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CSSN Scholar Publications

Three Decades of Climate Mitigation: Why Haven’t We Bent the Global Emissions Curve?

July 14, 2021

A team of 18 scholars, including CSSN Scholars Stuart Capstick, Wim Carton, Martin Hultman, and Peter Newell, have a major pre-print paper out reviewing evidence from multiple disciplines to show how power—political, economic, and otherwise—is central to understanding why global carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise.


Despite three decades of political efforts and a wealth of research on the causes and catastrophic impacts of climate change, global carbon dioxide emissions have continued to rise and are 60% higher today than they were in 1990. Exploring this rise through nine thematic lenses—covering issues of climate governance, the fossil fuel industry, geopolitics, economics, mitigation modeling, energy systems, inequity, lifestyles, and social imaginaries—draws out multifaceted reasons for our collective failure to bend the global emissions curve. However, a common thread that emerges across the reviewed literature is the central role of power, manifest in many forms, from a dogmatic political-economic hegemony and influential vested interests to narrow techno-economic mindsets and ideologies of control. Synthesizing the various impediments to mitigation reveals how delivering on the commitments enshrined in the Paris Agreement now requires an urgent and unprecedented transformation away from today’s carbon- and energy-intensive development paradigm.

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