The climate agreement needs research to succeed

The Paris climate agreement is historical. Initial impressions have ranged from the victorious and optimistic to the critical and disappointed. Research is even more important now that the work begins on justifying the optimism..

“The Paris climate agreement is a good opportunity, as it sets clear objectives for participating states," says Kai Kokko, professor of environmental law at the University of Helsinki.

Kokko believes that the agreement provides the framework and direction for a new economy.

“The agreement encourages states to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy and to adopt energy-saving technologies,” Kokko states.

Nevertheless, the climate agreement offers no clear action plan.

Kokko posits, “The practical work to reduce greenhouse emissions must be done separately. What is uncertain is whether sufficient commitment to this work can be found. Governments must take active steps so that new methods can replace old ones.”

Using psychology

Restricting global warming to two degrees centigrade or even less is now up to the 195 participating states.

According to Janne Hukkinen (@JIHukkinen), professor of environmental policy at the University of Helsinki, the agreement is largely based on nudging, a new method in environmental policy, which has only recently become a topic of research.

When formal sanctions do not exist, everything hinges on the parties fearing negative attention

“When formal sanctions do not exist, everything hinges on the parties fearing negative attention if they fail to reach their goals. The related social psychological and cognitive processes are complex, and their effects are not sufficiently known, particularly in the field of environmental policy.”

One of the inherent problems of the agreement is that it features no sanction mechanisms for states that fail to comply.

Hukkinen explains, “At the end of the day, realising the agreement is dependent on national desires to avoid international shame. This may be both its best chance and weakest point.”

A victory for diplomacy

One of the achievements in Paris was that any agreement was reached at all – that the international community was capable of consensus.

Two-degree goal is not a safe limit.

But there are still many challenges to overcome. Already after the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009, climate researcher Kevin Anderson wrote that the two-degree goal determined in the Copenhagen Climate Accord was not a safe limit. He claimed the line was being drawn between dangerous and extremely dangerous climate change, not between acceptable and dangerous climate change.

The commitments to reduce emissions made before the Paris agreement have been calculated to be able to halt global warming at just under three degrees. This means ambitious steps are needed. Markku Ollikainen, chair of the Finnish Climate Panel and professor of environmental economics, also wrote a blog post on the potential of the agreement.

“Ultimately, the scales tip clearly towards the positive, as the agreement really does provide a framework that is historical in its ambition,” Ollikainen writes (translated from the original Finnish).

Nevertheless, 1.5 degrees is better than 2, and 2.5 better than 3. Motivation is the issue.

“The biggest challenge for the future is that climate change must be seen in connection to the urgent international challenges that we already know through related research. These include the refugee crisis, food production, poverty, peace and sustainable development,” lists Hukkinen.