COP 21 Is Over: Now What?

There is no doubt that history was made in Paris this month. National governments, international groups, non-profit organizations, and business leaders from around the world gathered in Paris with the hope of making decisions that will impact the health of people and the planet for generations to come. And they did. On Saturday December 12, 2015 after two weeks of negotiations and years of preparation, 195 nations and the European Union agreed on an international plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions worldwide - a plan that is bold and forward-looking, clearly demonstrating that the global community is ready to embrace such change. For the first time in history, humanity is speaking with one voice to solve the climate crisis.

The negotiators have left us with a strong agreement. It is universal - almost every nation has made a commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions; durable and progressive - countries have agreed to periodically strengthen their commitments toward long term goals; transparent - countries will report on their efforts; and equitable - it provides mechanisms to protect the world's poor and vulnerable.

But now that the activists have returned home and the dust has settled, we are all asking: what's next? The simple answer is that the success of the agreement is 100% dependent on whether all its provisions are strengthened and implemented. To do this we will have to redouble our efforts and work at all levels of government and the community, corporate, university, even personal level.

The Agreement is thus a huge step forward, but it is still only a starting point. It must be strengthened over time and the negotiators recognized this, providing the framework necessary for long-term change. First, the agreement includes a five-year review mechanism the goal of which is to inform the periodic strengthening of existing commitments.

Second, the Agreement sets a long-term goal of essentially net zero greenhouse gas emissions sometime in the second half of this century and a more ambitious long term target than merely stating that the world will hold global warming to 2 degrees centigrade. The details of the long term goal including when in the second half of the century we will reach net zero emissions and how much we can keep warming below 2 or even 1.5 degrees are informed by science, but meeting them will depend on how ambitious we are in implementing and strengthening the agreement.

Both the 5 year reviews and the long term goal send a clear signal to the investment community that the era of fossil fuels is ending and will be replaced by a clean energy future. They provide the signal necessary to unlock the financing needed for a truly sustainable future.

Thanks to the tremendous work of the French government led by President Hollande and Minister Fabius, and the United Nations, led by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Christiana Figueres, the Chairman of The Climate Reality Project Al Gore, and countless others, we now have a roadmap to end the fossil fuel era and bring us into the clean energy economy of the future.

So now what? It must be remembered that this is just one step in the process. Three key things need to happen now.

First, we need the political will to ensure that current commitments are strengthened and met at the country level. As we are seeing in Canada and Australia, electoral politics can have major implications on climate and clean energy policy, both for good and bad. We need to ensure that leaders are held accountable for their country's climate commitments and that they are strong enough to close the pre-2030 emissions gap.

Second, policies and regulations must be put in place at the country, subnational and local levels to ensure that projected greenhouse gas reductions are achieved and even surpassed. This will take smart development and finance strategies to ensure that renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies are implemented and scaled up.

Finally, each of us needs to personally recommit ourselves to the long road that leads from Paris to a brighter, more sustainable future powered by affordable, clean energy. At The Climate Reality Project we are working to implement the agreement at all levels of government, which includes ensuring that we have political leaders who will guarantee these national commitments are fulfilled and scaled-up, that we have the right policies to get us there, and that people everywhere are fired up for the next phase of climate action. Through the support of our branch offices and Climate Reality Leaders around the world we are ready to continue working towards a better and more sustainable tomorrow.

December 12, 2015 is a moment the world can look back on to remind us why fighting climate change is the most important global priority. However, it is just a moment. Now it is time to take the next step, the step that focuses on upholding the commitments we made in Paris and concentrates on long-term plans and long-term solutions to halt the destructive progression of climate change and ensure a sustainable future for all of us.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post, in conjunction with the U.N.'s 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris (Nov. 30-Dec. 11), aka the climate-change
conference. The series will put a spotlight on climate-change issues and the conference itself. To view the entire series, visit here.