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Setting the Bar for Success at the Paris Climate Summit

This December, negotiators from nearly 200 countries will convene in Paris with the aim of forging a legally-binding international climate agreement. The new pact will incorporate more ambitious national commitments to address climate change than ever before.

What is the proper yardstick for measuring success in Paris? Is it whether country leaders agree to a new global pact, or does success hinge on whether country commitments will limit global warming to under 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F)? The answer is neither. A global problem requires a global solution. That solution will be a combination of the details in the new agreement and the substance of national commitments – from historic renewable energy investments to major new efforts to restore forests and beyond.

The Paris climate summit, known as COP21, must set the stage for a new form of international cooperation to accelerate the transition to a clean, resilient economy and achieve more than individual countries can on their own.

A truly successful outcome in Paris must do three things:

1. Solidify a common vision of the future by establishing long-term goals to shift to a cleaner global economy, reducing carbon pollution and building resilience to climate impacts around the world;

2. Establish regular intervals – every five years – for countries to set more ambitious commitments to reduce emissions, strengthen resilience and provide financial support to drive climate action; and

3. Ensure that countries are open about their actions and transparent about their progress.

With these three components securely in place, and a set of new national climate commitments (known as INDCs), the Paris agreement can begin to immediately scale up actions over time to avoid the worst impacts and have a higher probability in keeping global average temperatures below 2 degrees C. In the process, the agreement can send a clear message around the world that dirty energy is a thing of the past, and new business models to scale clean energy are the wave of the present and future. The confidence, clarity and new level of cooperation resulting from these actions would help shift how we power the world and invest in our communities.

The COP21 moment will also be more than the actions of government; it will be a moment for CEOs, mayors and investors to demonstrate that they understand both the risks associated with inaction and the opportunities from being part of the solution. Hundreds of cities, companies and investment firms are expected to announce their own climate pledges that will significantly contribute to the commitments made by national government leaders.

Paris represents a key marker for how the global community responds to climate change -- it is not the grand finale. The Paris climate agreement should be judged by whether it includes the ingredients necessary to keep the goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees C within sight.

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