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5 Big Developments from Day 1 of the Paris Climate Conference

More than 150 heads of state converged in Paris yesterday to kick off COP21 climate negotiations and show their resolve to tackle the climate challenge. In their opening speeches, leaders made it clear that they came to act. Many national leaders from developing and developed countries joined together to launch major new initiatives, some in partnership with the private sector.

There is lots of hard work to be done over the coming days to ensure that we reach an agreement that is strong, durable and equitable. But heads of state achieved their mission of demonstrating solidarity and commitment to reach such an agreement.

Here are five big developments from the first day of the Paris climate talks:

1. In a flurry of speeches, world leaders demonstrated a commitment to reduce emissions and reach a strong, durable and equitable agreement in Paris. They emphasized the impacts of climate change already being felt by the most vulnerable and framed the agreement as an opportunity to increase the well-being of current and future generations.

Leaders made strong links between tackling climate change, promoting sustainable development and eradicating poverty, emphasizing the role of forests and renewable energy. While many countries reiterated their climate plans already put forward to the UNFCCC, some announced new financial pledges and cooperative initiatives that will provide crucial momentum for the next two weeks. And a number of developed countries, including many island nations, articulated their understanding that climate change is an existential threat that must be addressed.
For snapshots of heads of states’ specific remarks skim our live blog which captures the entire sequence of speeches.

2. Twenty countries and 27 representatives from the private sector announced a multi-billion dollar clean energy fund and commitment to increase R&D investments. U.S. President Barack Obama, French President Francois Hollande and 18 other world leaders launched Mission Innovation, an unprecedented commitment to accelerate public and private clean energy innovation worldwide. These 20 countries -- representing 80 percent of global clean energy research and development -- each committed to double their R&D investments within five years. Simultaneously, Bill Gates unveiled the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, a group of 27 private investors putting money on the table to help new, clean energy technologies come to market.

As we mentioned in our media statement, this announcement is a major boost to the Paris talks. These unprecedented partnerships will unleash significant funds for clean tech and spur innovation to deliver clean, affordable energy to billions of people. This should add confidence that countries can meet and even exceed their stated climate goals, and that they can take on bolder commitments in the years ahead.

India’s role in this initiative was also noteworthy. Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues to stand with fellow leaders of emerging economies to make the case for international cooperation to encourage clean energy access and advance economic development.

3. Modi and partners unveiled a new International Solar Alliance to scale up solar development around the world. The new alliance, spearheaded by India and created in partnership with several African countries, intends to bring together some 100 countries between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, most with abundant sunshine but without the initial resources to exploit this source of clean energy. Also mentioned in a separate WRI statement, by aiming to mobilize $1 trillion in investment, the alliance should drive down the costs of solar power, making it affordable for a growing number of communities. The international alliance brings together developing and developed countries to expand energy access, accelerate solar power deployment and stimulate economic development.

The partnership is another example of Modi’s continuing ability to show his strong commitment to expand renewable energy in India and will undoubtedly complement India’s efforts to build 100 gigawatts of solar energy by 2022.

4. Vulnerable countries outlined their vision of success for Paris that includes a 100 percent renewable energy future.  The Climate Vulnerable Forum’s declaration calls for a Paris outcome that empowers a new form of development based on 100 percent renewable energy and a full decarbonization of the global economy by 2050.  The declaration demonstrates vulnerable countries’ readiness to act as well as the need for all other countries to respond to climate change. This call to action is both needed and inspiring. As the moral compass of the climate negotiations, vulnerable countries have the credibility to significantly shape the final outcome in Paris.

5. Important finance pledges were announced to help developing countries cope with climate impacts and make the transition to clean energy. Ministers from donor countries announced $248 million in new funding for the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF), which provides support to the poorest countries in adapting to the impacts of climate change. The new pledges came from 11 countries: Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Developing countries came to Paris calling for support to help cope with devastating impacts of a warming world. The $248 million pledged today for the Least Developed Countries Fund will help fill a critical need and brings us a step closer to reaching a global agreement. The fund is now well positioned to approve dozens of shovel-ready adaptation projects that had been held back simply because of insufficient funds.

Other financial commitments were made as well. For instance, Australia said it would provide $1 billion to build climate resilience, Japan committed to increase its contribution to climate finance by 1.5 times, and Canada pledged $2.65 billion in climate finance over five years.

Packed into the sometimes soaring speeches and major commitments of the conference’s first day was a real sense of momentum and the realization that global action is urgently needed. Over the coming days, more commitments are expected that with continue to build on this momentum. Coalitions representing cities, forests, business and many more will come forward with innovative ideas about how to unlock new economic opportunities and reduce carbon emissions.

Ultimately, negotiators need to follow-through on the aspirations of the heads of state to forge an agreement that brings all parties together and puts the world on a pathway to a stronger, better and more resilient future.

And what do negotiators need to deliver at COP21 to put us on the right path? Our short animated video succinctly outlines the three ingredients of a strong agreement in Paris:

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