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Seizing the Paris Moment

The world is approaching a transformational moment. This type of a moment does not arrive every day, or even every year. It is a moment of opportunity, where things could be different afterwards, and peoples’ lives could be significantly better.

This moment is the 21st meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which takes place in Paris starting November 30th. COP 21 has the chance to be a turning point for how the world addresses not only climate change, but also how it provides a stable, healthy and prosperous future for people around the world.

It is more and more clear every day that the current model we are operating with is not sustainable in the long-term. The costs of air pollution, degraded ecosystems and the impacts of climate change such as droughts, storms and sea level rise have risen extensively. And unless a turning point occurs, they’re charted to keep skyrocketing.

Countries are starting to try different models of economic development, building up cleaner and more efficient ways of powering growth. They’re observing that there is now higher public support for climate action, as well as evidence that a better climate goes hand in hand with better growth. But acting alone is not adequate. A global solution is needed for this global problem.

In comes the Paris moment, a chance to change course together through a new form of international cooperation—hopefully in time to save the planet.

More than 160 countries have put forward new climate action plans, demonstrating that they understand the risks and see the benefits of acting. Eight of the largest of those economies, according to WRI analysis, would collectively double their renewable energy supply. The clean energy targets included in national climate plans, or intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs), are evidence that countries do understand that a different way is possible and necessary.

This national action is complemented by the companies, cities and banks around the world that have announced, week after week, new commitments to shift investments away from coal to clean energy. Their action will build up the global renewable energy supply and create low-carbon supply chains. Heads of State have joined in as well, demonstrated by a series of bilateral climate action statements, such as those from Germany and Brazil, the United States and China, France and Germany, and the Secretary General’s Summary of a recent Heads of State Luncheon on Climate Change.

Yet at the same time, challenges remain. Scientists have just determined that the earth has already warmed by 1 degree C. While new climate action plans have bent the warming trajectory from the completely disastrous global temperature rise of 4 or 5 degrees C, we still haven’t gone far enough. Scientists say warming must be limited to 2 degrees C to prevent some of the worst impacts.

Now, the Paris moment cannot solve everything, but it can put a further dent in the problem and enable the world to seize tremendous economic and development opportunities. Countries have been negotiating since 2011 to create a new international binding agreement on climate. This agreement will be universal and include national climate plans from around the world. If it’s structured properly, it can help scale up the action needed to stick to the 2 degree C goal.

Details of the agreement matter, and the precision in the language of those details matters, too.

There are three key components the Paris agreement must have in order to both reduce emissions that cause climate change and support the most vulnerable countries in adapting to it:

  1. Long-term and short-term signals to investors, business, cities and the public that are clear enough to catalyze major shifts in behavior, investment and policy. Concretely, this means that countries should agree on a long-term target to decarbonize the global economy during the course of this century—while also achieving zero poverty—and commit to strengthening their national action plans every five years, starting in 2020, until these goals are met. It also means building resilience into every level of our society—international, national, local and in the private sector—and strengthening actions over time.

  2. A solidarity package for developing countries that builds confidence that this transition to a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy will be undertaken together, with support and partnership. Those least responsible for the problem should be provided the tools and finance they need to shift to a low-carbon development model and manage the impacts of climate change.

  3. A system of transparency and accountability that builds confidence both among countries and stakeholders. This should be a global system that holds countries accountable for meeting their commitments, but also provides extra time and capacity-building for resource-strapped developing nations.

The negotiations will not be easy. Success will require developed and developing countries to build on momentum from outside the negotiations, step out of their comfort zones and forge new alliances early on. Only then can we steer our long-term trajectory toward a better, brighter future for billions of people around the world.

This is our moment. Let’s seize it.

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