Can Paris Reconcile Political and Economic Interests to Combat Climate Change?

In a poetic irony, while world leaders met in Paris to address the climate change threat, two of the major countries key to global warming saw their capitals – Beijing and Delhi – smothered in dense smog. Beijing even issued its first “Red Alert” urging citizens to stay indoors. As the so-called 21st Conference of the Parties concludes in Paris, there are commitments by countries to hold back carbon emissions and increase use of renewable and low-carbon energies like solar, wind, nuclear or hydropower. Despite such commitments, keeping the global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, may be an impossible task. Scientists have warned that carbon emissions must drop as much as 70 percent by mid-century to restrict the rise of global temperatures.

This is extremely unlikely in 35 years. Commitments made in Paris would likely result in restricting the rise in global temperatures to at least 4 degrees of warming later this century. Energy systems are large and complex and take decades to change. Making substantial reductions in average global temperatures would be expensive, yet the costs are substantial should the world fail to act.