We have all been following the news of the terrible events in Paris and Beirut with deep sadness and concern. In the midst of dealing with the immediate crisis, France, the host nation of the upcoming international climate talks has affirmed its commitment to have the event, known as COP21, go ahead as planned. It’s a courageous response, and one that recognizes the urgency and importance of a strong global climate agreement for the future of our planet.
Why the Paris climate talks (COP21) must proceed (and succeed)
Of course, the immediate safety and security of people everywhere is a primary concern, and is a major subject of international dialogue and cooperation right now. Along with steps that nations are taking to address that priority, there is also a clear recognition of a different kind of threat that is unfolding and will have profound effects on people everywhere: climate change and its worsening impacts.
I can’t say it better than others who have already weighed in on why COP21 must proceed:
Here is François Hollande, President of the French Republic:
“We must continue – continue working, going out, living our lives, influencing the world: this is why the international climate conference will not only go ahead, but will bring hope and solidarity.”
And Laurent Fabius, Foreign Minister of France, in response to a question about whether COP21 might be canceled:
“Non, non, non, non, non, la COP21 doit se tenir. Elle se tiendra avec des mesures de sécurité renforcées mais c’est une action absolument indispensable contre le dérèglement climatique et bien évidement elle se tiendra.”
(Rough translation: No, no , no, no , no, the COP21 [is] to be held. It will be held with enhanced security measures but it is absolutely essential action against climate change and of course it will be held.)
And Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (via Twitter):
“Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time. We recognize that 2015 is a critical year that requires effective, strong and collective action on climate change and its effects. We reaffirm the below 2°C goal.” And “We underscore our commitment to reaching an ambitious agreement in Paris…”
How the U.S can contribute to the success of COP21
As with any international negotiation involving 195 countries and nearly two thousand observer groups, the issues are complicated and can get contentious but they all boil down to this: What kind of future climate will we leave to the children of this world?
The U.S. can make a big contribution to success in Paris and here’s why:
The U.S. has worked to lay advance groundwork on global climate and clean energy cooperation.
A successful outcome at Paris depends on the careful groundwork that has already been laid by many countries, including Peru (last year’s COP host) and France. A critically important aspect has been advance commitments from countries through their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), laying out the steps they will take to address climate change. Already the vast majority of countries, including the U.S., have registered their INDCs with the UNFCCC.
The U.S has announced an intention to reduce its global warming emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. The U.S. has also played a very positive role in bilateral dialogues, including making important joint announcements on climate and clean energy with China, India, and Mexico earlier this year.
The U.S. has followed through with domestic actions to back up its international commitments.
Equally important, the U.S. is sending a clear signal that it will follow through on its international commitments by finalizing and implementing important domestic regulations such as the Clean Power Plan and vehicle efficiency standards. These actions are demonstrating that it is technically and economically feasible to ramp up clean energy and make large cuts in our carbon emissions while benefiting people.
The U.S. has also pledged $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund to help developing countries increase clean energy deployment and build resilience to climate impacts, and the president’s FY16 budget request includes $500 million for this purpose. Other countries are also committing to this type of follow-through: China has announced plans for a national cap-and-trade program and $3.14 billion for the China South-South Climate Cooperation Fund to support climate action in other developing countries, and India has committed to an ambitious renewable energy goal.
Taking strong action on climate change will require commitment from all levels of government, the private sector, and all of us ordinary citizens. It’s incredibly heartening to see the wide cross-section of Americans and people worldwide who are coming forth to demonstrate their support for climate and clean energy action. With our combined efforts, our shared vision of a thriving clean energy economy can become a reality.
What more can the U.S. do in Paris?
The U.S. is a key player in the global climate negotiations and the world will be looking to us for leadership. While the administration is limited in what it can do unilaterally without Congressional approval, it can certainly set a tone of ambition and trust, coupled with moral courage. Here’s what’s needed:
- An openness to discussing the issue of loss and damage associated with climate impacts which is of vital importance to nations that are already bearing the brunt of these impacts, including supporting a fair solution to addressing this issue in the final outcome at Paris.
- A commitment to scaling up public funding and leveraging other sources of private funding – all part of the much-needed climate finance to foster a rapid global clean energy transition and help nations prepare for climate change.
- A willingness to continue to seek common ground with China, India, and other major emerging economies, as well as support the concerns of smaller, less powerful nations.
- An honest assessment of what the science shows about the scale of emission reductions needed to limit climate change, and the risks of climate impacts that could occur as a result of our current emissions pathway.
Of course, all countries including the U.S. will need to do more to truly address the challenge of climate change beyond the Paris talks. The current INDCs fall short of the goal of limiting global temperature increase to below 2°C and we have technologies and policies to get us on that path.
Last week reminded us yet again that our world is inextricably linked and that we all have to work together for a better future for our children, a safer, fairer, more peaceful world. Limiting the pace and magnitude of climate change is critical to those efforts. Let’s demand that our political leaders rise to the occasion and deliver a strong climate agreement in Paris this December.