Prejudge Paris at Your Own Peril

03 September 2015


Back in May, 25 media organisations from around the world created a new publishers network - CPN - to collaborate on their coverage of climate change. The initiative, coordinated by GEN, was launched ahead of the UN Climate Change Summit #COP21 in Paris. As climate negotiations continue today and tomorrow in Bonn, Jennifer Morgan, Global Director of the Climate Program at World Resources Institute, makes the case for demanding a successful outcome from #COP21

This December, negotiators from 195 countries will convene in Paris for a major summit on climate change. The expectation is that world leaders will reach a new climate agreement. The big question that journalists everywhere are grappling with is “what is the proper yardstick for measuring success in Paris?” Is it whether country leaders agree to a new global pact – or does success hinge on whether country commitments will limit global warming to under 2 degrees C?

If the answer was one of those two choices, reporters could write their articles now and spend their time in Paris strolling along Avenue des Champs-Elysees or touring the Eiffel Tower. Neither is accurate.

Individual country actions alone won’t be enough to address this global threat. It’s cliché but true: a global problem requires a global solution. Paris must set the stage for a new form of international cooperation to achieve more than individual countries can on their own. A truly successful outcome in Paris can accomplish this by doing three things:

1. Solidify a common vision of the future by establishing long-term goals to phase out greenhouse gas emissions and help vulnerable countries cope with climate impacts;

2. Set regular intervals – every five-years – for countries set more ambitious commitments to reduce emissions, strengthen resilience and provide financial support to drive climate action;


3. Ensure that countries are open about their actions and transparent about their progress.

With these three components securely in place, the new climate agreement can begin to immediately scale up actions over time to reach the 2 degree goal. In the process, the agreement will send a clear message around the world – to investors, businesses, governments and citizens – that dirty energy belongs in the history books.

Skim the headlines and it is plain to see momentum is on our side. Renewable energy is thriving and creating growth while fossil fuels carry an increasingly political and economic price. In 2014 global emissions flat-lined while the global economy grew, the same year new research shows ambitious climate action and economic growth can go hand-in-hand. Recently G7 leaders and later Brazilian President Dilma, working with Chancellor Merkel, committed to equitably decarbonize the global economy over the course of the century. Companies are beginning to bend their emission trajectories in-line with what climate science requires. Islamic leaders and the Pope are rallying their followers to pursue climate solutions like never before. Countries are stepping up with serious commitments, while in the months ahead, many more mayors, investors and CEOs are expected to make significant climate pledges – and demand ambitious action from their leaders. 

Paris represents a key mile marker along the way for how the global community responds to climate change - it is not the grand finale. The Paris climate agreement should be judged by whether it puts in place the ingredients necessary to keep the 2 degree goal still within sight.