Friday

30th Sep 2022

Opinion

Will Paris climate accord change the world?

Too often, we downplay or barely notice the most important moments in our lives, while inflating those that hardly matter.

It is far too early to say whether the Paris Agreement on climate change, which countries reached last Saturday (12 December), will change the world.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

But certainly, we should not downplay this achievement, or its significance.

First, and most importantly, we must remember why 195 countries came to Paris, including more than 150 heads of state, in the largest such gathering in UN history.

The reason they came is that the climate is changing, in all four corners of the globe.

Some changes are only creeping, at first, barely noticeable. Who would notice, or perhaps care, that the vitality of beech trees had declined in northeast France?

But everyone in Europe is familiar with an important cause: an exceptional drought and heat wave in 2003, which caused 15,000 heat-related deaths in France alone.

Climate change is here, and increasing the risk of such extreme events, whose impacts can unravel suddenly and unpredictably around the globe.

We are all affected.

Scholars have drawn links between climate change and a record heat wave in Russia in 2010, and higher global food prices that year. Similarly, climate change is implicated in a warming trend in the eastern Mediterranean, record drought in Syria, and resulting unrest and civil war.

Yes, these pictures are fuzzy and unsure, but we ignore them at our peril.

To control these risks, and put them behind us, countries meeting for the last two weeks in Paris had to meet three objectives.

First, a new climate agreement had to lay a clear path to a future, zero-carbon society. They could achieve this by committing to a target to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions this century.

In Paris, they have agreed just that. In addition, they have agreed to offer more ambitious climate action over time. This continuing cycle of commitments, every five years, will stiffen their ambition, and make the longer term goal more credible.

How will this commitment change the real world?

Importantly, it has reduced the risks of unmanageable climate change. This affects us all. In developing countries, it dramatically increases the prospects for broader, deeper prosperity, which is impossible in an unstable climate.

This long-term goal also means that progressive, forward-thinking businesses and investors can now more clearly sense the way the wind is blowing.

They can invent new, cheaper ways to cut carbon emissions and save energy, knowing that there will be demand for these products. They will drive the world away from fossil fuels, towards a future powered by cleaner renewables, and cut the cost of this low-carbon transition.

Similarly, the Paris Agreement will guide spending decisions in cities around the world, towards lower carbon, more efficient technologies and systems, which create greener, healthier and safer spaces.

Second, to ensure that this agreement was more than a piece of paper, we needed transparency. Countries have, indeed, agree to monitor their emissions, report the climate action that they are taking, and review their progress towards those targets.

And third, we needed fairness.

Even the most ambitious outcome from Paris cannot avoid climate change altogether: far from it. Temperatures will continue to rise for several decades; regrettably, they are locked into our planet’s climate system.

But we can diminish the effects of these future heat waves and storms, by helping the poorest and most vulnerable countries prepare.

That is why these countries have quite rightly called for help, at this climate conference, and others, for a decade or more. The Paris Agreement has listened.

This Agreement has achieved strong and robust climate finance, which richer countries will continue to supply developing nations. Where large, more prosperous emerging economies can afford it, and want to, they can also step up and help.

With these achievements, this Paris Agreement is catching up with the real-world, where we have seen significant shifts in public opinion, investment choices, and business decisions in recent years - away from dirty energy and towards clean solutions.

This job is not done.

More action is needed to secure a stable climate that underpins prosperity.

If we leave climate action too late, then we will have to cut emissions too much, too fast, at too high a cost. That is why it is important that countries return, in four years’ time, to consider raising their existing ambition, which so far falls far short of the long-term goal they have set, to avoid dangerous climate change.

For further action, we are depending on the world’s innovators, entrepreneurs and engineers to deliver the new, cheaper, low-carbon technologies, where solar power and LED lighting have blazed such a trail in the past five years.

And we can be confident that business will respond, because they came in unprecedented numbers to Paris, to work alongside nations. The greatest ambition, arguably, came not from nations but from the cities, entrepreneurs and investors on the side lines of the conference.

Paris demonstrated, in this way, an unprecedented coalition between governments, cities, companies, and campaigners, to address a pressing global issue. It showed that multilateralism is working.

This collective, political moment when leaders came together in Paris can empower an economic revolution. They have reached an agreement which can sustain and accelerate an economic transformation.

Jennifer Morgan is global director of the World Resources Institute, a think tank in Washington

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

EU and 195 countries adopt Paris climate accord

Deal cements new bottom-up approach which involves pledges by every UN state to reduce greenhouse emissions, as well as a review mechanism to jack up ambition every five years.

EU rushing to ratify climate agreement

Environment ministers will try to agree this week to speed up the process to sign up to the Paris agreement. Otherwise it would not be present at the table of the signatories at a conference in November.

How US tech giants play EU states off against each other

Some have tried to justify Big Tech's meagre tax payments in EU states with heavier tax burdens by emphasising the fact that these companies create jobs and invest in next-generation technologies. However, their market dominance comes at a steep cost.

Can King Charles III reset the broken Brexit relationship?

The Queen's funeral was an impressive demonstration of solidarity from the EU towards a country that left the Union in 2020, and with whom the EU's relations have never recovered. Can the new King Charles III build bridges to Brussels?

Column

EU should admonish less, and listen more, to the Global South

Whether on Russia, or gas, or climate change, or food security, the EU's constant finger-wagging and moralising is becoming unbearably repetitive and self-defeating. Most countries in the Global South view it as eurocentric and neo-colonial.

News in Brief

  1. EU ministers adopt measures to tackle soaring energy bills
  2. EU takes Malta to court over golden passports
  3. EU to ban Russian products worth €7bn a year more
  4. Denmark: CIA did not warn of Nord Stream attack
  5. Drone sightings in the North Sea 'occurred over months'
  6. Gazprom threatens to cut gas deliveries to Europe via Ukraine
  7. New compromise over EU energy emergency measures
  8. 15 states push for EU-wide gas price cap

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. The European Association for Storage of EnergyRegister for the Energy Storage Global Conference, held in Brussels on 11-13 Oct.
  2. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  3. European Committee of the RegionsThe 20th edition of EURegionsWeek is ready to take off. Save your spot in Brussels.
  4. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries

Latest News

  1. Going Down Under — EU needs to finish trade deal with Australia
  2. MEPs worry Russian disinfo weakens support for Ukraine
  3. Everything you need to know about the EU gas price cap plan
  4. Why northeast Italy traded in League for Brothers of Italy
  5. How US tech giants play EU states off against each other
  6. Deregulation of new GMO crops: science or business?
  7. The European shipping giants plying Putin's fossil-fuels trade
  8. Russian ideologue and caviar on latest EU blacklist

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us