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Why the Paris climate talks could yield a historic agreement

Professor Robert Stavins, director of the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements out of the Kennedy School’s Belfer Center, discussed the Paris climate talks.Tatiana Johnson/Harvard Kennedy School

The Boston Globe presents the Harvard Kennedy School PolicyCast, a weekly podcast on public policy, politics, and global issues. HKS PolicyCast is hosted by Matt Cadwallader.

Eighteen years ago, representatives from across the globe came together in Kyoto, Japan, to negotiate a deal aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and slowing the emerging threat of global climate change.

The resulting Kyoto Protocol wasn't as effective as had been hoped. Most nations, including China and India, were absolved of responsibility to hit specific targets because of their underdeveloped economies. Of the countries that were subject to emissions targets, the United States never ratified the treaty and several others either pulled out or didn't meet their commitments. In the end, only 14% of the world's emissions were covered by the accord.


Now, as leaders and representatives from more than 150 countries descend on Paris, France, for the 21st annual UN Climate Change conference (COP21), hopes are high that negotiators will finally emerge with a replacement for Kyoto that makes real progress in combating global climate change.

This week on the Harvard Kennedy School PolicyCast, I speak with Professor Robert Stavins, director of the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements out of the Kennedy School's Belfer Center, about why there's so much hope and confidence that this year could yield an historic agreement and what that agreement might look like.

"This is a very important time in the history of the negotiations," says Stavins. "More importantly, it's a very important time in the history of attempts to deal with the problem of global climate change."

You can listen to the interview embedded up top, or on iTunes. You can also skip to any particular question by scrubbing to the timecode listed below.

• Why COP21 is so important (1:49)

• What INDCs are and why they might lead to a deal (2:52)


• The road to Paris: a brief history of climate change negotiations (4:18)

• Ensuring countries keep to their commitments (9:00)

• Are China and the United States, the world's two largest greenhouse gas emitters, ready to make a deal? (10:38)

• Markers for success (13:57)

• Major impediments to success (15:12)

• The impact of the recent US State Department decision to block the Keystone XL pipeline on both the climate and these negotiations (17:32)