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Governing climate after the Paris agreement

Posted on 26/02/2016
climate change puff

NASA/Kathryn Hansen

Academics from King’s were this week joined by prominent influential thinkers in the field of climate change to reflect upon the outcomes of the Paris Climate Conference (COP21) and some of the key questions that need to be addressed if the ambitious targets set out by world leaders in December are to be met.

The event came in the wake of the widely optimistic commentary on the Paris Agreement, which has concentrated mainly on its political and diplomatic success. The event was motivated by the need to now think more about the reality of implementing the agreed measures and how the targets are going to be achieved, in comparison to the rhetoric heard in Paris. 

The discussion was led by Professor Mike Hulme, Department of Geography, who chaired a public dialogue between Professor Mark Pelling (Department of Geography, King’s College London), Dr Oliver Geden (German Institute for International and Security Affairs), Professor Harriet Bulkeley (University of Durham) and Dr Eva Lövbrand (Linköping University, Sweden). The event was preceded by a closed workshop in which invited speakers, academics and other key figures in the field of climate governance reflected on the Paris agreement and its future implications for climate politics, policy and research.

At the public debate, the speakers reflected on the targets set in Paris and the gap between the rhetoric and reality, addressing questions around the political role of temperature targets, the significance of textual ambiguity, pluralism and the importance of collaborative effort and international development.  

The panel suggested that the celebration that followed the Paris negotiations created an atmosphere of anticipation  and that the agreed temperature targets were potentially a way to create mood of ambition and responsibility that can be claimed and adopted by different nations. Another prominent outcome of the conference was  recognising the importance of a collaborative, bottom up approach to enacting change. This utilises the impact that can be made by organisations operating beneath state level, thus expanding the responsibility for climate governance beyond national governments. This multi-level collaborative approach was suggested as vital for managing climate change in the future.

The panel concluded that there is no single ‘hero’ that can solve or stop climate change. Rather, pluralistic efforts are needed across different state levels, meeting diverse goals and recognising competing interests. The group also suggested that there is a danger of elevating the temperature target to being the only key to the formation of policy.  Instead targets should be defined in a multitude of ways, such as investment flows in new technology, improvements in air quality or climate protection measures. 

Speaking after the debate, Professor Mike Hulme said: ‘The agreement in Paris in December is a significant development in how global climate will be governed in the future.  But there is much more to climate governance than just agreements such as Paris and voluntary pledges that have been made by world leaders. We need to think about how the ambitions are going to be regulated and financed and how targets are to be used, as well as work out clearly which agents of change will have the most important roles to play. The discussions tonight have shown that collaboration between national and local governments, business and civil society  is key.’ 


For media information, please contact Hannah Pluthero, Press Officer at King's College London on 0207 848 3238 or

For further information about King's, please visit the King's in Brief web pages.

Image: NASA/Kathryn Hansen

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