The Paris Agreement on Climate Change: Time to Move Forward on Implementation

In the Paris Agreement, 196 Parties of the UNFCCC made key commitments to combat climate action. In the next year, what the world needs is for the commitments made by governments in Paris to turn into concrete actions. At the Climate Action 2016 summit on catalyzing a sustainable future, this mandate was shared from national governments to the universe of non-state actors who can help make the commitments a reality.

The Paris Agreement included several elements—to limit global temperature rise to less than two degrees Celsius, with best efforts to limit to 1.5 degrees Celsius; to formalize the national climate commitments already submitted by over 187 countries before the end of COP21 (also called Nationally Determined Contributions); to revise these plans every five years beginning in 2020; to provide greater finance for developing nations for adapting to climate change and shift to low carbon pathways for growth.

It will take much more than national statements to make the Paris Agreement a reality. It will require engagement by a full slate of actors—groups of subnational leaders such as the Compact of Mayors, academic institutions like the organizers at the University of Maryland, multilateral institutions such as the United Nations and World Bank, associations like We Mean Business and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and private sector actors plus philanthropies to address climate change. Many of these groups made commitments during COP21 in Paris, now we need to see which of the pledges and initiatives will actually take place.

Here are a few of the areas where collective action needs to continue, in order to forge a path to a low-carbon world:

Replacing Fossil Fuels

Jim Kim noted during the opening of the Climate Summit that countries like Vietnam are still planning over 40 GW of coal-fired power plants. He called on leaders to present real alternatives in the form of affordable clean energy options—and to do so in a realistic time frame. Rachel Kyte, CEO of Sustainable Energy for All, reinforced this point by noting that there are currently few clean energy alternatives that are truly accessible to policymakers in developing nations. Countries already have experience financing and building coal plants—so it is essential to speed up access to real clean energy solutions on the ground to compete against the planned construction of such plants as soon as possible. To do so, Kyte also pointed out that countries in the OECD, G7 and G20 are still subsidizing fossil fuels—one of the reasons it is still difficult for clean energy sources to compete.

Private Sector Participation

As Peter Bakker, President of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, said—it is now inevitable that we are going to a zero-carbon economy. Groups such as Renewable Energy 100, We Mean Business and others announced new initiatives in Paris, and now it is time to shift to implementation mode, and for the rest of us to hold them accountable to the commitments made. Bakker also suggested that much more needs to be done to build broader acceptance and an accelerated transition to new technologies such as electric vehicles, and for more companies to start setting an internal carbon price to more fully account for their climate impacts. The fact that companies are now at the stage of fine-tuning climate solutions in particular sectors is a good sign of progress—showing that acceptance of dealing with climate issues is more mainstream. However, Bakker and others noted that there needs to be a real change in the rules for disclosure and reporting on environmental and climate risks for companies, so that more of them properly share and value such risks. Such metrics can provide investors, shareholders and consumers a greater degree of transparency and access to information when making decisions about where to put their money.

Deep Decarbonization

Transforming the actions of actors at every level of the economy is needed. As Kyte emphasized, what needs to happen now is a deep decarbonization of the economy—in a centralized way and also decentralized ways. This will include a look at long-term strategies for the middle of this century and the end of the century. Countries such as the United States and Canada have announced that they will create such plans by the end of this year. Other nations are in the process of developing their plans. These plans are a vital signal from policymakers for guiding the clean energy transition. A clear policy framework is essential as it sends the signal to businesses, investors, and communities about what types of investments need to be made for future energy sources, infrastructure, and so much more.


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