The Real Road from Paris

March 11, 2016   |   Paris

New President of the French Constitutional Council Laurent Fabius deliberates with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, whilst Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres looks on in Paris, France, December 12, 2015

IMAGE: Bruno Chapiron

When news of the Paris Agreement broke on December 12th, 2015, officials were quick to laud success. But reaching an agreement, no matter how significant, does not necessarily consolidate the victory in the fight against climate change. Sustain Europe takes a look at the next steps and asks where do we go from here?


In the immediate aftermath, the signals were looking very good indeed. Leading climate officials Christiana Figueres and Laurent Fabius were awarded the Ewald von Kleist peace award, whilst the deal itself was strong enough to move global markets and mobilise investors to decarbonise their portfolios. Coal share prices fell, while several renewable energy companies saw a marked increase in their share prices. As the UK's Shadow Energy and Climate Change Minister Lady Byrony pointed out: "Clearly Paris was all about the message it sends out to the rest of the world that we're serious about cutting carbon emissions and coal is going to be one of the first things to go."


This was quickly followed with a call for a "carbon levy" from over 60 campaigners and organisations, including Greenpeace's Kumi Naidoo, WWF's Samantha Smith, Bill McKibben of, Mithika Mwenda of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance and Yeb Sano, the former lead climate negotiator for the Philippines.


Their statement read: "The industry that is most responsible for climate change is the fossil fuel industry - responsible for roughly 70 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. The fossil fuel industry is responsible not only for the majority of carbon emissions but also for the delay in dealing with the problem. They have known about climate change for decades, yet have funded climate denialists and have subverted political processes aimed at fighting the problem. International law - and basic fairness - say that the fossil fuel industry should pay for the loss and damage that their product is causing."


Those of you who have followed Sustain Europe on Twitter for some years will know that we've been reflecting these sentiments for quite some time. One of the main impetuses for Sustain Europe was to make sure that climate change denialists would not be able to spread their fossil fuel industry-funded messages without being exposed, and that businesses would always have access to the truth about climate change as authored by the world's leading climate scientists and experts. What Paris has done has brought our mission out into the mainstream. But now we are finally out of the starting blocks, what are going to be the next steps after the Paris Agreement?




One of the very first steps that will need to be taken is for the Paris Agreement to be ratified by at least 55 of the 195 countries who adopted it back in December. Furthermore, the 55 countries must represent at least 55% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.  This 55% threshold cannot be achieved without the acceptance of at least one of the top four emitting Parties: the European Union, Russia, China, or the USA. The figure below illustrates three possible combinations of countries for meeting this threshold:












































In February 2016, Fiji officially became the first country to ratify the Paris Agreement. Food shortages, flooding and other extreme weather events are set to take a significant toll on the archipelago as climate change takes hold, so it comes as no surprise the nation's attorney general told parliament that it would need to ratify the treaty ahead of the signing ceremony in April.


By being the first to take this bold step, Fiji was able to demonstrate to the rest of the world that it is important to build upon the success of Paris with action, rather than well-funded sustainability summits where corporate and political leaders can sit around in luxurious surroundings waxing lyrical about how they intend to become involved in the sustainability effort. That is why Sustain Europe salutes Fiji for leading the charge on climate change and hopes that other European nations will take heed and step up to the plate, just as Sweden has done when last month it pledged to have no net emissions of greenhouse gases by the year 2050.


Raising the standards


President of the French Constitutional Council and former Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius in January urged world leaders to ratify the Paris Agreement in person, so that global efforts to combat climate change would receive a much-needed renewed focus. On the 2nd of March, the European Commission communicated to the European Parliament and the Council what they thought the next steps after the Paris Agreement would be and assessed the implications of signing the agreement:



Within this document the EC ruled out any increase of the official target of cutting emissions by 40% by 2030 (compared to 1990 levels). It started to get really interesting when European environment ministers and green lobbying groups sparked an outcry and let the EU know that such statements weren't going to cut any ice with them. After all, the current EU target of cutting emissions by 40% would only keep the global temperature rise to 2C, which is quite a way off the 1.5C target of the Paris Agreement.


The EU were quick to respond, with the Director of International Climate Strategy, Artur Runge-Metzger, saying: “The question of the level of ambition for 2030 is open, as long as it is a binding EU target of at least 40% domestic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 1990.”


This was environmental backtracking at its finest, which given the positive ramifications it would have for the environment can only be a good thing. As a spokesman for Friends of the Earth, Brook Riley, noted: “It’s good to hear the commission saying that increased emission cuts are still on the table, even if this contradicts what it published last week. Without tougher targets Europe would be undermining and undoing the Paris agreement before it is even signed.”


Emissions weren't the only focus of attention, either. Renewable energy insiders wanted to see the EU setting a new target of sourcing 35% of their energy from renewable sources by 2030. Oliver Schaefer, SolarPower Europe’s president, had this to say: “More ambition is needed in Europe to reach the objective of limiting global warming to just 1.5C, which the European Union signed up to in Paris. The EU must review the targets suggested in 2014. It would be foolish to pretend that nothing has changed since COP21.”


So whilst there is some deliberating over some of the targets, the emerging consensus seems to be that 2016 is going to be the year of action. Not just for the EU and individual nations, but for cities too.


Cities to go green


Back in December, 1,000 mayors of cities from all over the world issued a declaration at the Climate Summit for Local Leaders that committed their cities to moving to no less than 100% renewable energy as soon as possible. The declaration stated:


“We — the undersigned mayors, governors, premiers and other local government leaders — commit collectively to support ambitious long-term climate goals such as a transition to 100 percent renewable energy in our communities.”


According the European Environment Agency, approximately 75% of the population of the EU are living in urban areas, and the rest of Europe is not far off that figure, either. So it stands to reason that addressing climate change at the local level will provide the maximum impact for European cities which choose to meet this goal. 2016 will become the year in which we learn which cities are either walking the walk or merely talking the talk. Only time will tell. But it's a step in the right direction and thankfully it's not just cities which are getting in on the act.




The RE100 group of companies, with members including IKEA, Swiss Re, Adobe, ING, Philips, Google, Goldman Sachs and Microsoft, have also pledged to move to 100% renewable energy. On paper, their plan looks great, but it's where we go from Paris which is going to serve as the true litmus test. As IKEA's Chief Sustainability Officer Steve Howard recently put it: “We’ve talked for a long time about long, loud and legal policy making. If you’re a business you make long-term plans but then you actually change as you go – you adjust – can you go faster? Can you strengthen targets?"


The answer to those questions will hold some of the greatest significance in the fight against climate change. Which is why Sustain Europe will be tracking them every step of the way and will make sure that you are always informed which of these companies are walking the walk.


Others' opinions


There has been a great deal of speculation over what the Paris Agreement will actually mean for business and the future of the economy. We've singled out what we believe to be three of the most pertinent reports for you to feast your eyes upon:



Corporate Disruptors: How business is turning the world’s greatest challenges into opportunities



Ceres, Bloomberg Energy Finance:

Mapping the Gap: The Road from Paris




10 for 2016 | Paris Agreement: Triumph of the Optimists



Although as the age old adage goes, market speculation seldom ends well. So for now, it might be pragmatic to focus upon what we know is actually going to be taking place on the road from Paris.


The Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement


The newly created Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (APA) will help to develop most of the new rules and guidelines which will bring the Paris deal into force. The APA will meet several times a year and is expected to start its sessions in conjunction with the sessions of the subsidiary bodies between 16 to 26 May 2016 in Bonn, Germany. In particular, the COP requested the APA to develop:


(a) Further guidance relating to nationally determined contributions referred to in Article 4 of the Paris Agreement;


(b) Modalities, procedures and guidelines for the transparency framework for action and support referred to in Article 13 of the Paris Agreement;


(c) Modalities for the global stocktake referred to in Article 14 of the Paris Agreement;


(d) Modalities and procedures for the effective operation of the mechanism to facilitate implementation and promote compliance referred to in Article 15 of the Paris Agreement.



The Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), which is supporting the APA, has been tasked with the responsibility of developing the guidance for the carbon markets system established under the Paris Agreement, whilst developing non-market based approaches to emissions reductions. Their work is going to be increasingly influential as we move through the year.


So it is clear that there is a lot of work to do, which really shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. As we mentioned back in December, the Paris Agreement is not going to magically "fix" climate change. But it will serve as a launching pad for a new phase of climate action, one that binds nations together and puts asides their differences in the name of saving this planet we call home.


As we leave the starting blocks it will be worth remembering that the road from Paris may not be always be smooth, but we can make it. And in the end, we will conclude that it was worth it.





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