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Institutional aspects of carbon lock-in: obstacles and
opportunities for transitioning to a low-carbon world
Dr. Ronald B. Mitchell
Professor, Political Science and Environmental Studies and
Director, International Environmental Agreements Database Project
University of Oregon
Wednesday, March 23, 2016
12:00pm – 1:00 pm
John A. Burns Hall, Room 3012 (3rd floor)
Many of today’s decisions and actions will determine our greenhouse gas emissions for decades to
come, severely limiting opportunities to change course, especially towards transformative change.
The entrapment of a system into a state of constrained physical, economic and social opportunities for
change – for instance to adapt to and solve, among other things, climate change-related challenges –
is referred to as carbon lock-in. Path dependency occurs in the evolution of complex systems where
there are increasing returns to scale, most notably in connection with socio-economic and technical
systems with large inertia in social and institutional structures. With respect to climate change, the
urgency of action exacerbates the liability of even small lock-in risks. This talk focuses, in particular,
on why and how political processes and institutions have placed the US and the world on a highcarbon trajectory and where the opportunities exist, within existing processes and institutions, to
transition to a low-carbon trajectory.
Ronald Mitchell is a Professor of Political Science and Environmental Studies at the University of
Oregon and an expert on international environmental politics and law. He has published International
Politics and the Environment (Sage, 2010), International Environmental Politics (Sage, 2008), Global
Environmental Assessments: Information and Influence (with William Clark, David Cash, and Nancy
Dickson, MIT Press, 2006), and Intentional Oil Pollution at Sea: Environmental Policy and Treaty
Compliance (MIT Press, 1994). He has published over 40 articles and chapters in edited volumes. His
current research focuses on the effectiveness of international environmental agreements (focusing on
climate change, fisheries, and transboundary air pollution) and he has developed a database of all
multilateral environmental treaties and corresponding performance indicators. From 2003-2014, he
was co-director (with C. Susan Weiler of Whitman College) of the Dissertation Initiative for the
Advancement of Climate Change Research (DISCCRS) program which helps new scientists working
on climate change develop interdisciplinary skills to improve their understanding of, and ability to
help solve, the problem of climate change. He teaches courses on international relations, international
environmental politics, and international organization.
Co-Sponsored by Pacific RISA and University of Hawaii Atmospheric Sciences