Skip to Content
Climate change

Signing the Paris climate deal was the easy part. We’re failing at the hard part.

December 12, 2018

There are two major levers the world can pull to slash the emissions driving climate change: enacting public policies and international agreements to accelerate the transition to clean energy, and funding the development of technologies that make it cheaper and easier to make that shift.

This week, we seem to be failing miserably at both.

International discord: Representatives from the nearly 200 nations that signed on to the landmark Paris climate accords have been meeting in Poland for the last two weeks, with the goal of finalizing rules for tracking and reporting efforts to meet emission reduction targets. But United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is pleading for countries to make greater sacrifices, amid fears the COP24 meeting “could collapse without an agreement on key issues,” the Associated Press reports.

Even if every country somehow did make good on its original pledges, global temperatures could still rise more than 3 ˚C, an outcome scientists have warned would be “catastrophic.”

Omission innovation: On the sidelines of the Paris climate negotiations three years ago, a group of more than 20 nations quietly signed a pact to double investments in clean-energy research and development by 2021 (see “Paris isn’t the only clean-energy pact the US is fleeing”).

In March, the Mission Innovation group that grew out of the agreement published a progress report, highlighting self-reported funding figures from participating nations like Brazil, China, India, and the United States.

At current rates, the countries are heading for around 75% growth in investments by 2021, according to an analysis by Colin Cunliff, a senior policy analyst at Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. That seems like real progress, though well short of the goal.

Don’t jibe: But Cunliff says there’s good reason to view those figures skeptically, since they’re self-reported, aren’t done in a consistent way, and don’t jibe with what several participating nations have reported elsewhere.

Consequently, he extrapolated from what he considers more reliable investment figures from the International Energy Agency, which has a number of overlapping member nations. That analysis found it’s more likely these nations will increase clean-energy R&D by a little more than 50% in five years, “a far cry from doubling,” he wrote in a blog post this week.

“The problem that Mission Innovation was created to address is more urgent than 3 years ago,” Cunliff said. “The current suite of clean technologies—even with future anticipated cost reductions—is insufficient to drive the significant levels of emissions reductions necessary to achieve a net-zero-carbon energy system.”

Deep Dive

Climate change

This CRISPR pioneer wants to capture more carbon with crops

New research at Jennifer Doudna's institute aims to create faster-growing, carbon-hungry plants using the gene-editing tool.

giant kelp underwater
giant kelp underwater

Running Tide is facing scientist departures and growing concerns over seaweed sinking for carbon removal

The venture-backed startup believes kelp could be a powerful tool to combat climate change. But some scientists fear the ecological risks on large scales.

biomass with Charm mobile unit in background
biomass with Charm mobile unit in background

Inside Charm Industrial’s big bet on corn stalks for carbon removal

The startup used plant matter and bio-oil to sequester thousands of tons of carbon. The question now is how reliable, scalable, and economical this approach will prove.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.