The Subtext at COP21 in Paris: Climate Change Science Conflicts and Governance


“What we need is an agreement that’s ambitious — because that’s what the scale of the challenge demands. We need an inclusive agreement — because every country has to play its part. And we need an agreement that’s flexible — because different nations have different needs. And if we can come together and get this right, we can define a sustainable future for your generation.” – U.S. President Barack Obama, Climate Change Speech at Georgetown University, January 26, 2013

Traversing the costs and benefits of policy options to a changing climate will likely be a delicate balancing act similar to what these youth traverse every day in Bangladesh (among the most vulnerable countries to climate change). Photograph by Saleem H. Ali

The Climate Change summit in Paris is being presented by the United Nations as a last ditch effort to gain global consensus on climate change policy. Yet, despite our best efforts at achieving consensus, climate science is robust but not quite settled at every level. The Australian Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) has summarized the scientific situation quite well in October 2015 as follows: “There is ample, well-supported evidence to provide a basis for action through mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and for adaptation to reduce our vulnerability to climate change impacts. At the same time, further research is needed to reduce the uncertainties and quantify confidence levels.”

No doubt the scientific evidence for increases in greenhouse gases (GHG) which trap heat and the physical impact of these processes has been well-known to science for decades and is not contested. However, the interaction of these processes with other natural cycles and the observable changes in temperature being short-term versus long-term remain contested. The debate on the magnitude —> Read More