Opportunity for a Durable Climate Agreement in Paris

COP21

BUSINESS DAY |  CATHERINE HILL-HERNDON | NOVEMBER 26 2015, 05:46

FROM rising seas across the globe and the melting of Greenland’s sheet ice, to the bleaching of coral reefs around many coasts, the signs of climate change are all around us. As a global society, we are at a critical juncture. Our decisions today will help shape the climate our children and children’s children will be born into.

But this is not just about the future. There are immediate benefits to keeping pollutants out of our environment: cleaner air, lower energy costs, and new growth industries.

These are the stakes at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris, where representatives from almost 200 nations will gather from November 30 to December 11 to negotiate a comprehensive climate agreement for the post-2020 world.

There is a growing social and political will to address the rise in global temperatures and its ripple effect through the environment. More than 160 countries, responsible for around 90% of global emissions, have announced climate targets ahead of the conference. This is a clear step forward and a departure from the past. As a reference point, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol only addressed about 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The US is taking bold action on climate change at home as we work with partner nations to do the same. Since President Barack Obama took office, the US has reduced greenhouse gas emissions to the lowest level in 20 years, tripled domestic wind energy production and increased solar power 20-fold.

We’ve put in place stringent new fuel economy standards so that our cars use less gas, energy use is more efficient, and we have protected an historic amount of land and water for future generations. At the same time, the US economy has expanded, proving growth is not inextricably linked to carbon output.

Going forward, the Clean Power Plan will cut emissions from the US power sector — a third of the nation’s carbon emissions — by 32% by 2030 and will save more than $50bn in climate and health-related costs in the process.

With countries like China, India, and Brazil now pledging to reduce emissions, we have a serious chance to put in place a transformative plan. In Paris, the US will push for an effective agreement that continues to drive ambitious climate action by all countries, while recognising the differences among them.

It should provide a long-term framework — with high standards of transparency and accountability — that calls on nations to ratchet up their targets over time. And it must provide countries in need with financial and technical support for low-carbon development and adaptation to a changing climate.

Cities, businesses and individuals all play critical roles in turning climate policy into action. Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg is spearheading the C40 Cities Climate Leadership effort that links megacities in proactive steps to tackle climate change. More than 80 companies, including Alcoa, Coca-Cola, and Walmart, have signed the American Business Act on Climate Pledge, committing to actions such as investing in renewable energy and reducing waste. Individuals make choices every day, from the type of coffee cup they use to the way they get to work, that have a huge cumulative impact.

South Africa has an important role to play in Paris. In many ways COP21 builds on the architecture sketched out in Durban in COP17. The world is counting on the country to play the same constructive role in achieving an historic agreement in Paris that translates the intentions of so many countries into a tangible plan of action we can all embrace.

As it heads to Paris, South Africa has a lot to be proud of as an international leader in bringing significant new renewable energy resources on line. The country’s commitment in its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution to peak, plateau, and then begin to decline its emissions between 2025 and 2035 is an important signal of its determination to take serious action to address climate change, while encouraging other countries to do the same.

Earlier this month, South Africa’s leadership on this issue was clearly demonstrated by the launch of an innovative new partnership between our two countries called the Low Emissions Development Programme. This programme will leverage public and private investment for projects that reduce emissions while promoting economic development in SA. It demonstrates how much our interests align when it comes to the issue of climate change, which plays out in many ways.

American companies are the biggest investors in South Africa’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme. We are committed to expanding our co-operation with South Africa to bring on line even more renewable energy while working on the next generation of technologies, including storage, as well as expanding efficiency and conservation programs.

To date, these companies have brought 364MW of renewable energy online and have concluded deals to introduce another 471MW. We are similarly committed to supporting South Africa as it develops visionary approaches on oceans, including tackling the critical issue of ocean acidification, and expanding our co-operation on other climate adaptation initiatives. On all of these issues, South Africa’s continued efforts bear out the importance of every country around the world doing as much as it can to address our shared challenges.

With leaders and representatives from almost every nation on earth convening in Paris, there is an historic opportunity to strike a far-reaching and durable climate agreement. We have the political will and groundswell of social support to make it work, but we must come together and be pragmatic to reach a deal. For brighter skies today and a more secure tomorrow, now is the time to act.

Hill-Herndon is chargé d’affaires at the US Embassy in Pretoria.