Paris climate talks: This could be the start of something big

As negotiators in Paris put the finishing touches on a new global climate accord, it’s worth reflecting on how much the summit has already accomplished.

One event or agreement by itself can’t completely reverse the climate problem. But like other important moments in history, such as the drive to land on the moon in 1969, Paris can inspire innovations across society.The U.S. space program would not have been possible without technologies that still benefit us today like scratch-resistant lenses, computer microchips, smoke detectors and solar panels. Nearly half a century later, many businesses, cities, states and nations are taking new, bold steps to reduce emissions and move toward a clean energy economy.

Whether it’s paving the way for rapid, wide-scale development of renewables, investing in energy efficiency technology and lower carbon electricity, or building resilience to climate impacts, a huge wave of innovation has already been unleashed.

Consider just some of the announcements made before and during the Paris talks:

  • Leaders of 20 countries announced they’ll seek to double investment in clean energy research and development over five years. Backing up this effort, called Mission Innovation, are more than two dozen investors led by Microsoft founder Bill Gates who have pledged to fund early-stage clean energy technology coming out of Mission Innovation.
  • India and France announced an international solar alliance to dramatically increase the reach of solar energy to more than 100 countries in the tropics.
  • Leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) industrialized nations, led by Germany, announced a commitment of $300 million to an insurance fund for developing nations facing extreme weather or natural disasters linked to climate change. The pledges follow President Obama's announcement of a $30 million U.S. commitment to climate risk insurance initiatives in the Pacific, Central America and Africa.
  • More pledges were made to help developing nations adopt clean energy and adapt to climate impacts through the Green Climate Fund: Canada ($2.65 billion), Vietnam ($1 million), and the city of Paris ($1.05 million).
  • Six financial institutions that fund clean energy projects -- including the two largest U.S. green banks – and two nonprofit groups announced a global Green Bank Network to bring billions of dollars to renewable energy and energy efficiency.
  • The head of the African Development Bank unveiled a $12 billion initiative to boost renewable energy output in the continent nearly tenfold to 300 gigawatt (GW) by 2030.
  • BMW Group, Coca-Cola Enterprises, International Flavors & Fragrances Inc., Nordea Bank AB, Pearson and Swiss Post signed on to an agreement to source 100 percent of their electricity from renewables. The announcement follows pledges by Adobe, Google and Microsoft, bringing membership in the RE100 group to 53.
  • More than 400 cities have signed onto the Compact of Mayors – a global coalition of cities committed to measure and reduce their emissions.
  • 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 using more renewable energy.
  • Interest continues to grow for pathways to global carbon markets with nearly 100 countries, developed and developing alike, mentioning markets in their post-2020 plans.

The Paris agreement will build off the momentum provided by nations, states, cities, businesses and individuals who support a clean energy future. The summit has already inspired new investment of effort and resources into this transformation. And the collective commitment to address climate change that the Paris agreement will provide will inspire even greater efforts.

This could be the start of something really big.