French President Emmanuel Macron hosts a major “One Planet” climate summit tomorrow in France with dozens of world political leaders and a host of other key players, including Bill Gates, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Bloomberg. The meeting, on the second anniversary of the day that the UN’s landmark Paris global warming deal was agreed, will re-energise support for it, including by focusing on how public and private finance can innovate to accelerate the battle against climate change.
The Paris deal came after many years of painstaking negotiations and was agreed by more than 190 countries in a welcome shot in the arm for attempts to tackle global warming and, crucially, a new post-Kyoto framework was put in place. The more-ambitious-than-expected deal agreed to see greenhouse gas emissions peak “as soon as possible”, and achieve a balance between sources and sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century, with progress reviewed every five years.
In the two years since, critics of the deal — from different parts of the political spectrum — have already sought to diminish its significance. However, the agreement deserves to be defended robustly for as then-US president Barack Obama asserted in 2015, it may prove to be “the best chance we have to save the planet we have”.
For those who argue that Paris is not ambitious enough, it needs to be remembered that the long-running UN-brokered talks nearly collapsed several times over the years, and that this was one of the most complex set of international negotiations ever. Whereas the 1997 Kyoto Protocol involved a deal for the EU states and 37 developed countries, Paris also involved developing countries too and thus a much wider range of difficult issues to contend with. Indeed, part of the deal’s importance is that it represents the first genuinely global treaty to tackle climate change.
While the agreement is far from perfect, it nonetheless has kept the process ‘alive’, the importance of which cannot potentially be underestimated. Moreover, the once every five years review framework means that countries can in the future potentially toughen their response to climate change in the future, especially if the political and public will to tackle the problem increases with time as with hopefully be the case.
So, rather than viewing the Paris agreement as the end of the process, it must be seen as a very important stepping stone in a longer journey that countries must now make. This is only possible going forward because the talks did not collapse and we now have a post-Kyoto framework in place.
Other critics of the deal, including sceptics of climate change like Obama’s successor US President Donald Trump, have also lambasted the agreement albeit for different reasons. Despite the now-overwhelming scientific evidence about the risks of global warming, Trump and many others argue that climate change is at worst a grand hoax, or at best an unwelcome distraction from other key issues.
While there is always uncertainty with science, these critics are misguided. Even if, remarkably, it turns out that the vast majority of scientists in the world are wrong about global warming, what the Paris deal will help achieve is moving more swiftly to remove our dependence on fossil fuels, making the world a cleaner, less polluted and more sustainable place. Moreover, many countries will also develop a broader range of energies, especially renewables, which can help enhance energy sovereignty too at a time of potentially growing geopolitical turbulence.
Alternatively, the consequences of a failure to act now, as climate sceptics seem to advocate, would be the growing likelihood of devastating environmental damage to the planet. As the overwhelming evidence base of science suggests, this is folly on a global scale.
“The massively ambitious agenda [of Paris climate deal] will require comprehensive and swift actions from governments and business to achieve it”Share on facebookTweet this
So, despite what critics assert, the Paris deal was a positive step forward that topped off a very significant year in 2015 which some have called a once in a generation opportunity to build a new international framework to address the challenges of global warming and sustainable development more broadly. For Paris followed not only a UN summit in New York, which agreed the new 2030 development goals; but also a finance for development conference in Addis Ababa, and a new framework for disaster risk reduction agreed in Sendai. Collectively, these agreements could yet provide a foundation stone for global sustainable development for billions across the world in the coming decades.
Regarding Paris, specifically, what is now important is that the political ‘window of opportunity’ provided by the treaty is now followed up and this is part of Macron’s ambition. Two years on from its agreement, implementation will be most effective through national laws and regulations as the country ‘commitments’ put forward in Paris will be more credible — and durable beyond the next set of national elections — if they are backed up by national legislation and regulation.
These domestic legal frameworks are crucial building blocks to measure, report, verify and manage greenhouse gas emissions. And the ambition must be that they are ratcheted up in coming years so that the intent in Paris is realised to pursue efforts to try to limit global temperature rises to 1.5C, and “well below” 2C above pre-industrial levels, the level scientists say we must not breach if we are to avoid the worst risks of global warming.
This is a massively ambitious agenda that will require comprehensive and swift actions from governments and businesses if it is to have any prospect of being achieved. While this is uncertain, the fact remains that the 2015 Paris deal created a window for it potentially to happen, and what is now needed is leadership from the public and private sectors to help ensure effective implementation, and holding them to account so that the treaty truly delivers.
Andrew Hammond is an associate at LSE IDEAS at the London School of Economics.