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20 November 2015

Mistra researchers optimistic about UN Conference in Paris

Several researchers associated with Mistra are taking part in the forthcoming Paris Climate Change Conference. Lars Zetterberg will discuss the importance of workable emission markets, and Johan Rockström belongs to the Swedish negotiating delegation.

The 21st session of the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP 21) will start soon. There are high expectations that the summit will culminate in a new global agreement to keep Earth’s temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius. The French organisers expect the Conference, to be held in northern Paris from 30 November to 11 December, to attract up to 40,000 people: politicians, diplomats, environmental activists and, not least, researchers.

One of them is Lars Zetterberg, a researcher at IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute working on the Mistra Indigo programme. He has previously attended several climate change conferences at which the countries represented failed to reach any agreement. Still, he is cautiously hopeful about the Paris summit.

‘This time I’m more optimistic, since the US and China seem to be taking the matter more seriously than before. I think Paris may result in an approach that speeds up the process of achieving the 2° goal,’ he says.

Zetterberg is going to Paris to meet colleagues and experts, follow progress in the area of climate change and try to influence negotiators and opinion formers.

‘Research in Mistra Indigo has always been close to the political process and we have several examples of our success in drawing up decision data used by decision-makers.’

Emissions trading a key tool

Scope for influencing the content of the negotiations during the Conference is small, Zetterberg admits. The various countries’ positions and strategies have been carved out during preparatory work that, in some respects, has been under way for several years.

‘The most realistic expectation is that we’ll attract attention and sow a seed for discussions that may pick up after the Paris summit, in 2016.’

Mistra Indigo focuses on policy instruments in the area of climate change. During the Paris summit, the programme will hold a seminar, a ‘side-event’ in the part of the Conference that takes place alongside the actual negotiations, about how a new agreement in Paris might support emissions trading. Markets of this kind for carbon dioxide have grown in importance over the past few years, in the US, Canada and elsewhere, and the world’s largest market will soon open in China. According to Zetterberg, carbon markets will be an important tool for achieving the emission cuts that countries have undertaken, ahead of the meeting, to make.

‘Our key message in Paris is that carbon markets will continue to develop with or without United Nations support, but that the UN can play a key role in facilitating their development.’

A total of five researchers from Mistra Indigo will be there in Paris. These include the programme director Peringe Grennfelt; Bo Kjellén, former Swedish ambassador and previously Sweden's chief negotiator in the global climate negotiations; and Thomas Sterner, professor of environmental economics.

Climate petition with broad support

Another distinguished Swede, Johan Rockström of the Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC), is attending the Climate Change Conference. In the spring, jointly with 16 other leading climate researchers, he presented what they call an ‘Earth Statement’. In eight easily understood points, this document summarises what its authors consider needs to result from the negotiations in Paris in order for the 2°C goal to be achieved. The petition, which has been signed by thousands of decision-makers, celebrities and members of the public to date, is one way of exerting pressure on the negotiators.

During the summit itself, in his capacity as researcher, Rockström will enjoy a unique opportunity to follow the negotiations at close quarters, and even affect their outcome.

‘Johan Rockström was invited by the Government to join the Swedish delegation. He’ll be available to the Swedish negotiators on the spot,’ says Owen Gaffney, who is in charge of international communication at SRC.

What, then, can we expect from the negotiations? Lars Zetterberg does not believe the Conference will result in emission cuts that are sufficient for achieving the 2°C goal.

‘Instead, I think there’ll be an agreement in principle on how countries should work towards it from now on. Then there’s going to be a great deal of work to be done settling all the details, such as tightening up the parties’ commitments and monitoring compliance with them.’

Regardless of what the outcome of the Paris negotiations may be, the provisions of an agreement are likely to keep researchers busy in the future too, Zetterberg and Gaffney agree. For Mistra as well, the Paris agreement will serve as a key basis for shaping future research initiatives in the area of climate change.

Text: Henrik Lundström, Vetenskapsjournalisterna

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