International agreements succeed best when the political, economic and social trends of the time are already aligning towards a new paradigm, a new way of seeing the future. That is why I am confident that governments will reach an effective, new and universal climate agreement at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, at the end of this year.
The past few years have seen an unprecedented shift in the way that policy makers, business and citizens view the climate challenge.
This is driven by a common insight that the economic models and power generation methods that served humanity so well in the past are hitting the limits of usefulness on a planet of seven billion people, rising to over nine billion by 2050—there is a growing sense of urgency that a transformation is required into a new, sustainable way of governing, operating and living.
This emerging vision, that is now driving a remarkable groundswell of climate action across the board and across the world, encompasses an extraordinary truth: climate change and its causes present the direst threat to a sustainable future yet the solutions to climate change offer the biggest and best opportunity to achieve it.
The very policies and incentives at the heart of effective climate action – many of them conceived and nurtured within the UN Climate Change Convention itself – also assist countries to develop more quickly and sustainably in peace and prosperity with healthier people and environments and at far less cost.
It is no coincidence of history that governments under the UN this year will not only deliver the Paris climate change agreement but also redefine a post-2015 development agenda with a set of new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as well as coming together at their Third World Conference on Disaster Reduction. These global efforts are all borne by a common need and an intertwined imperative.
When governments sign up to the words of a final Paris agreement, they will not solve climate change at a pen stroke. But the words do need to underwrite the pathways, policies and support to ensure that all countries can contribute now and in future, based on national circumstances, to prevent global warming rising above 2C degrees while assisting societies to adapt to the climate change already underway.
Climate science shows clearly that the world needs to achieve a three-part goal to successfully address climate change: peaking global emissions in the next decade, triggering a deep de-carbonization of the global economy and achieving climate neutrality as soon as possible in the second half of the century.
Climate neutrality, also known as net-zero, is a point where ecosystems or technology must be able to absorb the balance of all remaining human emissions.
The goal of climate neutrality therefore needs to be recognized explicitly. There is no question that the world already has the money, technology and resources to achieve climate neutrality but investors, designers and innovators need this explicit policy signal to give everyone clarity on the common global destination.
Paris can be seen to have four primary, linked objectives and essential progress has already been made towards each of these.
First, Paris must conclude the new climate change agreement. Governments have already agreed their official negotiating text, covering substantive content and including mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology and capacity-building. This means remaining differences can now be cleared up and cleaned up and higher-level political decisions addressed in capitals.
Second, because the new agreement will come into force only in 2020, it needs to make clear progress on addressing climate change before that. There remains a large gap in global ambition to cut emissions fast enough to keep below the 2C degree rise and to meet adaptation needs.
As part of their core objective, the negotiations have addressed ways to realize immediate opportunities to reduce emissions and deliver tangible results before 2020. This has focused on concrete case studies of effective policy and technology creation and implementation, highlighting an existing and rich palette of real-world solutions to climate change.
Third, Paris can define a solid financial package to support developing countries to fulfil their own plans for sustainable, clean energy futures.
Governments agreed that at least $100 billion a year in climate finance for developing countries should be flowing from various sources by 2020. Current global flows show an encouraging picture but we still have some way to go.
The Green Climate Fund, which will be a central channel for climate finance to developing nations, has achieved its initial capitalization goal of over 10 USD billion in contributions from governments.
Meanwhile, the UNFCCC Standing Committee on Finance delivered its first report on global climate finance, which estimated flows in 2011-2012 from $340 billion a year to an upper end of $650 billion. Exact amounts depend on how climate finance is defined. The figures also showed however that direct public funding support to the poorest countries remains low.
Finally, Paris will be able to see a clearer picture of global climate change ambition as countries over the coming months bring forward what they will contribute to the new agreement. These Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) will be submitted to the UN climate change secretariat, which will prepare a synthesis report on their aggregate effect by 1 November. On 27 February Switzerland became the first country to submit an INDC.
Most significantly, countries agreed that there will be no back-tracking, which means that the new level of ambition they put forward to reduce emissions should increase over time.
Since the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference, where a new climate agreement failed to materialize, the breadth and depth of the response to climate change at all levels of government, business and civil society has mushroomed.
The scale of effort is not yet enough. But the realization that cutting pollution, saving energy, switching to renewable power and protecting against climate impacts are all perfectly sensible, profitable things to do has become a tenet of common sense in policy circles, boardrooms and amongst consumers.
If “the trend is your friend”, then governments in Paris will be working against a background of the most climate-friendly conditions the world has yet seen.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Climate Summit, last September, was a watershed event at which political, business and civil society leaders were asked to come with commitments to advance action to cut emissions, mobilize money and markets, price carbon, and strengthen resilience to climate impacts.
An unprecedented number attended, including 100 heads of state and government and over 800 leaders from business, finance and civil society.
One of the most important insights was that climate action by city leaders, investors and companies, when seen as a whole, is beginning to approach the kind of scale required to begin dealing effectively with climate change.
For example, 40 countries, 30 cities and dozens of corporations launched a large-scale commitment to double the rate of global energy efficiency by 2030.
A new coalition of governments, business, finance, multilateral development banks and civil society leaders announced they would mobilize over $200 billion for financing low-carbon and climate-resilient development.
A coalition of institutional investors committed to decarbonize $100 billion of their portfolios by December this year and to measure and disclose the carbon footprint of at least $500 billion in investments.
Seventy-three national Governments, 11 regional governments and more than 1,000 businesses and investors signaled their support for pricing carbon. Together, their footprint represents 52 per cent of global GDP and 54 per cent of global emissions.
We have not yet reached the tipping point of adequate global climate action but we have reached a turning point in global endeavor.
It’s important to note that the legal nature of the new agreement will be decided by countries only in Paris. That is in the nature of international negotiations.
What is more important to note is that climate agreements do work well. In the past 20 years, the UN Climate Change Convention has galvanized the world to seek multilateral solutions to climate change.
The Kyoto Protocol, which came into force ten years ago, established the world’s first greenhouse gas reduction treaty with binding commitments for industrialized countries. Countries with targets under the protocol have collectively exceeded their original ambition by a large margin.
Its Clean Development Mechanism launched thousands of renewable energy initiatives in developing countries. Its forests program is helping reduce emissions. It put in place pioneering concepts, flexible options, practical solutions and procedures for accountability that we often take for granted today. And it established a whole new set of international institutions which are unlocking access by developing countries to the finance, technology and capacity building they need to respond to climate change.
Without action under the UNFCCC, the Kyoto Protocol and its various mechanisms we would not be as far forward as we are today.
I am certain that in another ten years, we will look back and say that the Paris agreement, in its time, put the world on track towards a truly sustainable, climate neutral future and assisted in charting the course to a new relationship between nations and communities and humanity’s management of this wonderful world that sustains all life and hopes on earth.