Paris climate accord to test UN's promise-keeping abilities

This December the United Nations climate summit in Paris will once again test countries' abilities to keep promises on emission reductions. Another "pledge and review" approach will be taken, despite large lacks of follow-up executed by nations such as Japan, Canada, Russia, and New Zealand in the past. Researcher David J. C. MacKay and crew have published a paper showing how promises aren't enough for a project as important as this one, and that nations "must agree on a common goal in everyone's self interest."

According to the UN document "Parties' views and proposals on the elements for a draft negotiating text," this 2015 agreement "is to be guided by science and equity." This is good – it sounds great, and it'll be a good way to jump in on an agreement that'll be equilateral for all UN parties.

See also: Climate change raises dead as mass graves disturbed

What does this agreement hope to do? According to the UN, it'll be put in place to enable "an increase in ambition over time guided by the agreed overall goal of holding the increase in global average temperature below 2/1.5 ºC above pre-industrial levels.

Though the agreement aims to "enable an upward spiral of ambition over time," MacKay and crew say that "history and the science of cooperation predict that quite the opposite will happen."

They point to the Kyoto Protocol at the 2012 UN climate meeting in Doha. There, several countries left the agreement during the first phase, essentially ditching the review in the process.

MacKay and crew suggest that a global carbon price – one, single price – is needed to achieve individual commitment from each nation. With a single price for emissions – penalties, that is to say – the goal will be more reliably met. The UN will then "harness self-interest by aligning it with the common good," so says this research.

You can see more of this research in the paper "Price carbon – I will if you will" as authored by David J. C. MacKay, Peter Cramton, Axel Ockenfels, and Steven Stoft. This paper can be found in Nature under code doi:10.1038/526315a.