However much we play with the idea of geo-engineering solutions, there are really only two weapons available to deal with the threat of climate change: mitigation (reducing emissions of greenhouse gases) and adaptation (coping with the impacts of climate change we have failed to avoid by mitigation). Governments have until recently managed their interactions around climate change through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Governments meet annually, at the Conference of the Parties, to discuss progress toward reducing emissions, and toward providing financial support to developing countries for adaptation.
The UNFCCC takes a 'top-down' approach to emissions reduction, with mandatory targets imposed and policed externally. Each member country has one vote: in theory, the tiny atoll nations of the Pacific wield as much influence as the mighty BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China).
In December 2009, the fifteenth Conference of the Parties was held in Copenhagen, and everything changed. Copenhagen was showcased by the UNFCCC and the Danish government as a turning point. The Kyoto Protocol, which sets out the first phase of emissions reduction targets, is due to expire in 2012. Copenhagen was to be the conference at which the governments would put in place the foundations of a bigger, better and shinier agreement, to take us forward to a world of stabilized emissions in which climate change would be curbed. And in terms of these expectations, it was a terrible failure. The large emitters (present and future) made it perfectly clear that they would no longer accept the rule of the UNFCCC. Instead, they moved far and fast toward a 'bottom-up' approach in which nations make their own 'offers' of self-policed commitments, as set out in a non-binding agreement, which has come to be called the Copenhagen Accord.
This presentation discusses likely futures in a world where governments make their own rules about emissions reduction. It examines whether there is a future for the UNFCCC, and looks at the role of the IPCC in supporting the work of the UNFCCC.