The 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21) is currently taking place in Paris. Leaders, officials, scientists and representatives of NGO’s are gathered in the French capital for nearly two weeks to discuss global climate change.

COP21 in Paris

Professor Johan Rockström
Professor Johan Rockström

One of the participants at the conference is Johan Rockström, Professor in Environmental Science at Stockholm University and the Executive Director of Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University. He is speaking at the International New York Times Energy for Tomorrow Conference on 8-9 December along with many C.E.Os, academics, entrepreneurs and leaders such as the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

What are your hopes for the outcome of the conference?

“A global climate agreement that makes it possible for the world to hold the increase in global average temperature below the crucial two degrees. All countries have to establish that a 2°C warmer world must be avoided at all costs.”

Johan Rockström cannot say for sure whether this will be the outcome, but he believes in a global agreement: “And it will probably be good, in the sense that the two-degree limit is established. The question is whether pledges by nations to cut carbon emissions will be enough to prevent global temperatures from rising by more than two degrees.”

According to Professor Rockström, climate pledges made by countries this autumn have not been enough. “We are still on a course towards a warming of three degrees or more. Despite this, I am cautiously optimistic. While current emission reduction goals are not enough to avoid dangerous warming, they do mean major system changes for the countries that have reported the pledges.”

A future without coal

Professor Rockström emphasizes that the previous distinction between developed and developing countries is no longer applicable. For example, Brazil’s emission reduction pledges are basically as ambitious as those made by the European Union.

“What is most important is the new tone in climate change negotiations, where the road to a fossil free world is no longer described as a ‘burden‘ and a ’sacrifice‘ but rather as an ’opportunity‘ with significant social, economic, democratic, technological and health benefits”.

What is required for policy makers to listen to scientists?

“Good quality research, a willingness to bridge science with society, as well as an interest in experimenting with different ways to communicate, that are both touching and factual.”

Professor Rockström adds that broad international collaboration between researchers is needed to develop supporting and scientific data for policy makers. In addition, he says, you should never underestimate informal, social and trust building conversations between people.

What can we do as individuals to reduce global warming? 

“There is a lot we can and must do. The first is to learn as much as possible and share the knowledge with our friends. Both society and policy makers need to know that sustainable development is not only important, but rather offers a more attractive and responsible future that everyone wants. We can all contribute to sustainable development by trying our best to think and act sustainably in everything we do – from heating our homes, supplying ourselves with electricity, travelling to work and consuming food and goods.”