Paris Climate Agreement Explained: the Action Agenda

World leaders just hammered out a new global agreement on climate change - but that's not all that happened in Paris. There was also a simultaneous surge of more immediate climate actions from beyond national governments that will help put the world on a firmer pathway to achieve the aspirational agreement set out in Paris.

Photo courtesy of Presidencia de la República Mexico/Flickr

The conference provided a platform - the Action Agenda - for mayors, governors, CEOs, investors, as well as Presidents and Prime Ministers to demonstrate their unprecedented commitments to climate action. For example, according to research by Yale University:

  • Over 7,000 cities with a combined population of more than one billion and one-third of global GDP are taking action on climate change and improving quality of life for their citizens.
  • States and provinces covering a greater surface area than the United States, Canada, and China combined are taking actions to combat climate change.
  • Over 5,000 companies representing over USD $38 trillion in revenue are acting on climate change.
  • And nearly 500 investors with total assets under management of more than $25 trillion - one third of total global assets - are taking climate considerations into investment decisions.

At the closing of the Paris conference, the Secretary-General of the United Nations emphasized that "to protect the planet that sustains us, we need all hands on deck." That broad alliance for climate leadership was solidified as the crucial fourth pillar of the conference through the Action Agenda.

The center stage of the Action Agenda showcased some of the most ambitious and transformative climate initiatives catalyzed through the Paris climate conference. More than 70 initiatives across areas such as renewable energy, forests, and innovation pledged their concrete commitments to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon future. An international consortium of research and civil society organizations conducted a independent report on the initiatives that found transformational potential, and suggested key steps on the way forward.

Harnessing the power of the groundswell of climate action at all levels will be a critical enabler of success beyond the Paris climate conference. According to the U.N. Development Program, decisions at the sub-national and local levels can influence 50 to 80 percent of GHG emissions. And globally, cities account for 70 percent of GHG emissions from energy. So achieving the national climate commitments set out in the Paris agreement will hinge on strong action by sub-national and local decision-makers.

The groundswell of climate action super-charges country climate commitments in two ways. First, these actions help develop the domestic policies, measures, finance, technologies, and other means to enable national governments to achieve and even surpass their targets at home. They are an essential element of the kind of domestic action necessary after Paris. Second, they will help to prove in the real world that more aggressive actions are possible in the coming years. By reducing emissions even further, these actions will help create the necessary conditions to give confidence to countries to strengthen their national climate commitments before 2020.

While national commitments are the core of the new Paris agreement, their plans need to be complemented and enhanced by multi-stakeholder cooperation that enables nations to reduce emissions much further and faster than they can on their own, bringing the world closer to the 2 degrees and even 1.5 degrees Celsius pathway. This will help inspire the kind of virtuous cycle that must occur after Paris.

The Action Agenda and the broader groundswell of climate action at all levels will be vital vehicles to accelerate action and enhance ambition beyond Paris. Channeling the groundswell of climate action from cities, regions, companies, and investors in partnership with national governments is one of the most powerful ways the global community can deliver on its ambitions set forward in Paris and beyond.

About the Authors

Brendan Guy

Manager, International Policy, International program

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