China’s coal consumption fell marginally in 2014, the first such drop this century, in large part as a result of its policies to address its severe air pollution, develop renewable and alternative energy, and transition its economy away from heavy industry. China should take advantage of its current circumstances to adopt an aggressive national coal consumption cap target and policy to peak its coal consumption as soon as possible, no later than its next Five Year Plan (2016–2020), so that it can then peak its CO2 emissions by 2025. It can achieve this target by building upon its existing achievements in developing clean energy such as wind and solar power, where it leads the world in manufacturing and installation, and focusing on improving integration of renewable energy and scaling technologies such as energy storage, electric vehicles and smart grids. China should also prioritize renewable energy development over coal in its western expansion in order to avoid making large investments in stranded assets, and should price carbon high enough to direct investment toward clean energy. By doing so, China can help lead a transition to clean energy that will contribute greatly to global efforts to keep warming to no more than 2°C, and can serve as a model for other developing countries. 

Building upon domestic actions, China should work with other key players, including the Group of Twenty (G20), to advance the international climate agenda. China should also ensure that the newly formed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) prioritizes clean energy development for developing countries and does not fund coal mining or coal power projects, so that other countries can leapfrog the environmental pollution that China is now seeking to remedy.

Climate scientists agree that human activity has been changing our planet’s climate over the long term. Without serious policy changes, scientists expect devastating consequences in many regions: inundation of coastal cities; greater risks to food production and, hence, malnutrition; unprecedented heat waves; greater risk of high-intensity cyclones; many climate refugees; and irreversible loss of biodiversity. Some international relations scholars expect increased risk of violent conflicts over scarce resources and due to state breakdown.

Environmentalists have been campaigning for effective policy changes for more than two decades. The world’s governments have been negotiating since 1995 as parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Their 2015 Paris Agreement created a new regime for joint action; among other things, it is the first UN climate agreement to oblige all parties to make some contribution. Each party made a pledge pertaining to the period 2020 to 2025 or 2030. But it is widely agreed that if they are all implemented, together these 2015 pledges will still fall far short of what is needed to meet the collective goals and avoid widespread catastrophes. Important details of the Paris Agreement itself also remain to be negotiated. Nor is the UNFCCC the whole of international climate governance. Many initiatives have also been launched by smaller sets of countries, national governments, provinces, cities, civil society, and private investors and companies.  

This project is designed to generate improved ideas for both the UNFCCC process and other possible sites of climate governance. During 2015 we published nine policy briefs and papers, which can be found below. The ideas in two of them appeared in Paris during COP21. Several offered original recommendations for more effective action outside the UNFCCC. A new series of publications will appear during 2016-2017.