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WIREs Clim Change
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Revisiting climate ambition: The case for prioritizing current action over future intent

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Abstract Growing concerns that it may indeed be too late to address climate change have led to calls for urgent action from scientists, governments and citizens. To understand how these calls may be useful requires exploring how they are mediated by both global and national climate governance architectures. Globally, the Paris Agreement architecture is premised on a learning by doing logic that prioritizes experimentation. National governance mechanisms have emerged in reaction to such international processes, but are deeply shaped by local contexts. National systems differ in the narratives on which they are based, their institutional forms, and the resultant interests mobilized. Specifically, they differ in the centrality of climate change itself to national narratives of action and, instead, often embed climate motivations within other national objectives. As a result, calls for enhanced ambition can have different effects depending on how they are framed, and therefore how amenable they are to being internalized nationally. In particular, ambition understood predominantly as enhanced quantitative pledges could yield perverse outcomes truncating the learning by doing dynamic of the Paris Agreement; returning the focus of global political attention disproportionately to a burden‐sharing discussion; creating incentives for gaming pledges; and stretching scarce implementation capacity in the developing world. More flexible framings that can harness ambition to accelerated experimentation, broader coalitions, and synergies with other objectives can be fruitful. Questions such as “is it too late?” are useful if they encourage action and learning by doing; less so if they shift attention to future intent over current action. This article is categorized under: Climate and Development > Social Justice and the Politics of Development

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