IU experts share insights on 2015 Paris Climate Conference

Post by IU Newsroom intern Annie Brackemyre

Just days away from the Dec. 11 conclusion of COP21, also known as the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, agreements continue to fall short in the face of heightened stakes on the environment and security.

David Konisky

David Konisky

For the first time since international environment talks began in the 1970s, the global community is working toward a universal binding agreement, a one-size-fits-all solution that will keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.

The talks — the latest in a two-decades-long United Nations attempt to rein in greenhouse gas emissions — brought together nearly 25,000 official government, U.N. and NGO delegates. An estimated 25,000 corporate and public sector participants are also involved.

As greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, unchecked warming will threaten reliable food and water supplies. Droughts, wildfires and rising sea levels will displace more people worldwide. Some small island countries will be engulfed entirely by rising sea levels, and resource scarcity will force others from their homes, throwing the global community into a climate refugee crisis. It is likely that the coming decades and centuries will see wars fought over climate change symptoms, such as the upheaval of resource availability and the increasing scarcity of food and water.

Despite the global threats, David Konisky, associate professor in the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs, finds in his book “Cheap and Clean: How Americans Think About Energy in the Age of Global Warming” that climate change has yet to affect energy consumption.

“American’s energy preferences are more strongly related to their concerns about local environmental impacts and the cost of energy,” Konisky said. “[People] are not too motivated by a concern of climate change. Even if they are concerned about climate change, it is not a driving force behind their energy consumption.”

The political will may or may not exist to address all of these issues and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a level that the earth can absorb without raising temperatures. It is promising that, before the talks began in late November, over 150 countries submitted voluntary national plans on how to cut emissions, increase the use clean energy or preserve resources.

But a disagreement about culpability between developing and developed countries has yet to be resolved. Countries like India argue that they cannot cut emissions while trying to industrialize and bring millions of people out of poverty. Developing countries feel slighted that many Western countries benefited from industrial revolutions without carbon emission caps.

Stephen Macekura

Stephen Macekura

Stephen Macekura, assistant professor in the IU School of Global and International Studies, points out that this tense dynamic between the global North and South is not new nor confined to climate change.

“The tensions between the global North and South, and who will pay for emissions, is often talked about like these are new issues related to climate change,” Macekura said. “But they have a much longer history, which means they aren’t going to be solved easily. The tensions get to deeply rooted ideas about equality and historical equality grievances that can’t just be wished away.”

Macekura’s book “Of Limits and Growth: The Rise of Global Sustainable Development in the Twentieth Century” explores the tense trinitarian history of decolonization, environmentalism and modernization in the Third World.

The goal of the Paris talks is to create a short and straightforward agreement with the signatures of almost 200 countries.

“The most important thing that can come out of Paris is a commitment that we are in this together,” Konisky said. “This doesn’t mean a single, top-down approach, but rather a framework that allows countries to find solutions that work at home.”

Konisky recognized that this needed elasticity simultaneously works as the glue of any possible agreement but also as its greatest weakness. Even if a deal is reached, problems of accountability, transparency and inequality could potentially derail the possible benefits.

But even worse, if the talks do not carry any bite, the reliance on fossil fuels will make any future collaborations that much more expensive and difficult to implement in the face of increased global damage.

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