Climate Compass Blog
|A panel of business leaders discusses innovation and investment to meet climate challenges at a C2ES side event at COP 21 in Paris.|
Fourteen major U.S.-based companies signed a C2ES-organized statement earlier this year urging the adoption of a new global climate agreement that would get all the major economies on board, provide stronger long-term direction, and hold countries accountable.
On December 12, 2015, nations reached a landmark climate agreement in Paris that accomplished exactly that aim.
The Paris Agreement commits all countries to contribute their best efforts, sets up a system to hold them accountable, and promises stronger efforts to address the causes and consequences of climate change in the years ahead. It sends a signal to ramp up investment and innovation in a clean energy and clean transportation economy by:
- Providing Long-Term Direction – The agreement calls for achieving a “balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century.” This goal, which is another way of expressing a progressive decarbonization of the global economy, provides the clear signal to markets to shift long-term investments toward energy efficiency and other lower-carbon alternatives.
- Addressing Competitiveness – All major economies support the new agreement, which commits all parties to put forward their best efforts through binding commitments to submit and maintain nationally determined contributions (NDCs), to regularly report on them, and to strengthen them over time. More policy clarity and visibility will ease concerns about global competitiveness and about potentially double-counting carbon reductions.
|COP 21 in Paris (Image Courtesy UNFCCC Via Flickr).|
A central issue in the Paris climate talks was strengthening “transparency” requirements to hold countries accountable for their commitments. This means closer scrutiny of steps taken by developing countries, in particular, and many are understandably nervous.
But in presentations in the sidelines of the negotiations, two developing countries – Singapore and Chile – said their early experiences with the existing transparency system were less onerous than they’d feared. Their key message: You learn by doing.
The existing transparency system, established in 2010 in Cancún, consists of two parallel processes: one for developed countries, and a less stringent one for developing countries. Under both processes, countries submit biennial reports describing the steps they’re taking to meet their emission goals. These reports are then considered by technical experts and by other parties.
The Paris Agreement calls for replacing these processes with a single system requiring all countries to work toward the same standards of transparency and accountability.
Although the agreement promises support to help developing countries build the capacity to meet these standards, many worry the new requirements will be burdensome. Others are wary of being judged harshly, particularly when they have had little experience closely tracking their emissions or undergoing international review.
So far under the current system, 16 developing countries have submitted biennial reports describing the efforts they are taking to limit or reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
A host of factors converged to produce a landmark climate agreement in Paris.
The most important was unprecedented political will, reflecting the deepening awareness worldwide of the real and rising risks posed by climate change, and of the economic rewards of a clean-energy transition.
Another was the impressive diplomatic force and finesse of the French, who masterfully managed a process prone to division and disorder, earning precious trust from parties that paid off in the end.
|The Toward 2015 Dialogue was instrumental in helping nations build consensus in the runup to the Paris Agreement.|
But in the run-up to Paris, one of the reasons I was confident of a good outcome was the growing convergence I’d seen in informal discussions among negotiators and ministers on the broad contours of a deal.
That emerging consensus was clearest to me in nearly 100 hours of intense closed-door discussions we held with senior negotiators from two dozen developed and developing countries.
With generous support from a number of governments, C2ES organized Toward 2015, a series of eight sessions in Germany, Switzerland and the United States that gave negotiators a chance to talk informally and to collectively envision the “landing zones” for Paris. The talks were off-the-record, but the thinking that emerged was captured in a report in July from the dialogue co-chairs, former South African environment minister Valli Moosa and former lead Norwegian negotiator Harald Dovland.
Looking back now at Valli and Harald’s report, I am surprised and gratified to see how closely it forecast the final outcome here in Paris. From broad structure to fine details, it was very much on the mark.
The report, for instance, said the agreement should:
|Business leaders dicuss ways they are innovating and investing to meet their climate challenges at a C2ES event during COP 21 in Paris. (Photo courtesy of UNFCCC via Flickr).|
A clear message coming out of Paris is that, now more than ever, businesses, states and cities are taking the lead on climate.
The conference kicked off with more than 150 heads of state -- the largest group of world leaders ever to stand together – urging action to curb the risks of of climate change – the more frequent and severe heat waves, droughts, downpours and rising sea levels that we’re already experiencing.
But I was struck by just how many state representatives, mayors, and business leaders from the U.S. and around the world were here in Paris, all lending their voice to support taking strong action globally to address climate change.
Soon after I arrived, I was honored to participate in a Climate Summit for Local Leaders at Paris City Hall hosted by Mayor Anne Hidalgo of Paris and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It was the first time local leaders had ever gathered in such numbers during a UN climate change conference.
But their actions on climate started long before Paris. More than 400 cities have signed onto the Compact of Mayors – a global coalition of cities committed to measure and reduce their emissions. Former Mayor Bloomberg explained it this way: “Policies at the local level can make a huge difference. Local leaders are doers.”
|United Nations area at COP 21 in Paris. (Photo Courtesy of UNFCCC via Flickr).|
The Paris climate summit is a tale of lessons learned – lessons both in how to manage an unruly negotiating process that can easily veer out of control, and in how to craft a multilateral approach that gets everyone to do more.
The Paris agreement is a pragmatic deal that delivers what’s needed – tools to hold countries accountable and build ambition over time. By giving countries greater confidence that all are doing their fair share, it will make it easier for each to do more.
I’ve engaged closely with the U.N. climate talks since their launch in 1992, and here are some of my takeaways on the ingredients for Paris’ success:
Expectations are a powerful force
Even before the summit started or a single word was agreed, more than 180 countries had offered concrete plans for how they intend to address climate change. This was not because they were obliged to, but simply because there was an expectation set two years ago in Warsaw that they would.
This unprecedented, and largely unanticipated, show of political will created powerful momentum heading into Paris.
The agreement that emerged sets some binding commitments (see below), but much of its force will hinge on the further expectations that it sets: that, going forward, countries will put forward their best efforts, and will strengthen them over time. It creates a succession of political moments, like the one we just experienced, when all can judge whether those expectations are met.