Climate crossroads

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Science  27 Nov 2015:
Vol. 350, Issue 6264, pp. 1016-1017
DOI: 10.1126/science.350.6264.1016

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Hope and caution surround the upcoming Paris climate talks. More than 2 decades have passed since nations met in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to create the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Since then, a succession of international meetings under the framework—most notably in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997 and Copenhagen in 2009—have done little to alter our planet's worrisome trajectory. Annual global emissions of carbon dioxide have risen steadily from 21 billion tons in 1992 to 32 billion tons in 2012. And the dismal track record of global climate talks inspires little confidence that nations can agree to make the huge changes required to stop treating the atmosphere like a carbon sewer. Still, negotiators are convinced the Paris talks will be different. In Kyoto, nations attempted to create a legally binding agreement, which subsequently failed to deliver results in part because the United States would not ratify the treaty. This time, nations—164 as Science went to press—have each prepared pledges, called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), which detail their promised emissions cuts and other actions through 2030. Negotiators hope the bottom-up INDC approach will prevail where the top-down Kyoto strategy failed.