3/25/2015 1:32:46 PM

The Path to Paris and Beyond

All eyes will be on Paris this December as global leaders meet to forge what may be the world's most significant climate agreement. But the journey to Paris has already started, with signposts that suggest a fundamental shift towards greenhouse gas reductions that will continue in 2016 and beyond.

"We're seeing some very positive signs in the lead-up to Paris," says Krista Wright, PBI's executive director. "In fact, the very structure of the Paris negotiations will make them much more productive than the Copenhagen talks in 2009."

One key change is that countries will submit their national emission-reduction pledges ahead of the Paris meeting, so that negotiators will have a set of commitments before the actual talks. And the pledges made so far—formally known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, or INDCs—are helping to build momentum and support among countries that have not yet shared their plans.

Plans and Pledges

The pledges come at a time when nations are recognizing that greenhouse gas reductions can actually help economies. A recent study by the International Energy Agency shows that some of the fastest-growing economies are the ones doing the most to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

So what are the pledges likely to look like?

  • The European Union, which represents 28 member states, was the first to step up to the plate. It submitted a pledge to reduce carbon emissions by 40% from 1990 levels before 2030.
  • Switzerland, which is not part of the EU, has committed to reducing emissions by 50% by 2030.
  • The U.S. is expected to pledge to 26-28% reductions from 2005 levels by 2025, based on its recent agreement with China.
  • For its part, China agreed to peak its carbon emissions by 2030 and to expand the use of renewables to 20% by that same date.

"Given that the EU, the U.S., and China are the three biggest emitters, this leadership is important," says Wright. "And the encouraging part of the pledge process is that every country knows it must do its share—no one country will go it alone. This is a critical step that has never happened before."

Widespread Momentum

In addition to the country pledges, people, businesses, and communities are also undergoing a transformation, taking action on their own that is moving the process forward. Their contributions represent a promising development that is accelerating the transition to a renewable future.

Some of this progress includes:

  • Top insurers around the world are calling for action, citing the need to curb economic losses from climate-fueled weather disasters.
  • Citigroup, one of the world's largest financial companies, has announced a new $100 billion commitment to clean energy investments.
  • More than 75 mega-cities—including New York, London, Seoul, Mexico City, and Sydney—have committed to action on climate change as part of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group.
  • Pope Francis has acknowledged mankind's contribution to climate change and urges action.
  • The fossil fuel divestment movement is growing, with more than $50 billion in divestment pledges from 28 universities, 41 cities, 72 religious institutions, and 30 foundations to date.
  • India's prime minister announced plans to increase the nation's solar power capacity 30-fold by 2022.
  • France has mandated that new buildings in commercial zones must cover their roofs either partially with plants or solar panels, legislation that others are expected to follow.
  • President Obama signed an executive order that requires the federal government to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2025 from 2008 levels.
  • Obama's move prompted several federal suppliers—including General Electric, IBM, and Lockheed Martin—to set voluntary goals to reduce their own impact. IBM, for example, has pledged to cut energy-related greenhouse gas emissions 35% by 2020 from 2005 levels.

"There's a new industrial revolution going on, where renewable energy is now cheaper than fossil fuels in many places," Wright says. "At the same, people are keenly aware of the need to take action. A powerful movement is underway, with Paris an important step on the path to needed greenhouse gas reductions."

You Can Help

So, how can you become part of the momentum and help ensure success in Paris—and beyond?

  • Contact your elected officials in support of a renewable energy future, and speak up to your friends, colleagues, and family members.
  • Take steps to reduce your own energy consumption, at home, school, work, or wherever you can have an impact. Check out our Save Our Sea Ice campaign for ideas on how to make an impact in your community and other ways to get involved.

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