Strides in the Race Against Time…
Friday, April 22, also known as Earth Day, was a landmark. More than 170 world leaders signed the Paris Agreement on climate change. The agreement sets a target of keeping the average rise in temperature across the globe below two degrees Celsius — with an aspirational goal of less than a degree and a half. Given the mass embrace, many experts now expect the climate agreement to enter into force long before the original deadline of 2020.
“We are in a race against time,” said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the signing ceremony. “The era of consumption without consequences is over.”
The world now appears united on the issue of climate action.
U.S. and China: Progress Toward the Target
The United States and China are the two largest carbon polluters, accounting for roughly 40 percent of total emissions. The two countries entered into a separate, framework agreement on Earth Day, and pledged to iron out the structure and specifics of the pact by year’s end.
Both countries have started the difficult task of determining how they’ll meet their environmental goals. The Clean Power Plan in the U.S., for example, aims to decrease carbon emissions 32 percent by 2030, from a 2005 baseline. Similarly, China has pledged to cut power sector emissions 60 percent by 2020 and generate 20 percent of electricity from low-carbon sources by 2030.
China and the U.S. have also acknowledged that technology development and innovation are key to their progress; as a result, they’ve committed to:
- Implementing goals of the Mission Innovation initiative;
- Supporting the work of the Clean Energy Ministerial;
- Holding G-20 countries accountable to their pledges;
- And increasing collaboration between the U.S.-China Climate Change Working Group and Clean Energy Research Center.
The Business Community’s Response?
Companies played an integral role in climate discussions at COP 21. More than 5,000 organizations, representing over $40 trillion in revenue, voiced support for a global climate agreement.
“This provides business with the critical elements which we were calling for to catalyze a clean, thriving economy: the certainty that policy will support the long-term path to decarbonization, the ambition needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mobilize finance, the confidence that governments will progressively raise their emissions-reductions commitments, and a level playing field across all major economies,” said Edward Cameron, BSR’s managing director and the policy lead for We Mean Business.
While some companies are hesitant to sign on because they anticipate that climate-focused programs could increase short-term operating costs or they’re waiting for inevitable regulations, forward-thinking corporations are preparing and taking action to reduce the carbon impact of their business as quickly as possible.
What’s Next for the Paris Agreement?
By 2018, countries that signed the accord have to build and submit detailed plans for how they’ll meet their commitments. And the text of the agreement says it should become law in 2020. Neither date is too far on the horizon, which means the pace of activity and change will be significant.