Post Paris, COP21, December, 12, 2015.

Post Paris, COP21, December, 12, 2015.


While a new global climate agreement was never really in doubt, its scope and depth were very much in play to the end, and risks of backsliding were real. All nations are now required to act on a common timeframe, so the past bifurcation between developed and developing countries is gone. The level of effort expected and achieved by each will vary by circumstance, including willpower and capacity. New, individualized goals for each nation do not yet add up to the global goals for temperature stabilization, and higher levels of ambition will ultimately be needed. The amount of work required by each country may be quite significant. In the US, according to administration officials, new climate change goals will require a doubling of the nation’s clean energy efforts of the past decade in the next five years. Considering that the US has cut more emissions from its baseline than any other country since 2005 (also from administration officials), this gives a hint of the challenge ahead, particularly for countries just getting started.


My own take is that one part of the climate equation is now pretty clear to everyone in the climate negotiations, and another is clarifying.


First the downward spiral. Many resource shortages, such as water, are increasingly linked to climate change and trigger secondary and tertiary effects best avoided before they get out of hand. For instance, water supply shortages are causing power supply shortfalls in hydro dependent countries. In turn, this leads to energy price spikes that are economically disruptive and can spill into to destabilization of cultures and governments. The same is possible for food security, land availability, and access to energy. This is the story of resilience and why climate change adaptation is not a luxury — although the price makes it feel that way at times. In the 1990’s California spent over $1 billion on energy efficiency in a short period of time to help avert its energy crisis, and leaned on substantial capacities of government and the private sector to reform markets and shift to new energy supplies. Few places have the money or capacity to do the same, yet the problem is common.


The second less clear part of the climate equation (for the moment) is upward spiral. It is the key to success of climate mitigation. Evidence has grown that climate mitigation actions can build the wealth of nations if they are well crafted, creating a win-win upward spiral of approaches that capitalize on positive links between energy, economy, and environment. But the risk of failure is still seen as high by some; many countries have profited by resource intensive development and see low footprint departures as risky and difficult. Yet times are changing. In the past decade the European Union experienced economic growth while emissions were greatly reduced, indicating that something is going right on a broad scale — including the move to efficient and renewable energy. In the US, since 2005 the economy grew 14 percent while energy use actually dropped, another indicator of decoupling across economic sectors. These general successes need to be translated to specific actions in every sector, in every nation, that can be carried out with confidence to jointly cut emissions and create wealth. For emerging economies with high growth rates and resource dependencies matched with low capacity and investment, this is a big step. Yet the evidence is strong even there that energy and resource efficient growth is the safer, faster, and more reliable option. Moreover, it has become a high stakes race for new technology and investment that are lifelines for economic development. As this shift grows, so will support for climate mitigation goals.


When the Center for Climate Strategies began its Low Carbon Development program in China in 2009, I shared the stage and a set of thoughtful private conversations with China’s lead negotiator, NDRC Vice Chairman Xie Zhenhua, on barriers to cooperation. I said then, and continue to believe today, that when it comes to climate change, it is in the best interest of each nation that they help each other succeed. The scenarios in which one or both fail are not good. The last five years have proven the success of the US China cooperative relationship, thanks to a huge effort by both sides. The new global climate agreement opens this door to all nations. Let’s all do our part to make it work.


And, please, do recycle — it really helps!

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