Science and Politics at the Recent Paris Climate Negotiations

By Alix Morris and Dr. Bill Moomaw

eiffel-tower-c-yann_caradecAfter two weeks of climate negotiations in Paris, nearly 200 nations came together to sign an historic agreement to stem the effects of climate change. On Friday, December 18th, Dr. Bill Moomaw – a climate expert and Chair of the Science Committee at Earthwatch – will be hosting an “Ask Me Anything” event on Reddit – an online forum where he will answer any and all questions about the implications of the new agreement. Join the conversation between 1:00 and 3:00pm EST.

Landmark Climate Agreement Reached

On the evening of December 12th, after 13 days of intense negotiations, representatives of 195 nations arrived at a landmark climate agreement. According to the agreement, nearly every nation will be responsible for cutting greenhouse gas emissions to limit the devastating effects of climate change. While some have described the plan as a breakthrough achievement, others contend that it does not go far enough.

As part of the climate plan, countries will pursue efforts to contain the rising global temperatures to no more than two degrees Celsius above temperatures in pre-industrial times. But is this enough to prevent some of the most devastating consequences of climate change?


Scientists expect to observe the greatest effects of climate change in the Arctic. Earthwatch’s Climate Change at the Arctic’s Edge expedition is measuring these changes in Churchill, Manitoba, situated at the convergence of tundra, forest, freshwater, and marine ecosystems.

According to Dr. Bill Moomaw, Earthwatch’s Chair of the Science Committee and Professor Emeritus of International Environmental Policy at Tufts University, these consequences are already occurring. During an interview with WBUR, Boston’s NPR station, Bill said, “I think there’s a lot to be positive about, but we really need to be going further.”

Island nations are in trouble due to rising sea levels, said Bill. Major flooding is occurring in coastal U.S. cities (a four-fold increase in the last 25 years), and the rate of melting in Greenland has tripled during the last 15 years or so. Two degrees is not necessarily a safe level, he said. But the agreement is a critical foundation for ongoing discussion about how to mitigate the effects of the most significant environmental challenge of our time.


Mountain ecosystems are extremely vulnerable to a changing climate. Earthwatch’s Wildlife in the Changing Andorran Pyrenees seeks to study and protect this delicate alpine environment from the effects of climate change.

The climate agreement is complex, and many are left with unanswered questions or confusion as to its implications for individuals, for nations, and for the planet. That’s why Bill has agreed to host a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” or AMA event on December 18th from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. EST, where users will have the opportunity to ask Bill any and all questions related to the climate agreement, its relevance, and its implications. Don’t have a Reddit account? No problem. You can easily create one or simply follow the conversation as it’s happening.

Some Climate History from Bill Moomaw:

The science of climate change is complex, and the politics are more so. I have always found the interaction between the two to be fascinating, and remember being shocked as a young scientist that science did not always determine the political outcome of a policy process. I want to share with you the role of science in the outcome of the Paris climate negotiation that just ended on December 13th, 2015.


In the Peruvian Amazon, evidence of climate change is abundant. Earthwatch’s Amazon Riverboat Exploration is helping to develop conservation strategies to protect this ecosystem and its unique biodiversity.

A bit of history: back in the 1980s, a group of scientists convinced some governments that based on their research, the release of heat trapping gases into the atmosphere would heat the earth to a point where there could be uncontrollable and irreversible warming with devastating consequences for all life, including humans. This science prompted two actions. The first was to create the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to provide scientific input to governments on the science, impacts, vulnerabilities, adaptation, and mitigation of climate change. The second was to negotiate an international treaty, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change that was signed by 154 nations in 1992. The Paris negotiations were the 21st meeting of the parties to the original treaty, and its actions both utilized and ignored science in the final outcome.

I invite you to join me on December 18th in a discussion about how science and policy came together and diverged over issues like the 2oC global temperature goal during the recent Paris talks.

If you have questions about the event, please contact us at We hope to see you there!