COP21 success?

Andrea Karpati, Climate-KIC

COP21 has been a success and a turning point claim the participants: parties, observers, businesses, subnationals, scientists, NGOs, activists and news outlets. It was exciting to watch a spectacular show where the famous and powerful come together and save our future. We have seen the best side of activism, politics and diplomacy during these two weeks.

No better indicator of a great achievement than multiple owners, see the US and EU being equally proud of the outcome. The immense efforts of businesses, subnationals, the champions of climate justice and the most vulnerable states have to be acknowledged as well. This is a good sign. The success in Paris now provides political domestic capital – increasing the chance of governments implementing their commitments.

We can thank the superb French diplomacy for the unanimous approval of the agreement. The willingness of the parties to compromise highlights that climate change is a complex fundamental problem that can be addressed only in collaboration. Moreover, the Paris Agreement referencing the iconic 1.5°C shows the influence of the popular climate movement, the importance of civil participation and personal commitments.

I agree, the climate negotiations at COP21 have been successful. But will the outcome address climate change?

While the text of the Agreement was heavily negotiated, the commitments of the parties have been somewhat ignored. Remember, the recent UNFCCC synthesis of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) are estimated to amount to almost 3°C warming by the end of the century. These commitments have not changed. Numbers published by the Global Carbon Project last week are similarly clear; to reach 2°C with a >66 per cent chance, global emissions would need to peak before 2020. I haven’t seen similar data analysis for 1.5°C lately, but it is safe to assume we should have started the transition to a zero carbon economy already.

The envisioned 5-year stock-taking of progress aims to keep up the political pressure on addressing climate change; another good sign. Using common metrics would improve transparency, but for this maybe even more important to acknowledge and empower the actor implementing action on the ground. Business.

Recently we have seen many commitments from business too, large and small, global and local. There is a strong climate movement involving market leaders from all economic sectors calling for action. The strong push on innovation and the pledges promising to increase Research and Development (R&D) funding for technology development are inspirational and a powerful organising force, akin to choosing to go to the Moon in 1962.

Taking all this a step further, the Paris Agreement addresses technology transfer at different stages of the technology cycle. Indeed, advancing technology is one of the most important elements of addressing climate change; cheap, accessible efficient technology solutions will enable the zero-carbon economy. But technology innovation cannot provide the complete solution, we need more.

For the transition to a zero-carbon economy we all need to change. We need to transform the way we live, the way we do business, the way we consume and the way we interact with society and nature. Innovation is inevitable in all aspects of our economy.

However, a recent Climate-KIC study concludes that a majority (80 per cent) of companies are not confident in having the skills to become part of this change. Despite understanding the problems of climate change, generating solutions is beyond their capacity. At the same time, CDP shows that businesses with active sustainability strategies grow faster and perform better on the markets. For example understanding performance in terms of climate impact by using reporting tools, allows companies to address otherwise unknown efficiency. So why don’t all business do that?

The key is capacity building. To be able to act, we must understand the risks and opportunities climate change creates. We must be aware of and limit our own impact on climate change too. Most importantly, we must create the channels for innovation and enable ideas to reach the market where they can be scaled up for greater impact. By promoting entrepreneurial culture we not only acknowledge climate change as a shared problem, but empower ourselves to find the multitude of necessary solutions together. We must make action on climate change accessible to all.

Has COP21 been a success in addressing climate change? Only our actions will tell.


Andrea Karpati (@krptndr) is Head of Policy at Climate-KIC

Photo Benjemin Géminel