World leaders will meet in Paris to finalize an international climate change agreement that will require deeper emissions reduction commitments from all countries. If all goes well, all major countries will enshrine their new climate commitments in this agreement. The agreement will contain provisions to hold countries accountable to their commitments and mobilize greater investments to assist developing countries in building low-carbon, climate-resilient economies. And encouragingly, businesses, investors, states, provinces, cities, financial institutions, and others are already pledging actions to help governments implement the agreement and even exceed their commitments.
While the Paris agreement won't "solve" climate change, it can be a critical inflection point. It brings us much closer to a safer climate trajectory and highlights the path forward after Paris.
So what needs to be addressed in the Paris agreement if we are to build stronger international climate action that mobilizes action now and spurs even greater action in the years to come (we outline these key elements in our new "issue brief")?
New emissions reduction targets for the Post-2020 timeframe by key countries
In the lead-up to Paris, more than 170 countries responsible for over 90 percent of the world's climate pollution have announced specific reduction plans (see here for our summary). These include actions from all major countries, including the US, Europe, China, India, Brazil, Mexico, and South Korea (read our summary of these commitments and the actions that are already underway in these countries). The Paris agreement will need to enshrine commitments from all major countries to reduce their emissions for the period after 2020 based upon these proposed targets by setting these as the floor and creating a requirement that countries adopt more aggressive commitments for subsequent five year periods (e.g., from 2025-2030 and then 2030-2035).
Tools to catalyze more aggressive action over time
The agreement will need to strengthen future action by creating systems for countries to upgrade their targets since the best estimates show that these targets don't yet put us on the necessary safe climate trajectory. As a result, a critical outcome of the Paris agreement is a solid process for reassessing and deepening emissions reduction commitments every five years. This process will need to begin no later than 2020 so that countries can reevaluate their efforts and commit to do more well before 2030. We need another political moment well before 2030 so that countries can detail stepped-up efforts. After all, further clean energy cost reductions, confidence that policies are producing larger than expected emissions reductions, and other factors will inevitably prove to leaders that they can do more before 2030 than they are prepared to detail in 2015. This won't need to be an intrusive process, but will provide countries an opportunity to show that they are prepared to be even more of a leader on climate change by strengthening their national climate targets.
Financial support to assist developing countries
Countries have already agreed to help mobilize $100 billion by 2020 through public and private financing to assist developing countries in reducing emissions and adapting to climate change. We know that more resources will need to be mobilized after 2020 since we will be headed towards even deeper emissions reductions in subsequent years and the needs for climate resilience will grow more acute. For this reason the Paris agreement will need to send a clear signal that countries will help mobilize even greater financial support to assist the poorest countries in building low-carbon and climate resilient economies. These investments can help spur an even larger clean energy economy around the world, unleash additional emission reduction efforts, and help countries address the devastating impacts of climate change that will set back the well-being of their citizens.
Strengthen transparency and accountability frameworks
The Copenhagen/Cancun agreements built essentially a three-part system for transparency and accountability by: (1) requiring that countries regularly report their emissions, climate actions, and trajectory towards their targets; (2) conducting an independent expert review of those country reports; and (3) evaluating country progress through an international public review. This system of transparency and accountability will need to be modified and strengthened to help hold governments accountable to their commitments as we build a durable agreement.
Spurring more than countries to take climate action
The Paris conference will add to the growing groundswell of climate actions in an effort to broaden the engagement of other leaders. Governors, mayors, corporations, civil society, financial institutions, and leaders of all stripes will pledge individual and collective actions that can help address climate change now. This groundswell of climate actions will form a key pillar of the Paris agreement and must be a critical part of an "all hands on deck" effort to address climate change in the coming decades. Countries will need to help ensure that these kinds of actions continue after Paris.
Creating a path to even greater action in the years to come
The Paris Agreement won't "solve" climate change, but it puts us much closer to a safer trajectory and highlights the path forward. Before the Copenhagen Accord in 2009, we were potentially headed for an increase in global average temperatures of 5°C (9°F) above pre-industrial levels by 2100. Today, the meaningful commitments submitted in advance of the Paris climate summit show us that we are on a path to a 2.7° C (4.9°F) temperature rise by the end of the century, closer to the 2°C (3.6°F) goal. As a result, countries will need to set in motion a set of systems both in the agreement and in the accompanying outcomes to encourage even greater actions by countries, companies, cities, states/provinces, and financial institutions. This will need to include the mechanisms to strengthen ambition over time contained in the agreement and arrangements to help the groundswell deliver significant emissions cuts.
All of this has a solid foundation to build upon as countries have realized that it is in their own interest to cut their carbon pollution. They have concluded that, far from destroying the economy, domestic climate action produces real benefits for their citizens, including new jobs, reduced poverty, and lower mortality rates. And as natural disasters increase in frequency and intensity, they have seen that not addressing climate change has real and lasting consequences. Countries will have to leave Paris and roll-up their sleeves by delivering additional domestic climate actions and laying the groundwork for even more action.
If we get the right pieces in the Paris outcome we can build a durable agreement to deliver even greater action in the years to come. After all, the first step is often the hardest. It won't be easy, but citizens are demanding climate action so leaders must rise to challenge.