COP 21 logoThe 2015 Climate Change Conference, COP 21, kicked off this week as 196 parties from across the globe convene in Paris. From Nov. 30 through Dec. 11, leaders will work to adopt the world’s first legally binding agreement to stop warming short of 2 degrees Celsius.

The United Nations Climate Change Conferences are a yearly event where prominent figures look at challenges and progress related to climate change. Since the 1990s, these summits have also played host to negotiations around the Kyoto Protocol.

“It’s about deciding how different the future is going to be than right now,” Ryan Kelly, assistant professor at UW’s School of Marine and Environmental Affairs said. “In the case of climate change and ocean acidification, you have an especially difficult problem because the effects are diffuse and largely in the future.”

Past Climate Change Conferences have come close to netting a universal agreement on how to best curb warming, but the conversation is fraught with contention—the cost of implementation (and for whom), questions of behavior change, and distribution of harm. For 20 years, these issues and others have proven too difficult to overcome.

“The earlier you make a decision, the more control you have over that outcome,” Kelly said. “If there’s no decision made in 2015, the world doesn’t fall apart in 2016. But it takes some options off the table as far as mitigation and adaptation go. It also increases the costs of achieving a particular outcome.”

At the UW, scientists and researchers with the College of the Environment are uncovering more about the potential impacts of climate change, as well as identifying policy shifts that would lessen the negative effects of climate change on natural systems and communities. Some of their recent and ongoing work is highlighted here!

Written by: Kelly Knickerbocker, kknick@uw.edu