It’s been a hard-working week of climate negotiations in Paris. Now COP21 is about to get really interesting.
The table is set for an ambitious and equitable agreement. All the ingredients are there for success. Ministers must grab this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and fulfill the responsibility their leaders affirmed in their speeches at the beginning of the conference.
COP21’s opening session, the largest gathering of world leaders ever, featured clear statements from more than 150 heads of state, accepting responsibility for delivering an ambitious and equitable climate agreement. Beyond the talk of building trust and moving negotiations forward, that first day was about action, including major new cooperative initiatives on clean energy R&D, deployment of solar energy, climate adaptation and resilience.
For example, the multi-country, public and private Mission Innovation initiative gave a huge push for technology development and deployment. And the International Solar Alliance, launched by India and France, gives a huge push to bring clean energy to hundreds of millions of people, many of whom have no electricity.
These actions build on the momentum generated by the 185 countries that have offered national climate plans to the UNFCCC. These countries collectively represent over 98 percent of global emissions, and their plans will cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions significantly.
After a week of intense negotiations, it’s clear that the vast majority of countries are working in good faith. Now it is up to the ministers to craft an international agreement that represents the turning point the world needs to tackle a changing climate.
The agreement, expected to be forged by the end of this week, should not only maintain the momentum for climate action outside the negotiations, but also generate even greater momentum for the transformation to a zero-carbon and climate-resilient world. It needs to set long-term goals for emissions reductions and adaptation, ensure that countries come back to the table regularly to keep these efforts on track and provide a set of measures to both shift investments and support developing countries to manage the impacts and shift to low carbon pathways.
What to Watch in Week 2
In the days ahead, ministers need to craft constructive, ambitious solutions to a number of key issues for a strong climate agreement, including:
SHORT-TERM SIGNAL: Countries are moving toward an agreement to assess the state of climate action every five years, and to put forward updated commitments every five years. But major questions remain, including whether they commit to increase ambition every cycle and about whether countries would start that process in 2020 or 2025. Given the rapid changes in technology, science and policy, and the need to cut emissions further, the world needs to return to the table five years from now, in 2020, not wait 10 years to increase their efforts. Ministers also need to settle whether climate finance and adaptation plans would need similar five-year check-ins and updated plans.
LONG-TERM GOAL: Countries will decide what kind of signal they will send to investors, companies and governments about the pace and scale of change for decades to come. The options in the text for this signal include a goal to decarbonize the global economy over the course of this century; to reduce global GHG emissions to zero by 2060-2080, or to achieve climate neutrality.
MEASUREMENT, REPORTING AND VERIFICATION (MRV): The agreement needs to create a robust and global common minimum framework for countries to report on their climate actions and support and have them verified. There needs to be flexibility for developing countries based on their different capabilities and specific capacity building support for them to implement.
ADAPTATION: Negotiators seem to be converging on a long-term global goal to build resilience and adaptive capacity. The adaptation text contains elements of a constructive cycle to promote acceleration and improvement of adaptation action globally, but not all are agreed upon or logically linked to a common, periodic measure that brings together adaptation, mitigation and finance. Meanwhile, the concept of loss and damage – which refers to making provisions for climate impacts that are difficult or impossible to adapt to, such as vanishing glaciers and rising seas that swamp low-lying islands – appears to be making good progress, with a substantially streamlined text and a clear set of issues for negotiation.
FINANCE: Significant pledges by national leaders at the opening of COP21 show that climate finance is being scaled up to meet the $100 billion goal by 2020, and commitments to the Least Developed Countries Fund indicates growing attention to adaptation finance. Negotiators have made decent progress on clarifying options for government ministers, and there is good consensus on balancing public finance between mitigation and adaptation. There is, however, still much to be decided in regards to the pathway forward after 2020 and a commitment to shift investments away from high-carbon, maladaptive investments to low carbon climate resilient development.
Building Momentum Alongside the Talks
Beyond the formal negotiations, there are a host of activities and commitments at the national and subnational level that are helping to drive momentum and further reduce emissions, including:
INVESTMENTS: Climate finance commitments and initiatives continue to manifest outside the negotiations process from public and private sector actors alike: the new $2 billion low-carbon index from NY Common Retirement Fund and Goldman Sachs; Dutch pension fund giant ABP’s introduction of a carbon budget for its asset managers; guidance on green bond impact reporting from development banks, and State Street’s launch of its first fossil-free exchange traded fund driven by climate worries are just a few examples. The number of institutions committing to divest from fossil fuels has grown to over 500 institutions representing $3.4 trillion in assets under management with more than a hundred institutions managing $800 million joining in the last 10 weeks alone.
FORESTS: Forests were prominent on the COP21 agenda during the first week. Governments made significant forest commitments to protect forests on opening day, including $5 billion in funding from Germany, Norway and the United Kingdom. On Tuesday, Britain’s Prince Charles opened an informal ministerial session on forests with an urgent call to action, while former Mexican President Felipe Calderon closed with an admonition that commitments on forests need to be honest: “No more lies!” Finally, the launch of Global Forest Watch Climate has the potential to fundamentally change the debate on monitoring forest-based emissions: the political distinction between official and unofficial forest information is on the way out.
RESTORATION: Two initiatives launched at the Global Landscapes Forum, outside the talks, aim to spur landscape restoration in Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean, while using satellite technology to pinpoint landscape degradation in real time. The African Forest and Landscapes Restoration Initiative (AFR100) seeks to restore 100 million hectares (nearly 250 million acres) of degraded and deforested land in Africa by 2030. More than a dozen African countries have already joined , with a commitment to restore 35 million hectares. Similar to AFR100, Initiative 20x20 is landscape restoration effort in Latin America and the Caribbean that has now reached nearly 28 million hectares and $730 million in investment.
FOOD: The role of agriculture in climate mitigation and adaptation rose in prominence, after years of being an under-appreciated sector. An Agriculture Day, on December 2, highlighted a French-led initiative to advance farming practices that increase sequestration of carbon in agricultural lands, such as agroforestry and conservation agriculture. There was a big push to restore agricultural productivity to degraded crop and grazing lands. The importance of reducing food loss and waste was particularly evident: it’s linked now to about 8 percent of global human-made GHG emissions. Still insufficiently addressed was the issue of methane emissions from livestock.
BUSINESS: Leaders of France, Chile, Ethiopia, Germany, Mexico and Canada joined officials of the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund on COP21’s opening day to call on companies and countries to put a price on carbon pollution. At the same time, the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition launched its global platform to bring together governments and businesses around agreed-upon principles of carbon pricing. More than 1,000 companies have an internal carbon pricing policy now or will implement one by 2017. To help companies set up effective carbon pricing policies, WRI and the UN Global Compact, along with other Caring for Climate partners, released the Executive Guide to Carbon Pricing Leadership, based on the experiences of more than 100 companies around the world. In addition, 154 U.S. companies have signed onto the American Business Act on Climate Pledge to show support for climate action and a strong agreement in Paris.
All of these national and subnational actions make clear the growing support for climate action. Combined with a strong climate agreement, we are on the cusp of a historic moment in Paris. And that’s only week one. So buckle up!
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this misstated the full term for MRV. It is Measurement, Reporting and Verification, as reflected in this version, along with some amended language in that section.