With unprecedented speed, the historic Paris Agreement has entered into force less than one year after representatives of more than 190 countries came together for the climate negotiations. The signing of the agreement paved the way for this year’s Conference of Parties, (COP22), in Marrakech, Morocco, to focus on implementation.
Doubling down on climate commitment
At the outset of COP22, climate news was both sobering and motivating. The UN released its annual Emissions Gap Report documenting in detail what we already knew—that even the current Paris Agreement pledges (known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, or INDCs)—are insufficient to limit global warming to 2 degrees, and UNEP calls for the world to cut an additional 25 percent from predicted 2030 emissions. Scientists also warn we need to limit warming to 1.5 degrees to avoid the worst consequences.
The magnitude of scale-up required is staggering. The IEA estimates that investment of $1 trillion annually in low carbon energy by 2030 is needed. U.S. Special Envoy Jonathan Pershing emphasized how important it is to make sure the Paris Agreement is successful in these early years, saying that positive reinforcement will build momentum and motivate further ambition.
In Marrakech, national delegates got to work, developing the “rule book” for how to implement several key sections of the Paris Agreement. For example, working groups and subsidiary bodies were considering technology investment pathways; carbon accounting rules to promote environmental integrity and support transfers; and the data sources to be used in the global “stocktake,” which will be conducted in 2018 and every five years thereafter to assess the collective progress toward the agreement’s goals. When the unexpected U.S. election results came in midweek, the international community had questions, but remained focused on strengthening its commitment to the task at hand.
International market transformation
The overarching theme at this year’s COP was the inevitability of massive market transformation, which is already under way, particularly in regard to renewable energy. Host country Morocco is a case in point. After phasing out its subsidy of fossil fuels over the past decade, the nation shifted to wind and solar and recently received the lowest-ever wind energy cost of $30/MWh for its tender.
Moreover, China’s recent shift in policy away from coal—motivated in part to address health concerns related to air pollution—along with the drop in natural gas prices have already flattened coal consumption globally. In addition, the IEA issued its World Energy Outlook 2016, finding that the combination of cost reductions across the energy sector and government policies will enable a doubling of both renewables and improvements in energy efficiency over the next 25 years.
Economic benefits to climate action
Along with the market signals, the economic opportunity presented by climate action was on full display at the conference, prominent in the speeches and pavilions of national governments from around the globe. Jill Duggan of We Mean Business and the Prince of Wales Corporate Leadership Group called the Paris Agreement “a fantastic business opportunity” and described the private sector as a crucial partner in securing a prosperous and sustainable low-carbon economy for all. Duggan was joined by many governments and thought leaders alike in recognizing a strong business voice as essential to successful implementation of the agreement.
USGBC was pleased to participate in a UNFCCC panel, along with the Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE), Philips Lighting, the Alliance to Save Energy (ASE), Berkshire Hathaway Energy and the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, that focused on how businesses are supporting action while growing the economy.
Data from Bloomberg Finance, in partnership with BSCE, illustrated the decoupling of energy consumption and GDP growth in the U.S.: as our GDP expanded 83 percent over the last 25 years, energy consumption only ticked up 17 percent. USGBC presented tools like the recently launched arc platform and carbon metric tracking. Examples of new business models to deliver clean energy and energy efficiency were discussed and the panel focused on solutions that are supporting Paris Agreement goals.
Stay tuned for our next COP22 report on Buildings Day!