The road to Paris and beyond: how the world can limit global warming to 2C

Closer international cooperation can help deliver a deal in Paris, but cuts in CO2 will need to be scaled up swiftly, writes climate policy expert Fergus Green

The crucial climate change conference in Paris this December could still be deemed a success, even though it is highly unlikely that countries will agree targets to limit global warming to no more than 2C above pre-industrial levels.

Success in Paris will depend largely on whether the new agreement will enable a scaling up of ambition in the years following this year’s climate summit. An ambitious agreement will create a process for countries to evaluate their commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) at regular time periods.

Countries could then deepen their cuts every five years as new low-carbon technologies become available and the costs of existing technologies continue to fall, and the freedom of manoeuvre  for tougher action on climate change grows.

The French Government, which will host the Paris summit, has indicated that it will seek a ‘Paris Climate Alliance’ as an outcome from the conference. This will be based on four aspects:

1.            A universal legal agreement, applicable to all countries

2.            National commitments covering control and reduction of emissions

3.            Scaling up finance and technology for climate change mitigation and adaptation while guaranteeing international solidarity with the most vulnerable countries

4.            An ‘Agenda of Solutions’ aimed at implementing accelerator measures to ensure more ambitious progress above and beyond binding commitments

The legal agreement that is emerging is a hybrid, involving a mix of centralised and decentralised, binding and non-binding elements.

Overall, it will likely be legally-binding, setting out common goals and procedures. It will be associated with the pledges, or ‘intended nationally determined contributions’ (INDCs), submitted by countries to restrain and reduce emissions.  However, the INDCs will not be legally-binding at an international level.

It is hoped that the agreement will contain a number of useful elements. The first is a set of shared medium and long term goals concerning the decarbonisation of the global economy. These could include the long term objective of achieving net zero emissions within the second half of this century. This is also associated with medium-term goals, including the decarbonisation of electricity by mid-century at the latest, the phasing out of unabated coal-fired electricity generation and associated measures to curtail coal mining well before 2050.

The second is an improved set of common rules and procedures for transparently measuring and accounting for countries’ progress toward their own INDCs and the long term global goal.

And the third is a review and revision process for countries to scale up their ambition over time, so that efforts converge on a pathway sufficient to reach the long-term goal. The INDCs that countries have so far submitted ahead of Paris should be seen as initial contributions to an ongoing process.

See also: Why much more is needed to avoid catastrophic climate change 


It is important for countries to see the Paris conference, and wider efforts to decarbonise their economies, in a collaborative way. Action on climate change is an opportunity to be grasped. Countries must recognise that a low- and zero-carbon development can bring economic, social and environmental benefits.

With deeper forms of cross-border collaboration and coordination, both within and beyond the UN process, the benefits of decarbonisation can be expanded and costs reduced still further. Channelling finance toward the zero carbon economy, and policy support for clean technology innovation are two areas where international cooperation is especially important. There is great scope to raise ambition beyond Paris, including through the G20 and through bilateral or regional initiatives.

Finally, all of this can occur in a way that is sensitive to the principle of equity, which is defined by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change as “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities”. However, this principle must be interpreted in light of the much-improved understanding of the attractiveness of many measures to reduce emissions and adaptation to climate change.

The prize

All countries should be encouraged and assisted to develop domestic institutions, laws, policies, and political configurations that are conducive to increasing ambition over time. There are opportunities for better quality growth to be seized. All nations should implement international commitments effectively.

The prize of successful international climate cooperation is a much more attractive and dynamic form of economic growth and development that creates a much healthier environment for people everywhere, overcomes poverty, and can be sustained over the long term.

An agreement in Paris can play a very important role in signalling to the world that this is the future direction of the global economy, and in accelerating tangible initiatives to achieve it.

This article is a shortened version of an LSE paper that can be found here: