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expert reaction to final stages of COP-21

It is being reported that talks in Paris which aim to produce a deal to curb climate change will end on Saturday, a day later than expected.


Prof. Geoffrey Maitland FREng, Professor of Energy Engineering at Imperial College London, said:

“Having a target of 1.5C is extremely challenging, verging on the unrealistic given where we are at 1C and the current INDCs. However, if it acts as an aspiration to ensure that we do meet 2C, then that will be good. The challenges of reaching a final agreement are all around differentiation and financing/aid by the developed countries, which will require compromises all round. We certainly need some hard targets like reaching zero net carbon rather than vague terms like ‘carbon neutrality’ to ensure that there is less wriggle room.

“Assuming some sort of agreement is reached, then the immediate challenge is to get much greater agreement on the mechanisms required for delivery – in fiscal terms like the need for a real agreed carbon price to drive technologies into the market, and in technical terms where 2C will not be achieved in the context of the developing countries growing the quality of life of its citizens and using their own natural energy resources without the continuing use of fossil fuels accompanied by large-scale implementation of CCS. This must be introduced on gas as well as coal and is the only solution for large industrial processes. The scale of this challenge is enormous – we need about 3000 >1Mte CO2 pa CCS projects by 2050 to store the 10Gt pa of CO2 that must be removed from the system compared to 2015 business as usual. But that is achievable – we should not confuse current low market penetration of this technology with low technology maturity…it is ready to be deployed commercially very rapidly, which makes the recent UK decision to cancel the two CCS projects look ludicrous.

“The other low-hanging fruit is energy efficiency, for which we need global incentives for individuals and corporations to use far less energy and hence generate far less CO2…up to 25GT pa by 2050 compared to business as usual. This will all cost money – there is no free lunch. The developed world will have to pay for reaching its own carbon mitigation targets and for a contribution to funding the developing countries to help them reach their targets on the timescales necessary to avoid >2C rises.”


Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science, said:

“In 2012 I was a co-author on a paper published in the journal ‘Climatic Change’ which assessed pathways for global annual emissions of greenhouse gases that might limit the rise in global mean surface temperature to no more than 1.5°C.

“It showed that it would be extremely difficult for the world to move to a pathway that would offer a 50 percent chance of limiting global warming to no more than 1.5°C. However, the paper concluded that, with strong emissions reductions, it might be possible to limit global warming so that it does not exceed a temperature that is more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels for more than 50 years, and so potentially avoid some of the impacts that would cause the most damage.

“This prospect becomes stronger if technology, such as the use of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, becomes available later in the century which allows carbon dioxide effectively to be removed from the atmosphere, sometimes referred to as ‘negative emissions’. This research is consistent with the current draft of the Paris Agreement which includes an objective to ‘[h]old the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C’, recognizing that this would significantly reduce risks and impacts of climate change.

“There may be other researchers who are cynical about the prospects of countries meeting this objective but they need to distinguish clearly between their own personal views and the scientific evidence. Scientists can be a gloomy bunch but they must recognise that their pessimism can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It would be ironic if the innate miserableness of some researchers put at risk attempts to reach a new international agreement to avoid dangerous climate change.”


Prof. Dave Reay, Professor of Carbon Management at the University of Edinburgh, said:

“With less than 24 hours to go things look brighter than they have been all fortnight. Yes, there are still areas of contention around differentiation, finance and transparency, but many bridges look to have been built and a meaningful agreement is taking shape.’

“The all-important ‘ratchet mechanism’ to ensure emissions reductions become more and more aggressive is still less sturdy than is required – currently not all nations would be required to beef up commitments every 5 years – but some teeth in this mechanism are finally emerging. Paris already has the world’s sympathy, tomorrow it may well have the world’s gratitude.”


Prof. Sir Gordon Conway, Imperial College London, said:

“The nexus between climate change and food security seems to have gained momentum in the Paris negotiations. It is very encouraging to see that a reference to achieving food security and to ending hunger is included in the draft text.”

“It is absolutely crucial that in the last two days of the negotiations a final push is made to ensure that  global average temperature rise stays ‘well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels’ or ‘below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels’. Anything else would lead us into dangerous waters.”


Prof. Michael Grubb, Professor of International Energy and Climate Change at UCL, said:

“The textual proposal to ‘hold the increase to well below 2C’ is as strong as could conceivably be credible.

“1.5C would require deep and rapid CO2 emission reductions driven by strong government policies, including higher energy prices to accelerate investment in clean technologies and raise funds for unprecedented disruptive innovation. It would also require public acceptance of onshore wind energy, the cheapest renewable source, at scale. However much people profess to care about climate change, they do not seem willing to vote for this – nor do politicians seem willing to really try and persuade them. Promising what you cannot deliver in a democracy is unlikely to be helpful.

“All the evidence from the past 15 years leads me to conclude that actually delivering 1.5C is simply incompatible with democracy.”


Dr Kaveh Madani, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Management at Imperial College London, said:

“Whether 1.5 or 2 degrees, the Paris negotiations can give us hope and valuable lessons. Common sense and threats can help nations unite even during times when radicals, terrorists, and Trumps are trying hard to divide the world.”

“Concerns remain. History shows that we are good at setting ambitious targets and goals in major international summits. What matters more is how to get to the target. We get too busy negotiating over the targets that we forget that we need means to get to the end goal. Whether 1.5 or 2 degrees, we should put more efforts into identifying feasible paths and processes to get us there. Otherwise, we are just adding more targets to our already ambitious agendas of sustainable development, eradication of poverty, proliferation of health and education, etc.”

“It’s easy to say and sign. What is hard is implementation – often not the main concern of ambitious politicians who remain disconnected from science.”

“The disconnect between science and decision making persists. 1.5 or even 2 degrees might not be feasible technically and scientifically. Ambitious and unrealistic goals are quickly forgotten.”


Prof. Myles Allen, Professor of Geosystem Science at the University of Oxford, said:

“It is heartening to see that such a tortuous process appears to be converging on a sensible and pragmatic outcome. Countries appear to have agreed to aim to limit warming to ‘well below’ 2 degrees, and even ‘to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees’ if possible. This is just common sense: Paris isn’t about laying down the law on how much our grandchildren will emit in the second half of this century. It is about leaving options open. If reducing emissions turns out to be easier than many people fear, or the response of the climate system turns out to be at the lower end of the current range of uncertainty, then the policies that would have limited warming to 2 degrees might well buy us 1.5 degrees instead. In that happy outcome, it would clearly be daft to go back to burning fossil fuels just because the Paris Agreement said 2 degrees was OK.

“Lots of people are asking if 1.5 degrees is even possible, which is understandable when we’ve all be told that 2 degrees will be very hard. Some simple round numbers may help to put it in perspective. Past emissions amount to about 2 trillion tonnes of CO2 which has caused getting on for 1 degree of warming. If we limit net future emissions to another trillion tonnes of CO2, which the IPCC says is still just about doable, that gets us to 1.5 degrees due to CO2 alone. Almost all scenarios expect other sources of pollution (methane, soot and the like) to add at least another 0.5 degrees to this, taking the total to 2. But we are only just beginning to work out how to reduce these other emissions, and in any case, it is warming caused by CO2 that is particularly dangerous because it is so hard to reverse.

“One thing that is clear is that meeting the 2 degree goal, and 1.5 degrees even more so, will require the development of a capacity for disposing of CO2 on a reasonably large scale, either captured from the air or from emissions from fossil fuels that countries or companies simply cannot bring themselves to leave in the ground. Global efforts towards a large-scale CO2 disposal capability took a serious knock with the UK government’s recent inexplicable decision on the Peterhead project. Coming out of Paris, it would be great to hear how we plan to take this essential technology forward.”


Dr Paul Williams, Royal Society Research Fellow at the University of Reading, said:

“A commitment to limiting the temperature rise is welcome, but a commitment to cutting emissions is arguably more important. Many observers will be hoping this aspect makes it through to the final draft.”


Declared interests

None declared

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