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The Earth from space

Climate Change

The “Anthropocene” is the global system. It was originally proposed as a geological epoch in which humans have become a dominant driver of Earth System change. It reflects the nature, scale and magnitude of human impacts on the Earth.1

It is an ‘inconvenient truth’ that one of these impacts is that the way we live is causing irreversible climate change.

View Al Gore’s TED talk ‘What comes after an inconvenient truth?’ (Optional)

The climate system includes the atmosphere and the oceans with dynamics that operate at the global scale. The physical world, including the climate system, is increasingly interacting with socio-economic systems at national and local scales. Global warming is one consequence of this interaction.

The leaders of most nations now agree that greenhouse gases contribute to global warming, and that policies are required to reduce emissions. However, getting nations to agree global policy has proved very difficult, e.g. the US Senate did not ratify the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and in 2001 President Bush withdrew the USA from the Kyoto process.

192 governments convened for the UN 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen, but high expectations resulted only in a controversial political declaration, the Copenhagen Accord.

This can be seen as policy failure at the global level. Richard Black suggests that this was due to some governments not wanting a global deal, the US political system making its negotiators unable to commit its legislator to a deal, bad timing through Obama being a new and unestablished US president, various errors by the host government, the weather, 24-hour news culture, EU politics, and campaigners getting their strategies wrong.2

Global Systems Science sees policy making as a process in which possible solutions to perceived problems are co-created and evaluated by policy makers, scientists, and citizens.

The views and values of nations can be represented by a single person, but that person is subject to human frailties – not least getting tired and jaded after many hours of negotiations.

In December 2015 there was another attempt to reach global agreement in Paris. According to the EU3, it had to deliver a robust international agreement that fulfilled the following key criteria:

  • create a common legal framework that applies to all countries;
  • include clear, fair and ambitious targets for all countries based on evolving global economic and national circumstances
  • regularly review and strengthen countries’ targets in light of the below 2 degrees goal (scientists fear that a temperature increase of 2 degrees or more will cause dangerous and irreversible changes to the global climate).
  • hold all countries accountable – to each other and to the public – for meeting their targets.

The hosts of the Paris meeting learned many lessons from Copenhagen, and on Saturday 12 Dec 2015 an historic agreement was signed.3


1 Xuemei Bai, Sander van der Leeuw, Karen O’Brien, Frans Berkhout, Frank Biermann, Eduardo S. Brondizio, Christophe Cudennec, John Dearing, Anantha Duraiappah, Marion Glaser, Andrew Revkin, Will Steffen, James Syvitski. ‘Plausible and desirable futures in the Anthropocene: A new research agenda’, Global Environmental Change (2015),

2 Richard Black, ‘Why did Copenhagen fail to deliver a climate deal?’, BBC News, 2009/12/22

3 European Commission. ‘Climate Action: The 2015 international agreement’

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This article is from the free online course:

Global Systems Science and Policy: an Introduction

UNESCO UNITWIN Complex Systems Digital Campus

Course highlights Get a taste of this course before you join:

  • Policy Makers including presidents, directors of NGOs, and citizens
    Policy makers

    In Global Systems Science this article defines policy makers are defined to be politicians, their officers, citizens and other stakeholders.

  • Prediction and the policy dilemma
    Prediction and the policy dilemma

    The Policy Dilemma involves policy makers trying to predict if their policies will work. This article explains why prediction is so hard.

  • Policy design
    Policy design

    In this video Jeffrey Johnson explains that policy, like design, is a coevolution between problem and solution involving compromise and satisficing.

  • Conclusion to the course
    Conclusion to the course

    This article concludes the Global System Science and Policy course by noting that Complex Systems Science is young and cannot solve all problems.