Lessons from the Paris Climate Talks

Global climate negotiations, COP21, have produced a new agreement in Paris, France. From November 30 to December 12, 196 countries, along with observers from around the world, worked towards a final agreement that would create a plan for a decarbonized economy that would mitigate future climate disaster while allowing the world to adapt to a warmer climate.  With the original text more than 140 pages long, and several highly contentious issues to overcome, many were skeptical that the parties could transcend years of gridlock to produce an agreement. The Climate Action Business Association (CABA) along with partners at the American Sustainable Business Council attended the talks with the hope of bringing the small business voice to the table. During the two week negotiations members of CABA had the chance to talk to non-governmental organizations, intergovernmental organizations, and important stakeholders. CABA provides a few highlighted issues from the talks.  


Negotiations started with President Barack Obama speaking alongside foreign heads of state on the importance of adaptation to climate change as well as a need to renegotiate the global standard of 2 degrees Celsius of warming. Developing countries, specifically low lying island states, pushed negotiators to break down barriers and increase their commitments. If we allow warming over 1.5 degrees, many of their communities would disappear due to global sea level rise. Christopher Loeak, prime minister of the Marshall Islands, brought home this idea in a statement on the first day of the conference, saying, “Everything I know, and everyone I love, is in the hands of those of us gathered here today.”  


We saw unprecedented support on the part of businesses for global action. In the U.S., 154 major companies have signed on to support the White House American Business Act on Climate Pledge, including Ben & Jerry’s, Starbucks and Nike. Even major European oil companies signed a letter to global leaders calling for a price on carbon emissions. And as the clock ticked down to what may have been the most significant meeting of world leaders, more and more business groups unified to call for action.  


In the weeks leading up to COP21, political leaders and businesses of all size spoke out in support of stronger carbon pricing. The World Bank has been one of the key instigators in this trend. During the negotiations in Paris they announced the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition. Their Climate Change Director, James Close, attended the talks and told us it was a “momentous week for carbon pricing.” Many government leaders have shown support as well. The text supported by the EU and Brazil would allow for emission trading schemes.


Massachusetts unknowingly is at the forefront of climate change. Already we are starting to see the impact of rising seas, heat waves and other extreme weather events. But we are not without bold innovative solutions. Senator Michael Barrett (D - Lexington) is the sponsor of a bill that would establish a statewide revenue neutral price on carbon which will be going before the whole Senate in the spring. And while past pushes for raising the net metering caps on solar and establishing a statewide climate adaptation plan failed last year, state leaders are going into the new year with a renewed sense of fight. While our state legislatures are starting to recognize the urgency, citizens and business leaders of Massachusetts need to come away from the Paris negotiations with parallel momentum to act.

Andrew Held is the communications coordinator at the Climate Action Business Association, an organization of local business leaders taking targeted action on climate change. For more information, visit cabaus.org.

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