompted a climate conference to be held in Copenhagen. After failing to reach an agreement there, the United States and China met again at the 2013 Warsaw Climate Change Conference . There, all major parties reached an agreement to ratify a piece of legislation at the 2015 Paris Climate Summit.

Who will be negotiating in Paris?

So far, 152 out of 160 countries (about 90% of world emissions) have submitted climate pledges called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), including all of the major climate players.

Pros of the Paris conference

  • Leaders of the developed world are committed to setting a precedent: The United States, China, the EU, and India have already laid out climate plans, representing 60% of all greenhouse gas emissions

  • Potential for increased investment fueled by commitments

  • Substantial change from promised emissions cuts

  • Endorsements from major developed countries to tighten emissions targets pre 2030

Cons of the Paris conference

  • Fully implementing INDCs submitted would only hold global temperature rise to 2.7 degrees C
    •  2.0 degrees C is the scientific consensus for mitigation of major climate disasters
  • Skepticism about measurement and verification techniques for a majority of countries
  • Increased adoption of natural gas conversion as an alternative to coal promotes higher methane greenhouse gas levels, yet is the foundation of many countries’ INDCs

Below is a graph of the top 10 greenhouse gas emitters in the world as of 2011. The second graph tells a different story because the top 10 emitters are not necessarily emitting the most greenhouse gases per person. Developing countries such as China will argue that their impact is overstated due to the low emission per capita. This discrepancy is the main reason that a global climate policy has not yet been reached.  

So what?

Global precedent on climate change will likely be made in Paris. It is a man-made problem caused by increases in the emissions of greenhouse gasses.

This is the first year that countries were required to submit a national pledge prior to a global climate conference which could potentially solve discrepancies with total emissions vs per capita emissions. 

A deal remains plausible based on the current level of global climate pledges; however, measurement and verification of any national progress remains a major concern.

Chad Dixon is currently an Operator at Viridity Energy where he has since become a PJM Certified Generation Operator. Chad has previously worked at the Department of Energy and received his B.S. in Energy and Environmental Policy with a Concentration in Economics and Public Policy from University of Delaware.

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