New paper published in nature climate change

The paper `The appeasement effect of a United Nations climate summit on the German public´ was published in the current issue of the journal nature climate change. It presents first findings from the research project `Down to Earth´, directed by Prof. Dr. Michael Brüggemann and funded by the cluster of Excellence `CliSAP´.

The article analyses if and to what extend the media coverage of the UN climate summit in Paris 2015 influences knowledge or problem awareness of climate Change in the German public. The results of a three-wave panel survey show that media coverage increases knowledge and problem awareness in the public only in certain aspects.

The full paper is available online.

The Paper was published by Michael Brüggemann, Professor of climate and science communication at the University of Hamburg, Fenja De Silva-Schmidt, Imke Hoppe as well as Dorothee Arlt and Josephine B. Schmitt.


Bildschirmfoto 2015-11-09 um 12.28.37

Der Artikel „The appeasement effect of a United Nations climate summit on the German public” ist in der aktuellen Ausgabe des Journals nature climate change erschienen. Er enthält erste Ergebnisse aus dem von Prof. Dr. Michael Brüggemann geleiteten Forschungsprojekt „Down to Earth“ und wurde durch das Hamburger Exzellenzcluster CliSAP finanziert.

Der Artikel untersucht, inwieweit die Berichterstattung über die UN-Klimakonferenz 2015 in Paris den Wissensstand der deutschen Bevölkerung beeinflusst und sie für das Thema Klimawandel sensibilisiert. Die Ergebnisse einer Panelbefragung in drei Wellen zeigen, dass die Berichterstattung das Wissen und die Sensibilität für das Thema in der Bevölkerung nur in bestimmten Aspekten vergrößert.

Das Paper ist online lesbar. Eine gute Zusammenfassung auf Deutsch gibt es bei

Publiziert wurde die Arbeit durch Michael Brüggemann, Professor für Klima- und Wissenschaftskommunikation an der Universität Hamburg, Fenja De Silva-Schmidt, Imke Hoppe sowie Dorothee Arlt und Josephine B. Schmitt.

Bridging the gap: Under-representation and communication between groups at COP21

Blog by Rebecca Froese

I’ve never considered myself a radical youth, a hard-core feminist or any other kind of fundamental advocate. However, being at COP in Paris, I recognized power dynamics that I had for a long time considered things of the past.

I recognized people struggling with antiquated roles that are not visible or formulated but resonated everywhere. I saw women, youth and people from developing countries being marginalized (perhaps inadvertently) by the black-and white masses of the “middle-aged-white-men wearing black”. I am sorry to dig out stereotypes, and my expressions might be a little exaggerated, but my point is, at COP, not all voices are equally heard and considered. Let me describe some of my observations that brought me to these conclusions:

A group holds signs at COP21. Credit: ZME Science.

Walking around the venue – on the surface there seemed to be both men and women and a diversity of races, cultures and ages represented. However, at the side events (speeches, presentations and panels) the uniformity in gender, age and cultural context among speakers was remarkable. Just for fun, at some of the side events I started taking statistics on the speakers’ diversity. The result were as surprising as they were alarming. Bearing in mind the importance of diverse people from around the world having their unique voices and perspectives heard on climate change, the effect is has on communities and possible actions that could be taken, the lack of representation for many minority groups was very concerning.  From all the panels I attended; of the usual seven to eight speakers on a typical panel, the most diversity I observed were two women and two non “white” people (oh, how I hate this categorization).

Sometimes, these seemingly quota-filling  individuals were merged into one person. When it came to youth – the seeming lack of representation was even more serious. While I didn’t ask everyone their age, from what I saw, I believe not a single speaker was under 40. The only exceptions to these statistics that I observed were the side events about:

  • “Gender issues”: going to the other extreme, having very few men on the panel
  • “Young innovators”: having a good mixture of youth and middle-aged men. Yes only men – which made it again, very one-sided
  • “Africa Day”: Had only non-white people on the panel and fitting into the statistic of having two women from seven panelists
  • “Human rights”: Had the best gender balance of any panel I saw with four women (with two none-white people among them) and three men

It seems to me, that everyone is doing his or her own thing, trying to rebel against existing preconceptions and always accusing “the other side”. Women ally with women to “fight” the male “predominance.” Why they should ally with men to address the issue seriously? Youth ally themselves with youth at special youth events or in activists groups celebrating their creative and innovative ideas. Why should they speak up in the official meetings? You get the idea..

Please don’t get me wrong – there is nothing wrong with forming alliances with people that share the same thoughts and opinions as you- but the actions move in the wrong direction when the alliances start to form blocks instead of broad coalitions. Without communicating these limitations (which is what this blog entry tries to do), a dialogue between the different positions cannot be facilitated and instead front lines harden further.

The conflict arising through the under-representation of women, youth, indigenous people and others further continues. It is not only about having faces be seen, but about having voices be heard. Voices, that do not accuse, blame or beg, but voices that tell the truth in an understandable and just way. When facing under-representation and marginalization, I have the feeling that these voices (with women being by far the largest minority in society, you know) feel the need to team up – which is good in the first place. However, in the way these groups communicate, they expose themselves to a situation of weakness and inability which is not needed. They feel the need to fight against prejudices and preconceptions that they assume exist in their audiences’ heads. Let me give you some examples to illustrate what I mean:

  • Each and every speaker at the “Africa Day” emphasized at least two times that they “are not here to beg” – assuming that everybody was expecting developing countries to be begging in Paris
  • The youth speakers emphasized their need for more and better education, especially in situations like this – assuming that youth do not have any chance of making their point facing the high-level experiences of the older people
  • Women speaking up and reinforcing the work and the efforts of many other women – assuming that the women’s good work will otherwise not be recognized

We should be far beyond the point of having to justify what we do and why we do it. These issues have been recognized for a long time in the Declaration of Human Rights.

What is missing now is the implementation of these points in a way so no one feels underrepresented, marginalized and consequently feels the need to justify themselves. Establishing an equal and just way of communicating our thoughts and opinions, in an environment that enables a fair dialogue would relax communication and allow us to focus on the things that are actually important: like including human rights issues into the Paris agreement.

“I Can’t Believe I Still Have To Protest This Sh*t” Seven Days of Climate Change on Reddit

Jonas Kaiser
Blog by Jonas Kaiser

There’s always much to be said about climate change. During COP21, a critical and potentially future-determining event, there’s even more to be said. We have, for example, already read on this blog how journalists cover the conference, what different climate narratives exist or on how many layers climate change affects us.

What is often forgotten in the public discourse on climate change, however, is how regular people around the world make sense of what’s going on in Paris. The teenager in Newark, the student in Madrid or the businesswoman in Pune. It has often times been reiterated that climate change affects every one of us. In this analysis I will shed some light into how climate change is discussed on the “front page of the internet”: Reddit.

The Sheldon Glacier with Mount Barre in the background, is seen from Ryder Bay near Rothera Research Station, Adelaide Island, Antarctica, in this NASA/British Antarctic Survey handout photo. Sea levels could rise by 2.3 metres for each degree Celsius that global temperatures increase and they will remain high for centuries to come, according to a new study by Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, released on July 15, 2013. REUTERS/NASA/British Antarctic Survey/Handout via Reuters (UNITED STATES - Tags: SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY ENVIRONMENT) ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS - RTX11NGF
This picture originally appeared on in a story about how Reddit’s science subreddit would no longer allow climate denial posts. Click picture to follow link

In terms of social media, Reddit is an old man among the likes of Instagram, Snapchat, Yik Yak or Voat. The social news/bookmarking site was founded in 2005 and is nowadays one of the most popular sites on the web (Alexa ranks Reddit as the 31st most visited site in the world). Ever wondered where your Facebook friends get their weird news stories or your news site the funny cat video? Well, there’s a high chance Reddit was somehow involved. The site allows you to read and post links, pictures, videos, songs or your own story to specific thematically clustered forums (so called subreddits or subs and indicated by an /r/). A picture of your puppy, for example, would be posted in /r/aww. Additionally Reddit also allows you to comment on each of these links and discuss your puppy’s cuteness with strangers all over the world, and like or dislike other user’s pets or their comments (called upvotes and downvotes). This makes Reddit one of the most vibrant and diverse internet forums on the web.

For this blogpost I naturally didn’t look at puppy pictures (well, that too) but rather how climate change was discussed in the seven days from November 30 to December 6 [1]. I scraped Reddit for all posts that had the terms “climate change”, “global warming”, “climate paris” and “cop21” in their title. This resulted in 2.020 unique submissions, i.e. news articles, videos, images or text posts. This stat alone shows how relevant climate change is for Reddit users. In a first step I looked at the amount of posts per search term and how that differed from each other.

Fig. 1: Amount of posts per search term

We can see that “climate change” was the most used search term for the last week (n=980) and “global warming” the least (n=300). Unsurprisingly, on the first day there were the most posts on Reddit, with the amount of posts rapidly declining over the next few days. This is most likely closely connected to the media’s reporting on COP21 but, it may also relate to the tedious middle phase of the conference, where generally little progress is made and new developments are rare.

In a next step I looked at the most popular posts to see if there’s some kind of pattern. There were 8 posts that had over 1.000 upvotes (almost a guarantee for a spot on Reddit’s front page and thus to be seen by millions of people all over the world). This picture which also inspired the title of this post, has been viewed over 1.5 million times, received 5.794 upvotes[2] and 495 comments (the top comment says “I bet she uses that sign for everything.”). The second most upvoted link shows, however, that Reddit is not only about funny pictures. It can also be about politics: this article by The New York Times got posted in the politics subreddit and states that “Two-Thirds of Americans Want U.S. to Join Climate Change Pact”. It got 5.613 upvotes and 1.266 comments. The only topic that reached the front page twice was the hacking of the advertisement spaces in Paris (one of the posts linked to these images). However Reddit does not only give you the option to post pictures of news stories but it also offers people the opportunity to give “mass interviews”, so called Ask Me Anythings (AMAs). Janos Pasztor (Ban Ki-moon’s senior adviser on climate change) took this chance and answered Reddit’s questions on what negotiators looked like or how one should deal with climate skeptics.

This glimpse alone shows just how diverse Reddit can be. To fully understand the spectrum of the sites diversity I took a closer look at the subreddits. I took the amount of submissions per subreddit, the average amount of comments per submission and the average amount of upvotes a submission got and plotted these accordingly.

Reddit 2
Fig. 2: Amount of posts per subreddit, its average comments and its average upvotes

First of all, we can see that users posted about climate change on a wide variety of subreddits reaching from satire (/r/shittyaskscience), science (/r/science), politics (/r/conservative) to local news (/r/Calgary) (426 subreddits in total). We can also see that the majority of these subreddits are neither used frequently for posts about climate change nor get a lot of comments or upvotes. There may be two reasons for this: on the one hand many of these subreddits are not that popular and thus not very visible for other users. On the other hand, climate change may not be the most “engaging” issue for users.

Another aspect that supports these ideas is the difference between normal subreddits and the so called “default” ones (since there is no official list I used this user generated one). These are the subreddits which are mostly on the front page and to which a Reddit user is subscribed to by default and which are consequently the ones with the most subscribers and biggest reach. These default subreddits are the blue dots in Fig. 2. You can see the difference between funny (e.g. the old lady on the climate march), IAmA (e.g. Janos Pasztor’s AMA) and pics (e.g. the faux ads but also pictures of the protests in Paris which have been covered on this blog, too) and the rest. There are only few posts in these subreddits but those few had a lot of upvotes and comments and thus a wide reach and big engagement.

In stark contrast to these default subreddits stand the most active ones. There were, for example, 173 posts to /r/environment which dealt with all different kinds of topics (e.g. conference process, national politics or scientific studies) but which were barely commented upon or upvoted. This holds also true for other subreddits like /r/betternews or /r/climate. One default subreddit which is used actively for climate related news is /r/worldnews (n=94). Indeed, one of the Top 8 posts was submitted to this subreddit and dealt with the possibility of Exxon having to pay billions in a climate change lawsuit. But on the other side a lot of posts on /r/worldnews were not as successful, thus resulting in a comparatively low average upvote and comment score.

A last subreddit I want to draw your attention to is /r/climateskeptics. This “safe space” for skeptics has seen 79 submissions with an average of 12 upvotes and 8 comments per post. Covered issues were, for example, the scientific consensus (the dreaded 97%), the supposed hiatus, a link between climate change and terrorism (this actually got discussed in several mostly conservative subreddits) or the fact that a French weatherman and skeptic got hired by the Kremlin. Additionally, /r/climateskeptics is one of the few subreddits which actively promotes the term “global warming” (n=25; only /r/environment used it more often with 27 posts) next to “climate change” (n=36; /r/environment with 101 posts) thus echoing a recent study by Jang and Hart to some extent.

For this blog post I set out to look at how Reddit’s users discussed climate change. With this small analysis, I was able to show that Reddit users greatly care about climate change. The political nature of COP21 influenced Reddit’s agenda strongly in this respect. Not only were the political subreddits among the most active and engaging but also news posts of Obama’s speech in Paris, YouTube videos of the faux ads or images of rioting protesters were prominently discussed all over Reddit. Additionally, climate change was discussed on all different kinds of levels: internationally, nationally but also locally. Reddit wouldn’t be true to its spirit, if there weren’t also a few posts that looked at climate change humorously (e.g. this idea to solve climate change submitted to /r/shittyaskscience), scientifically (e.g. this remarkable study) or suspecting a big conspiracy (/r/climateskeptics or /r/conspiracy) and thus emphasizing Reddit’s thematic and user diversity.

When looking at such a diverse and multi-faceted site as Reddit there are a few aspects which have to be neglected. Most notably, I chose to focus for this blogpost on the submitted posts and ignored the comments. This analysis is thus only able to give you a broad idea of how internet users from all over the world discuss climate change and the conference in Paris and its small and the big stories.

Note: I’d like to thank Stephan Schlögl and Adrian Rauchfleisch for their valuable tips, help and insight with R.

[1] The time on Fig. 1 shows that I also scraped some posts from Nov 29. As recommended by Reddit, I used Epochconverter to get all posts from Nov 30 00:00 to Dec 7 00:00. Naturally, this somehow skews the plot but the trend remains the same either way. If you have an idea how that happened, let me know! 🙂

[2] All upvote and comment numbers stem from the time of my scrape and do not necessarily still have to be the exact amount of votes or comments. Reddit is tricky that way.

Climate justice activism under the ‘state of emergency’.

Post by Joost de Moor (in Paris)

During the two years before COP21, a large group of French and international NGOs, unions, social movement organizations, and grassroots groups united in the Coaltion Climat 21 (and beyond) to develop and coordinate a range of actions to demand climate action and to act for climate justice. The result of this process was a call for action covering the two weeks of the COP.

These plans changed dramatically, however, after the attacks of November 13. While the climate change movement has long faced an uphill battle at COPs, since the terror attacks of November 13, its path has become extra steep.

Immediately after the attacks, it became clear that the mobilization would be strongly affected by this new situation – in particular by the ‘state of emergency’ that was installed in reaction to the terror threat. On the Wednesday after the attacks it was declared that all planned mass mobilizations during the first and last weekend of the COP were forbidden. The movement had about ten days to come up with new action plans.

How has the movement reacted to this situation?

On the Thursday after the bans were announced, organizers came together in Paris to start developing new ideas that would still allow them to voice their concerns about climate change. As certain groups in the coalition insisted on respecting the ban on demonstrations, the coalition decided to cancel the global climate march that was planned in Paris on November 29. The idea of the human chain was introduced to replace it: a chain of individuals standing next to each other on the sidewalk provided a means to show the movement’s message along the march’s original trajectory, while being likely to be tolerated by the police. But also the plans for civil disobedience actions had to be adjusted. Even though they were essentially illegal in the first place, organizers had to take into account a context with increased police repression, and the accommodating increased risks.

Anti-nuclear protesters in Paris escorted by police - Credit Robin Wood
Anti-nuclear protesters in Paris escorted by police – Credit Robin Wood

Yet the state of emergency not only affected the actions of the movement – it also changed its message in at least two ways. Firstly, soon after the attacks, many organizers realized that in order to pay tribute to the severity of the attacks, they needed to address the question of terror. They decided to do so by highlighting the interrelatedness of the climate struggle and questions of peace: climate change is already disrupting areas leading to conflict, and a future of climate chaos will only increase this situation. As such, the new situation, and the broadening of the movement’s topic could even bring unusual suspects into the movement. Secondly, not so much the attacks themselves, but in particular the state of emergency have brought in another new topic to the movement: that of civil liberties and the right to freedom of expression. Climate activists and civil liberty campaigners have found each other in a struggle to claim the right to express concerns, this time specifically about climate change.

Finally, the state of emergency affected organizers’ and activists’ perceived chances of success. While the situation may be a source of despair to some activists, others have pronounced that the repression they are facing is an indication that they are now considered a force to be reckoned with, and that they might even be winning. Director of Greenpeace International, Kumi Naidoo, used the words of Gandhi when he said “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and then you win. They are fighting us, so we must be winning.”

How does this change the field of action?

While there is still an important degree of optimism, in the streets, the climate movement is facing severe police repression whenever they try to cross any of the boundaries set by the state of emergency. In fact, the level of repression became already clear before the COP, and before any action even started. 24 activists, including a member of the movement’s legal team, were put under house arrest. Moreover, a number of squats where activists were staying to prepare actions were raided by dozens of policemen.

Scenes from the demonstrations in and around Place de la République in Paris on the day before COP21. Credit – Chris Bentley

In the streets, the activists face high levels of protest policing. On November 29, thousands of protesters defied the government’s ban on protesting by gathering on the Place de la République at the time that the original march was planned. Their protest was met with enormous police presence. All eight exit streets off the square were blocked by riot police in order to prevent the activists from leaving the square and march, as some of them had planned to do. When the situation escalated, the activists could not leave the square and a large group of them was ‘kettled’ in one corner, after which about 300 of them were taken into custody.

Actions of a smaller scale have met equally strict policing. On Friday December 4, a group of activists planned to disrupt the opening of the ‘solutions COP21’, by giving ‘toxic tours’ to highlight ‘corporate greenwashing’ to the audience and the press. On the outside of the event, hundreds of riot cops were present to control the streets and access to the venue. Inside, dozens of plain clothes police were ready to intervene once the ‘toxic tours’ started. Both activists and journalists were dragged out of the building because they spoke up for what they considered to be wrong. The small protest that emerged as a result on the outside was soon dispersed by a police force that may have actually outnumbered the protesters.

The police is not everywhere

During the past weekend, Coaltion Climat 21 held the Citizens’ Climate Summit – one of the few actions that have not been banned by the government. It combined a peasants market, a ‘village of alternatives’, a climate forum with lectures, discussions and workshops, and even a parade – with more than two people, and a political message, thereby violating the ban on protesting (!). During this event, the police were hardly visible. For the first time in my life, I experienced how relaxing it can be when there is not a large continent of police at a protest who have their tear gas and pepper spray ready at all times.

During the second week of the COP, more actions are planned, some of which legal, other disobedient. Let me conclude by saying that I honestly hope that during these actions, climate activists will be allowed to voice their concerns in a more peaceful and dignified way. Given the severity of the climate crisis we are facing, their message deserve to be heard.

Why there needs to be more public debate on climate change

Blog by Felix Schreyer

Everybody’s eyes are on Paris at the moment. For one week the climate summit has already filled many headlines, columns and articles in the media world.

It is a typical pattern. In fact, media researchers know that the conferences are rare times for climate change to get public attention. Paris is probably a new dimension – the biggest and most ambitious event ever, covered all around the world. Thus, a good time to think about what climate journalists should keep an eye on.

There are many story lines on climate change you can pick from these days. You could point to the conflict between the developed and the developing world, analyse the positions of the top-emitting countries, reports from the submerging Marshall-Islands, ponder on the sense or nonsense of protests or write one of the many overview articles. Nevertheless, when it comes to opinion the picture is less diverse. There is a lot of the familiar “We-need-to-act-now” rhetoric. In European discourses, there are virtually no contentious debates on where we should be heading with the climate. Why is that?

Unlike homosexual marriage, the refugee crisis or gun ownership the climate change seems hardly suitable for controversial debate. Rather, it would need at least two distinct camps, arguing from different normative perspectives. The climate denial debate does not count. It is about whether scientists get their facts right. By now, this a mere placeholder for saying you just do not care at all about climate change. However, the majority of media voices are merely restating the claim that efforts to stop climate change must become more ambitious. There are no serious objections to that. On a moral basis the issue seems to be clear. It is only a problem of policy implementation. Policy-makers appear either ignorant or incapable of overcoming diplomatic deadlocks. There is nothing morally controversial about this.


Screenshot from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver in 2014 – The climate change “debate.”

This is partly understandable, considering that the current climate policy seems to lag behind public expectations a lot. In this situation media voices either focus on mobilization or policy analysis. However, there is a problem with this. It is something that has accompanied the climate debate ever since it started in the 1980s: The public becomes dulled by the permanent gap between claims and actions. It loses interest in the topic and is more likely to fall back into political disillusionment. Thereby, they can even become more inert on climate action because they are not challenged to check arguments on either side anymore. The problem seems to be with the policy-makers, not with the public.

Journalists could stimulate the debate by framing questions on climate action as questions of justice. Questions such as: What would you want us to do, if you did not know when and where you were born in the centuries to come? Would you be willing to sacrifice your living standard to, for example, prevent Bangladesh from shrinking by almost a quarter from sea-level rise? Certainly, you would not mind having ten euros more on the electricity bill. However, you would probably not accept stopping plane travel for the rest of your life. For many people, it must be something inbetween. These questions are hypothetical. They do not take into account what is politically realistic at the moment. But, they may provoke a debate that reveals step by step how far we are actually willing to go.

Now, what would journalists need to do to initiate a bigger debate of this kind? Here are some ideas: First, the public must know more about the differences between a 1.5C, 2C or 3C-world. The Guardian recently made a start. Despite the scientific uncertainties, more graspable images need to be created to see what is at stake.

Second, there needs to be a better picture on the costs of an ambitious mitigation policy. For example, the IPCC economists estimated that the 2C-target would cost the global economy 4 to 6 percent compared to no climate mitigation at all. This is an amount equivalent to the expected world growth within a couple of years. However, there is always the problem of translating such figures. People like to know what this mean for their lifestyle.

Third, the public needs to have stories in mind of what could happen. Why not mobilise writers for drawing pictures of people living in the 22nd century? Neither as a utopia, nor dystopia, but as a more or less likely scenario. What about composing fictional encounters between different generations? What would they say to each other? There could be many ways for authors to provide powerful visions of a future world.

Although rather sketchy, I think that this could help to bring some motion into the climate debate. Certainly, it is quite a challenge for media producers. More controverisal debates could not only give people a better picture of the problem. It would also be more catchy. This could finally give climate change the public attention it deserves – even beyond COPs.

Ulysses in Paris – Climate narratives and avoiding the siren’s song

Blog post by Professor Reiner Grundmann of the University of Nottingham

In the ancient mythical saga Ulysses, sirens were beautiful creatures with enchanting voices who would lure sailors to shipwreck on the rocky coast of their island with their sweet intoxicating music.

Ulyses, curious to hear the the siren’s song, ordered his men to bind him to the mast. He implored the crew, who had their ears plugged with wax, to leave him tied tightly to the mast, no matter how much he would beg. Upon hearing the sirens’ beautiful melody, Ulysses urged the sailors to untie him but they instead bound him tighter.  The ship then navigated the narrow channel to safety: Ulysses actions had saved the lives of himself and the crew.

This ancient tale gives us a very appropriate notion of “self-binding” agreements. If we compare this myth to the Paris Summit: Who is Ulysses? What is the sirens’ song, and who should ignore their singing? Plenty of interpretations seem possible but here is my take on it. Ulysses and the crew can be seen as nations and leaders. The ropes that bind Ulysses and the wax in the sailors’ ears can be seen as a new course of action (or agreement) on climate change. The ship is the future of planet Earth and the song of the siren’s is the status quo (existing climate deals and ineffective action). The status quo is something that initially sounds sweet but were we to follow it, our ship would end up dashed against the rocks and sinking beneath the sea (uncontrollable climate change).

Odysseus and the Sirens by Herbert James Draper, c. 1909

So in what ways should, or could, a climate treaty be self-binding? How will nations and the planet avoid the siren’s song and the dangerous rocks on the horizon?

‘The scientists have spoken, now it is time for the politicians to act.’

The above statement was heard often after the publication of the last IPCC report and during the preparation for the Paris summit, but what does it mean? Does it imply that the IPCC set targets for the international negotiations, thus assuming the role of Ulysses? Surely not. The IPCC is supposed to be policy relevant, yet policy neutral.

There are currently a legitimate and wide variety of policy proposals available to the planet. These are packaged into narratives that we can easily remember. There is, for example, the admonition that Earth’s climate future is currently “five minutes to midnight” and the summit is our last opportunity to save the planet. Even Pope Francis recently added his voice to this narrative.

Then there is the hope that if only the political will could be mustered, we could achieve really ambitious targets, such as staying below the 2° C warming limit, or even limiting warming to 1.5C. Linked to that is the belief that we do have the technologies to decarbonize our societies, and that all that is needed is for them to be scaled up.

These narratives have proven ineffective. They are either apocalyptic and therefore paralyzing, or based on wishful thinking and therefore delusional. Curiously, both tend to combine, inspiring desperate activism and deep frustration over current government policies. The message is that we are already in shallow water and should expect havoc soon.

Other narratives have surfaced and some look quite promising. There is, first of all, the acknowledgement that a top down, globally binding treaty based on emission targets and timetables will not work. This is mainly due to a fact of international politics that can be expressed as: ‘Negotiators can only sign on abroad to what they can sell at home’. The USA may be the most visible nation which exemplifies this fact, but others are no exception.

Hence the bottom up approach to collect pledges from single countries, via intended nationally defined contributions (INDCs). However, there is the problem of putting these pledges into practice: a fact of political life summed up by this expression: ‘The test of each policy lies in its implementation’. The record, even of leading countries on climate policy, does not look promising. Little real progress has been made to date, and based on existing technologies, it is impossible that this will change in the near future.

The pledges made before Paris may not be enough to reach the goals of avoiding 2 degrees of warming. So the temptation arises to make the pledges more ambitious in order to pacify climate activists or the 44 countries demanding a new lower limit of 1.5 degrees. While one can imagine pledges that would on paper meet the demands of such a goal, this approach is in severe danger of losing credibility. It would be regarded as ‘cheap talk’–promises without corresponding action. Ulysses (nations and leaders) would not be bound by such ties.

There is now an emerging narrative which addresses the need for dramatic efforts in terms of RD&D in order to obtain cheap, zero carbon energy. The Global Apollo programme is an example, even if the video clip on its website leaves the impression that it is mainly about extending solar and wind energy.

Existing innovations in energy technology are conservative. They will not be enough to achieve what is needed. Radical innovations are called for, but it is unclear where they will come from. Innovation is an unpredictable process. What is clear though, is that it needs resources and long-term commitment through public funding. Private companies have proven woefully inadequate in this respect. Ulysses does not have a ship that will get him out of trouble.

As co-author of the Hartwell Paper which was published in 2010, I see both the pragmatic bottom up, and the research development and demonstration (RD&D) narratives in a positive light. Countries making pledges based on credible actions at home would be a good start. And recognizing the need to mount a global RD&D effort would be a sign of realism for the conference of the parties.

Too much has been invested in old technologies and old narratives, and they have acquired a momentum of their own. It will be difficult to push them back. The song of the sirens is everywhere, also on board the ship.

Perhaps the Paris summit will produce a document that contains pledges, commitments and is more pragmatic. It will be a symbolic statement that could become self-binding on nations, provided it contains practical ways forward, and does not restrict itself to ‘cheap talk’. As no one assumes that COP 21 will solve the problem of climate change once and for all, it is moot to speculate if it could be seen a success. Officials will see the mere continuation of the process as success, no matter what it will deliver in reality. I will see COP21 as success if it spells out the challenges in a realistic way and manages to create a self-binding dynamic that leads to real solutions.