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On the VERGE

Can COP24 write the golden rulebook?

This is a "use it or lose it moment in economic history."

Adapted from the VERGE Weekly newsletter, published Wednesdays.

It has been a big week of anticipation with the 24th annual Conference of the Parties (aka COP24) underway in Katowice, Poland. Many say it’s the most important international climate meeting since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015.

Here’s why what transpires in Poland has such significant implications for the future of life on earth, and the role business needs — and gets — to play in stepping up to the proverbial planetary plate.

First and foremost, COP24 is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to translating the historic commitments outlined in the Paris Agreement into transformative action. When global leaders approved the accord in 2015, they postponed answering a lot of big questions about how it actually would be implemented. How countries will collect, track and transparently report their greenhouse gas emissions, for example, were all essential details that remained unanswered — until, let’s hope, now.

This week and next are about operationalizing the Paris Agreement through the development of a "rulebook." The goal is to ensure countries are setting and continually increasing their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to keep warming well below 2 degrees Celsius; measuring and accurately reporting progress to decarbonize their economies; and addressing the perennial division about whether rich and poorer countries should face the same obligations.

The dire need for "urgent, audacious and ambitious climate action" — as United Nations General Assembly President Maria Espinosa called for — couldn’t be more timely or true. As famed British naturalist Sir David Attenborough echoed in a speech Monday, "The collapse of our civilizations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon" if transformative action isn’t taken now.

COP24 is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to translating the historic commitments outlined in the Paris Agreement into transformative action.
The good news is that we know what decarbonization of the global economy requires, and we have the solutions to do it. The consensus is clear: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent report on Global Warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius, the Fourth National Climate Assessment (mandated by the U.S. Congress and written by U.S. researchers) and the U.N. Environment’s Emissions Gap Report — all published within the last two months — confirm what COP is setting out to achieve. Getting to net zero emissions by 2050 and staying below 2 degrees Celsius warming, ideally below 1.5 degrees, is what’s necessary to avert the unprecedented unraveling of our planetary life-support systems and, what some researchers are increasingly writing about as near-term, ecologically induced social collapse (PDF).

This is where the transformative power of — and opportunities for — the private sector come in, especially as countries’ current pledges have us on track towards a bleakly 3 degrees warmer world.

Take, for example, the work being advanced by the New Climate Economy (NCE) — the flagship project of a major international initiative to advance actions that strengthen economic performance while reducing climate risk. NCE recently published a compelling report concluding that ambitious climate action does not need to cost much more than business-as-usual economic growth and, done right, promises to deliver $26 trillion in economic gains by 2030. The report outlines how we can build a better, more resilient, inclusive economy by accelerating transformation in five key systems: clean energy; smarter urban development; sustainable land use; wise water management; and a circular industrial economy. I urge you, at a minimum, to dig into the key findings and report summary, as they lay out a compelling roadmap for the role of and benefits to the private sector in taking bold leadership in stewarding this transition.

The catch, however, is that the decisions we make over the next two to three years are crucial for shaping our economic and planetary trajectory, given the combined urgency of our rapidly changing climate and the immediate need to determine how upwards of $90 trillion in infrastructure investments will be made between now and 2030.

It’s affirming to see organizations such as the International Chamber of Commerce, representing business and industry at COP24, calling for greater ambition and publishing actionable principles for a just transition (PDF).

And yet, this is, as NCE put it, our "use it or lose it moment in economic history." While much will be determined by what happens during the negotiations at COP24, it’s reassuring to know that the ingenuity and innovation at the heart of business leaders (such as you) can still advance progress, no matter the outcome in Poland.

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