It has been a transformational year for climate diplomacy. During the past 12 months, a series of disruptive events has prompted us to assess, and then reassess, our common goal of accelerating the transition to a low-carbon economy.
Meeting in France in December 2015, 196 countries signed the Paris Agreement, which is unprecedented in its ambition and defining in its impact on global business. The agreement provides a strong political signal to markets across the global economy that the future will reward low-carbon technologies and investments.
The success in Paris was followed by the less heralded but similarly important amendment to the Montreal Protocol in Kigali, Rwanda, in October. The global phase-down of hydrofluorocarbons at the heart of the Kigali Amendment could avoid up to half a degree of global warming by the end of this century. This would provide a major boost for efforts to limit the global temperature rise to well below 2°C, the target stated in the Paris Agreement.
Throughout the year, governments around the globe worked tirelessly to ensure entry into force of the Paris Agreement in record time, while domesticating their own global commitments into national policies.
However, there have been disruptive events, particularly in the political realm. The United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union has the potential to weaken European climate diplomacy. The British government is a powerful voice in support of a more ambitious European stance on climate change, and the British civil service has been a valuable asset to EU delegations in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
More recently, the U.S. election has caused shockwaves through the climate community. The current U.S. administration has been indispensable in crafting the global consensus that led to the Paris Agreement, while President-Elect Donald Trump and his transition team have appeared hostile to the UN process and skeptical about climate change more broadly.
One key question raised at COP22 in Marrakesh is: What can we do to manage this disruption and continue our efforts to forge a low-carbon and inclusive economy?
First, in the immortal words of the British motivational poster we need to “keep calm and carry on.” A palpable feeling of anxiety hung over the negotiations in Marrakesh as delegates digested news of the U.S. election and contemplated its implications. However, there are many reasons to believe that a global multistakeholder consensus to build a low-carbon economy remains intact.
The nearly 200 nations attending the UN climate summit have adopted the Marrakech Action Proclamation, reaffirming their commitment to the full implementation of the Paris Agreement. They have been resolute in their belief that “momentum is irreversible,” as it is “driven not only by governments, but by science, business, and global action of all types at all levels.”
Governments need to hold firm in this commitment to bold, collective action, as this will continue to provide policy certainty and confidence that business needs to direct its innovations, investments, and long-term plans in the service of a low-carbon economy.
Second, we must encourage distributed leadership. If the United States does begin to withdraw from its leadership role within the UNFCCC, other countries should drive the process forward. China’s statement this week, that U.S. political changes would not affect its commitment to realize the ambition of the Paris Agreement, was therefore significant. Distributed leadership also means a greater role for “non-state actors,” including cities, regions, organizations, and companies.
The private sector is already rising to this challenge. On Wednesday, more than 360 businesses and investors sent a strong message to all U.S. elected leaders calling for continued climate leadership. Meanwhile, the volume of tangible business action on climate change continues to grow. To date, almost 500 companies and more than 180 investors, representing trillions of dollars in revenue and assets under management, have made more than 1,000 commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the We Mean Business action framework.
These commitments on renewable energy, carbon pricing, deforestation, science-based emissions reduction targets, and more, illustrate that our path to a low-carbon economy is being paved by a large multistakeholder movement far greater than any one government or UN process.
Finally, we must strengthen the structured dialogue between government and the private sector, particularly in the period leading up to 2020. This means a deeper investment of time, energy, and creativity in the Global Climate Action Agenda. To date, the action agenda has focused on showcasing the work of cities, regions, businesses, and investors to drive implementation of their respective climate solutions.
It is crucial that the action agenda now moves forward as a genuine dialogue that identifies and then implements policies that are catalytic for business leadership on climate change. This would be helped by appointing permanent facilitators to steer the technical expert process and making the technical expert meetings more interactive. Other welcome steps would include: ensuring the engagement of non-state actors, with involvement in the preparation of and participation in the meetings, and holding the meetings outside of the UNFCCC.
Over the past 12 months, we have made rapid and unprecedented progress in laying the foundations for a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy. Progress is never linear, and there will be many disruptive events along the way, but now that COP22 in Marrakesh has drawn to a close, it is clear that the global community remains resolute in its commitment to realize the ambition of the Paris Agreement.