SXSWorld February 2016


Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 17 of 63

1 6 S X S W o r l d | F E B R U A R Y 2 0 1 6 | S X S W. C O M n the wee hours of December 13, 2015, climate negotiators from nearly every country on earth shuffled out of a confer- ence center just north of Paris after finalizing agreement on a historic, universally-binding accord that provides a frame- work for how the global community will tackle climate change in the years ahead. What, in fact, was accomplished in Paris? First and foremost, the deal formalizes plans - known as "INDCs" - submitted by most coun- tries of the world for how they plan to tackle climate change over the next 10 to 15 years, and provides a framework for reviewing and possibly enhancing these plans every five years starting in 2020. Moreover, developed countries committed to increasing financing to the developing world for climate mitigation and adaptation after 2020. Perhaps most headline-grabbing was the emergence of a new (and aspirational) target of keeping global warming to below a 1.5 degree Celsius increase from pre-industrial levels. This goal sends a strong political message, in particular for those most vulnerable to climate change, such as small island states, whose very existence is uncertain in a "2 degree" world of rising seas and volatile weather. The 1.5 degree goal only seemed feasible upon the unveiling of a "high ambition coalition" formed in secret between the E.U., the U.S. and a variety of vulnerable developing countries. The coalition appeared to catch other major powers such as China and India by surprise, and helped to slowly erode the arguably unconstructive developed/developing country bifurcation first enshrined into the original Kyoto Protocol. Indeed, it is easy to forget—and hard to believe—that the climate conference cavalcade has been lumbering on for 21 successive years, working towards a moment such as this. Of course, this year's his- toric agreement was not without catalysts. 2015 saw global mean surface temperatures rise one degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and was also the warmest year on record according to the World Meteorological Organization. But beyond the meetings of climate scientists tasked with tracking global warming's trajectory, there were other developments in Paris that herald a new chapter in global climate governance. Most notable was the presence of two groups—business and cities, both relative newcomers to the negotiations—that each shaped the mood and momentum in various ways. Over the next several decades, 2.5 billion people will be added to the world's cities. Urban areas, and the governance of them, are ground zero for solving climate change. Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, along with former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, hosted a par- allel summit at Paris City Hall that culminated with the "Compact of Mayors," an agreement signed by more than 400 cities to set ambi- tious climate goals, adopt common metrics and monitoring systems, and share successes and failures. Crucially, the Compact has teeth, and cities that don't deliver will be shown the door. The role of the private sector is self-evident upon consideration of what the International Energy Agency suggests is the price tag for every country making good on its carbon reduction targets over the next two decades: $16.5 trillion. The answer must involve the busi- ness community. Nowhere is this more true than the energy sector, where renewable energy systems (with very high upfront capital costs and low or nonexistent marginal costs) will succeed or fail on the back of their ability to secure attractive financing for such capital investment on a massive scale. On this front and others, the business community came to Paris well-informed and with well-articulated demands, first and foremost for material, transparent and consistent carbon pricing. Only 11 per- cent of global emissions are currently subject to a carbon price (at an average cost of $7 per ton of CO2), while fossil fuel subsidies and other mechanisms represent 13 percent of global emissions, with an average incentive to pollute of $115 per ton of CO2, according to data from the International Energy Agency. In 2015 alone, between $250 to $300 million in public and private finance flowed into clean energy and decarbonization efforts. With a fair realignment of the playing board, one could expect this to approach the sums necessary to make good on the pledges made in Paris. What more can be done? Crucially, the private sector's role in the climate challenge also requires a better understanding of the risks embedded in the legacy fossil fuel economy. As the Paris Summit began, Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England and Chairman of the G20's Financial Stability Board, provided oversight through his announcement of a new "Task Force on Climate Related Financial Disclosures" that will work to harmonize the more than 400 different voluntary reporting systems already in existence, while encouraging businesses to make voluntary disclosures of their cli- mate-related risks. In Carney's words, "We are in danger of getting lost in the right direction." There will be a number of false starts, blind corners and dead- ends on the road coming out of Paris, but at long last, more than 190 countries have agreed to embark on this journey together. With a little luck, they will be joined by a pioneering group of leaders from business, cities and civil society ready to begin the difficult work of turning words into action. T David Livingston is an associate in the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Energy and Climate Program and serves on the SXSW Eco advisory board. See for climate-related programming at SXSW 2016. Paris Climate Summit Highlighted by Global Co-operation by DaviD Livingston I

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of SXSWORLD - SXSWorld February 2016