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ICSU co-organizes key scientific press conference at COP21

More than 200 international journalists streamed into a side event room at Le Bourget to hear the comments of leading international scientists on the penultimate draft of the Paris Agreement. The press conference led to extensive coverage in the international press, with many of the key arguments presented by the scientists resonating through media until after the agreement was accepted.
ICSU co-organizes key scientific press conference at COP21

More than 200 international journalists showed up to hear an all-star panel of international scientists comment on the draft Paris Agreement. Photo: ICSU

On Friday, 11 December 2015, while negotiatiors were frantically working on preparing the final Paris outcome agreement, ICSU co-organized a press conference with leading international climate scientists briefing the press on the science behind the temperature target and the long-term goal. The panel of scientists consisted of Hans-Joachim Schellnhuber, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Johan Rockstrom, Executive Director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Steffen Kallbekken, Research Director at CICERO, Kevin Anderson, Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre, and Joeri Rogelj, IIASA.

The press conference, which had to be moved to a larger room at the last minute because of the extremely high media interest, saw more than 200 journalists from print, broadcast and online media eager to hear scientifc comment on the two critical components of the text, which had surprised many observers in their levels of ambition, including the reference to attempting to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.

The scientists welcomed the inclusion of the 1.5°C target in the draft text, saying that the higher levels of ambition were encouraging and consistent with science. However, they expressed concern that the rest of the text may not be ambitious enough to actually achieve the goal. Hans Joachim Schellnhuber said that COP 21 still has one job left to do: operationalize the 1.5°C goal.

Kevin Anderson caused a murmur in the room when he called the current draft 'weaker than Copenhagen' because it excludes emissions from shipping and aviation that together equal the total emissions of the UK and Germany combined.

Steffen Kallbekken said that by the time the countries' pledges come into force in 2020, we will probably have used the entire carbon budget consistent with 1.5°C warming. Johan Rockström added that "we need global decarbonization. The language of ‘greenhouse gas neutrality’ [in the draft] opens up the possibility of relying on massive carbon sinks while continuing to burn fossil fuels. This is a very risky future."

The scientists' comments led to extensive coverage, notably in the Washington Post, which summarized the scientists' message as a caution against creating problems now that will come back to haunt the Paris agreement in the future. On ICSU's Road to Paris blog, Kim Nicholas provides a nice overview of the science press briefing, and how they all agree that while 1.5°C is the right temperature target, a lot of hard work towards decarbonization is required to make it a reality. And on The Conversation, Clive Hamilton provides a balanced view between how the political, aspirative nature of the text, and the real world challenges of making the temperature target a reality.

There are of course many more stories based on the press conference, including in the Wall Street Journal, Climate Home, The Nation, Reuters (three times), and AP.

The press conference was co organized by ICSU with the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Future Earth, CICERO and the Tyndall Centre.

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