COP21 at the midpoint: What happened, and what's next?
This article was originally published in BSR Insight.
As we enter the second week of COP21 in Paris, BSR’s Edward Cameron provides his analysis of week one, priorities for week two, and how business can take action now to ensure that the final Paris Agreement catalyzes the transition to a thriving, clean economy.
Dienel: What were you most pleased to see in week one of the climate talks?
Cameron: The first week started strong, especially with the heads of state who spoke on Monday, which indicated significant political will to reach an agreement. That gave the impetus for negotiators to ensure the maximum edge of ambition. Week one also saw strong political support form nongovernmental actors, including cities, state, and business. They have made commitments to go further, faster if they get the right signal from Paris.
One of most encouraging signs of the first week was how business communicated beyond the climate trade fair to influence the negotiations by putting forward tangible policies for governments to work with.
The We Mean Business coalition came here with eight policy asks that, if adopted, would catalyze a thriving, clean economy. These asks would create a package that would stimulate public investment in clean technologies and create domestic policy environments for business to act on climate. It also includes a long-term goal, which would ensure policy certainty, a level playing field for business, and a ratchet mechanism that gives companies confidence that governments will progressively raise ambition over time and not backslide. This is important for things like long-term investments in infrastructure. The asks also cover climate finance: Business can multiply government stimulus to ensure the trillions needed to create a new economy.
Dienel: What are your priorities going into week two? What should business be focused on?
Cameron: We are working to ensure that the final Paris Agreement includes a long-term goal, an agreement on climate finance, and a ratchet mechanism.
First and foremost, ministers must settle on language for the long-term goal, and they must make sure that goal has both a pathway and an end date. The text must commit us to the equivalent of decarbonization well before the end of the century. Otherwise, business will not find the final agreement credible.
Ministers also must agree on climate finance, which is the essential glue of the agreement. It’s not just about funding for research and development and technology. It’s a trust-building measure because developing countries have been promised this money in the past, and it’s still not flowing.
Finally, we need the ratchet mechanism, which will ensure that governments come back to the table every five years, starting in 2020. This is important because although 184 countries have put forward their intended nationally determined contributions, these commitments reduce the projected temperature rise from 4.8°C to 2.7°C degrees — and that’s not enough to avoid dangerous climate change. Business innovates quickly, and we need the pace of innovation within government policy to keep pace with business. That means a five-year review.
Translating these requests into detail is enormously difficult. Every single word is pored over and argued by 196 countries, whose ministers are required to reach consensus. That means the pace of talks is extremely slow.
Dienel: What do you think about the draft of the text that was submitted to ministers on Saturday?
Cameron: All of the key policy asks We Mean Business has submitted are still on the table, which is both good and bad news: It means the door has not been shut, but it also means they are very contentious issues.
Some things are progressing very well: Workstream 2, which prioritizes pre-2020 ambition, is a practical way for business to communicate with government about the barriers they face in transitioning to a low-carbon economy, as well as how government can help break down those barriers.
Other issues require a bit more analysis, and we need to read between the lines of the text. Seasoned observers will be able to spot the old disputes between developed and developing countries in unresolved issues such as differentiation, which refers to whether all countries should be required act to reduce emissions, or whether this is principally an issue that needs to be tackled by developed countries. This issue really comes into play in conversations about finance.
Dienel: How can BSR members and partners support a successful Paris Agreement through their own channels this week?
Cameron: The most powerful thing they can do is speak to their own governments — not just at COP, but at their national capitals. It’s important that this happen in national capitals because sometimes there’s a disconnect between the heads of governments, who are focused on attaining a strategic win, and negotiators, who are focused on the minutia and sometimes miss the value of a big, strategic deal. Business leaders should make clear to their governments that signing the Paris Agreement will catalyze the private-sector investment of trillions of dollars in a thriving new economy. By sending this message to domestic governments, business leaders will also contradict the notion that a Paris Agreement will undermine competitiveness. If their own companies are saying a Paris Agreement would boost competitiveness, that provides governments with confidence to make the deal.
It’s also important for business leaders to indicate to their governments that the private sector will be an implementation partner for whatever is agreed in Paris. Business will mobilize finance through corporate procurement and investments, direct research and development, and by providing access to goods and services consistent with a low-carbon economy. Governments are more likely to reach an agreement in Paris if they know business will be helping drive emissions reductions, enhance adaptive capacity, and facilitate equitable access to sustainable development.
Finally, companies should continue to act on climate, which they can do through the We Mean Business campaigns on issues such as deforestation, renewable energy, carbon pricing, and short-lived climate pollutants. This not only makes companies more competitive and climate-friendly, it increases their credibility to advocate for policies and push governments to go further.
Dienel: Last question: What should business do the morning after COP21?
Cameron: The Paris Agreement will confirm and solidify the 184 national climate action plans that have been put forward. Those alone are going to change the way business understands climate risk and the regulatory environment. For smart businesses, it’s going to open up substantial economic opportunities. At BSR, we can help companies understand what the new landscape looks like, and what this means for your business.
COP21 is the beginning of the transformation to a low-carbon economy, and after COP, companies should prepare to go further, faster on their climate commitments. We will still need to do more to reduce emissions consistent with the science and avoid material risk to business and society.
Finally, company leaders should prepare to advocate for climate action domestically. The climate policy conversation has been global over the past couple of years because COP has been a point of convergence. After COP, the conversation is going to move to domestic venues, including China’s 13th five-year plan, and the U.S. presidential election next year.