COP21 has ended. Here’s why it was a milestone in the history of climate policy.

Summary: Here’s an after-action review of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris. Historic or forgettable? It was both, in different ways. {First of two posts today.}

COP21 Logo

World leaders agree to historic climate accord
By Timothy Cama at The Hill, 12 December 2015

World leaders Saturday adopted an historic international climate accord in Paris, the first-ever agreement to commit almost every country to fight climate change.

The 31-page pact does not have binding language or a mechanism to force countries to live up to the promises to cut greenhouse gases emissions or provide money for developing and poor nations to cope with the effects of global warming.

Nonetheless, leaders and the environmental community hailed the United Nations agreement has a historic turning point that has the potential to stave off the worst expected effects of global warming. Adoption of the accord is a major win for President Obama. He has made it a central piece of his second-term climate agenda to get an international agreement, since domestic action can only make a small dent in the world’s greenhouse gases.

COP21 produced an agreement, therefore it is a “win” for Obama — at least by his standards (according to The Hill). I doubt future historians will judge this accomplishment so generously, probably deeming it neither as “historic” nor a “win for Obama.” More likely it will be like its predecessors, lost in the dustbin of history.

This conference has followed the pattern of previous climate conferences. They are preceded by announcements that this is the last chance to prevent climate doom. Here are examples from the 2009 Copenhagen Conference; here is a larger set of examples from the past decade.


This hype — aka propaganda — is similar to the seemingly endless series of deadlines for climate doomsday (many of which we have already passed) — and almost as serious a problem as describing future climate nightmares by misuse of the worst-case scenario used in the IPCC’s AR5 as a “business as usual” scenario.

The saddest aspect of the 27 year long campaign for public policy action to fight climate change (which began with James Hansen’s Senate testimony) is its failure due to many such unsound tactical choices. My prediction is that COP21 marked the moment of Peak Climate Change Conferences. They will continue but with fading in both attendance and public interest.

All that can save this movement is an extreme weather event (to be blamed, as always, on climate change) — or climate activists’ decision to try something new rather than repeat the tactics that have failed so often despite so much effort.


Other analysts agree with The Hill. Such as Reuters

The final accord therefore repeatedly “invites,” “urges,” “requests” and “further requests” countries to take action. The most ambitious goals – such as holding the increase in global temperatures to 1.5 Celsius degrees above pre-industrial levels – are aspirational, requiring belief that technologies yet to be invented will offer a realistic route to achieving them.

Other posts in this series

These posts describe the campaign for public policy action to fight climate change — how it went wrong and how it can be fixed.

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For more information about this vital issue see The keys to understanding climate change and My posts about climate change.

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