What Did the Paris Climate Accord Really Deliver?

CCI Director Juliette Rooney-Varga at COP21

By Juliette Rooney-Varga

As the dust settles and we get back to our work at the CCI, many are asking, what did Paris really deliver? Here are my top three answers:

    1. Paris has delivered a globally shared vision of a transition away from fossil fuels and toward a low-carbon economy.
    2. Paris has made it clear that all countries are already experiencing the impacts of a changing climate and realize that it is in their own self-interest to move away from cheap, polluting fossil energy. We may have finally moved away from a negotiation driven by a 'tragedy of the commons' system and towards coordinated action.
    3. Among world leaders, there was no debate about whether climate change is real, caused by humans and potentially catastrophic for humanity. The question is no longer, “Does the world want to combat climate change?” but rather “How will the world combat climate change?”  The momentum forward is clear and it is only a matter of time before the US also puts the debate about the reality, causes, and potential harms of climate change behind us.

Unfortunately, the Paris Agreement leaves the question of how climate change will be addressed unanswered. The pledges countries have made thus far as INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) are wholly inadequate to meet the stated goal, as negotiators acknowledged. While a five-year review mechanism was included in the agreement, with the intention of ratcheting commitments during reviews, every year that action is postponed only makes the job of addressing climate change more costly and less likely. 

So, ultimately, Paris has punted the ball back to all of us. We know where we must go and it’s time to roll our sleeves up and do the hard work to get there. Now, more than ever, we need local efforts to reduce our own carbon footprints, educate others, develop new technologies and muster the political will to foster a rapid transition away from fossil fuels and toward clean, renewable energy.  

Our own World Climate role-playing exercise, which simulates the UN climate negotiations, seems more relevant than ever - unlike the actual negotiations, participants in this exercise cannot avoid the scientific realities of their stated goals.  And I can't wait to see how a shared vision of a low-carbon economy - with all of its co-benefits of improved public health, jobs, and social justice - influence the dynamics of both simulated and real climate change decision-making.