Climate Compass Blog

Paris talks: From the visionary to the nitty-gritty

The leaders have jetted off, and the focus here at COP 21 has shifted from the visionary to the nitty-gritty. Now begins the tough grind of narrowing differences, issue by issue, and finding words everyone can agree on.

The record number of heads of state who converged on Paris injected a true sense of gravity -- both by their mere presence and their words, whether describing the futures they fear, the alternatives they envision, or the urgency they feel.

They also spoke, at least in broad terms, to the stubborn issues their negotiators must now overcome, such as help for poor countries facing climate losses, and how countries will be held accountable for their promises.

On the first full day of formal negotiations, any momentum the leaders provided had yet to translate into breakthroughs.  Delegates reported constructive closed-door conversations on some issues, but there were few visible signs of progress on the text of an agreement.

At this stage, the negotiations are still taking place within the Ad Hoc Group on the Durban Platform (ADP), which was launched four years ago to produce a draft agreement.  An ADP contact group is taking up some issues in the open, but most of the work is taking place in smaller, closed “spinoff groups” and in bilateral discussions.

According to the conference schedule, the ADP is supposed to wrap up its work by Saturday.  It will then hand off a text, whatever shape it’s in, to the Conference of the Parties, and to the French presidency, which will orchestrate the final week.

The French face a real challenge under the best of circumstances: crafting a diplomatic process that allows the private give-and-take among a core of key players needed to strike a deal, while at the same time being transparent enough to maintain the confidence of all 196 parties.

That job will be immensely harder if parties don’t start showing flexibility and make real progress over the next four days.  Certainly many tough issues remain, but there’s enough convergence on the broad contours of a deal that putting it on paper shouldn’t be impossible.

If it comes to it, the French can no doubt count on help from high places.  The leaders may be gone, but they’ll be watching.  And they’re just a phone call away.

Businesses are taking climate action

Global climate talks underway in Paris have been built on a foundation of more than just national government commitments. “Sub-national actors,” such as cities, states, and companies, have been making their own climate commitments ahead of Paris, and that trend continues this week.

Just today, in a full-page Wall Street Journal ad coordinated in part by C2ES, more than 100 companies announced their support for a fair and strong global climate agreement and pledged to ensure a transition to a low-carbon, energy-efficient U.S. economy. These companies join a growing chorus of corporate voices for climate action. For example:

  • More than 150 companies, from Alcoa to Xerox, have signed the American Business Act on Climate Pledge and committed to reducing their environmental impact through steps such as cutting emissions in half, reducing water usage, and running on 100 percent renewable energy.
     
  • Bill Gates and other leading business entrepreneurs launched a multibillion-dollar public-private partnership to fund research and development of innovative clean energy technologies.
  • Last week, 78 global CEOs signed an open letter calling committing to action and calling on governments to implement carbon pricing.
     
  • This fall, 14 energy, tech and manufacturing companies with more than $1 trillion in revenues signed a statement organized by C2ES supporting a balanced and durable international agreement.

Why do more and more businesses care about climate change?

Measuring success in Paris

We’ll only know years from now, but the climate summit opening today in Paris could prove to be transformative. It could set in motion a new dynamic among nations that, over time, will progressively strengthen the global climate effort.

Any agreement coming out of Paris will, by some measures, fall short. Countries’ nationally determined contributions move us closer, but not close enough, to the goal of keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. And for those who believe legally binding emission targets are essential, the outcome will likely be disappointing.

But relying solely on those yardsticks would undervalue the potential of the deal taking shape.

For the first time in more than two decades of climate diplomacy, we are on the verge of a binding agreement that commits all countries to contribute their best efforts, holds them accountable for their promises, and works to build ambition over time.

Before and beyond Paris: Climate action at all levels

Negotiators from more than 190 nations have the opportunity to work out an important and perhaps transformative international climate agreement in December in Paris.

But the work at the negotiating table has been preceded by countless steps taken by communities, states, companies and individuals across the globe to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are altering our climate. And long after the Paris talks have concluded, these actors will be crucial to building sustainable solutions to our climate and energy challenges.

Some of the world’s largest cities have been working to lower emissions by purchasing green power, introducing electric vehicle programs and policies, turning waste into compost and fuel, and improving the energy efficiency of buildings. Other cities have developed multi-tiered climate commitments through the Compact of Mayors. And many communities are assessing their vulnerabilities to the impacts of climate change that we’re already experiencing and will worsen.

Maryland set to exceed its 2020 climate goal

With negotiators about to start international climate talks, you might have missed a notable climate effort at the state level: A new report from Maryland’s Department of the Environment shows the state is on track to beat its goal of reducing its emissions 25 percent below 2006 levels by the year 2020.

Since that goal was set in 2009, Maryland has implemented a range of programs to reduce emissions from the energy sector, transportation, agriculture and buildings. The state also benefitted from changes in energy markets as power generators moved from coal to natural gas, and changes in driving behavior, with Marylanders driving fewer miles than forecast.

Additionally, Maryland participates in the nine-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cap-and-trade program that has generated revenues the state has used to help thousands of low- and moderate-income families and hundreds of farms improve efficiency and save money on their energy bills.

Maryland isn’t the only state that has set ambitious targets to curb greenhouse gases. According to our research, 18 other states have set targets over the past 15 years. Eight states, Maryland among them, stand out as leaders for setting targets by legislative action or executive order, requiring progress reports and updates of original climate plans, and aggressively pursuing initiatives to achieve the targets.

Why are states acting?

Already, Maryland and other states are experiencing the types of impacts -- excessive heat, droughts, heavy downpours -- expected to become more frequent and intense as a result of climate change. No one individual weather event can be attributed directly to climate change; climate is a pattern of events over time. However, it is clear that the costs to property, crops, and public health from impacts consistent with climate change are already significant.

A series of C2ES briefs explores key climate impacts and estimates how they might affect Maryland’s heat-related mortality, coastal property, labor productivity, energy expenditures, and agricultural output as well as its infrastructure, tourism, ecosystems, water resources and human health beyond heat-related mortality.

Climate scientists tell us that even deeper emissions reductions are necessary in the coming decades to avoid more serious and costly impacts. Recently, the Maryland Climate Change Commission, a government advisory board, unanimously recommended that the state set a new goal to cut its emissions 40 percent by 2030. The recommendation, supported by additional C2ES analysis, is likely to be taken up in the General Assembly next year.

Maryland cannot tackle climate change alone. But by working to reduce emissions today, setting strong reduction targets for the future, and growing a clean energy economy, Maryland is creating a powerful example other states will want to follow.