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Paris Climate Pact Makes History, Draws Business Backing

Paris Climate Pact Makes History, Draws Business Backing

by ROB McMANAMY | Dec 12, 2015

Greenpeace must be awfully confused right now.

Indeed, it would appear that Christmas arrived early for environmental groups everywhere today, following successful completion of the United Nations’ 21st Conference of Parties (COP21), which concluded two weeks of negotiations with overwhelming adoption of the new Paris Agreement. For the first time, 195 nations—all parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)—have pledged to curb emissions, strengthen resilience, and join in taking common climate action.

“The Paris Agreement is a monumental triumph for people and our planet,” tweeted UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, immediately after its adoption. “It sets the stage for progress in ending poverty, strengthening peace and ensuring a life of dignity and opportunity for all.”

Gaveling the agreement with a green hammer, Laurent Fabius, France's Foreign Minister and COP21 President, announced the historic news—a moment that was greeted with loud applause and cheers, as the room stood. Many delegates hugged, while others had tears in their eyes. In an emotional address during which he held back his own tears, Fabius said the agreement “will serve meaningful causes, food safety and security, public health, the fight against poverty and for essential rights, and therefore peace.” Earlier, before the vote, he had urged the pact's passage. “People worldwide, our citizens, our children, wouldn't understand if we didn't adopt it and wouldn't forgive us,” Fabius said.

Speaking from Washington, President Obama, who had been in Paris for the start of COP21, said, "Today, nations of the world have come together to announce a historic achievement: the most ambitious global agreement to combat climate change. The Paris Agreement establishes a long term, durable global framework to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. For the first time, all countries commit to putting forward successive and ambitious, nationally determined climate targets and reporting on their progress towards them using a rigorous, standardized process of review."

According to the Secretary-General, all 195 nations have agreed to hold global temperature rise to under 2 degrees Celsius and to "pursue efforts to limit temperature increase to 1.5 degrees.” In addition, a review mechanism has been established whereby every five years, beginning in 2018, parties will regularly review what is needed in line with science.

“Governments have agreed to binding, robust, transparent rules of the road to ensure that all countries do what they have agreed across a range of issues,” Mr. Ban said.

White House tweet, Dec 12, 2015

White House tweet, Dec 12, 2015

Meanwhile, highlighting the role of the private sector, the UN chief said business leaders came to Paris in unprecedented numbers and that “powerful” climate solutions are already available while many more are to come. “With these elements in place, markets now have the clear signal they need to unleash the full force of human ingenuity and scale up investments that will generate low-emissions, resilient growth,” he said, adding that “what was once unthinkable has now become unstoppable.”

For its part, Greenpeace International is clearly pleased with the progress in Paris, but arguably the enviroment's most aggressive defender prefers not to get carried away. "Those pledges should only be seen as a starting point and not the final level of action we’ll see," said Martin Kaiser, Greenpeace's chief of climate politics, writing in The Huffington Post. "They need to be reviewed and strengthened in five-year cycles starting right after Paris."

Kaiser added: "And there’s more that can be done. For example, Costa Rica powered itself on 100 percent renewable electricity for the first 75 days of 2015. Tech giants like Amazon, Google and Facebook, all have laid out road maps that explain how they intend to achieve procurement of 100 percent renewable energy. The solutions are already there, we just have to make use of them."

The U.S. Green Building Council is equally enthused by the business community's surprisingly strong support.

"There were signs throughout the conference that the finance world is all in," wrote USGBC Senior Counsel Elizabeth Beardsley in her Dec. 11 blog. "The investment world is responding in a big way to the threat of climate change—and the ROI potential of building efficiency." 

We didn’t come to Paris to make history, but to make the future.
— Michael Bloomberg, U.S. Special Envoy

Just this week, she noted, over 100 financial institutions from more than 40 countries committed to actively contribute to scaling up energy efficiency financing and to work toward tracking deployment of energy efficiency finance. And "39 investors collectively managing close to $4 trillion endorsed the G20 Energy Efficiency Investor Statement, pledging to embed energy efficiency into their investment processes, commit to increasing energy efficiency investments, and monitor and report on asset energy efficiency performance," added Beardsley. 

USGBC also views the Paris Agreement as confirmation that buildings play an extraordinarily important role in effective climate action.

"The new, official recognition of buildings as a solution, combined with the commitments of the financial community, private sector, green building council and governments, has signs of marking the tipping point we have anticipated," said Beardsley. "As Special Envoy Michael Bloomberg declared, we didn’t come to Paris to make history, but to make the future. USGBC is ready."

Indeed, at least for today, especially in a city struck so recently by tragic human actions, the prevailing mood of hope and optimism at COP21 was most welcome. No doubt all contributed to the tears.

“When historians look back on this day, they will say that global cooperation to secure a future safe from climate change took a dramatic new turn here in Paris,” said Secretary-General Ban. “Today, we can look into the eyes of our children and grandchildren, and we can finally say, tell them that we have joined hands to bequeath a more habitable world to them and to future generations.”

Now, of course, the heavy lifting truly begins.

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