Three tipping points Paris must achieve

#CriticalThinking

Climate, Energy & Sustainability

Picture of Jacob Werksman
Jacob Werksman

Principal Advisor at the European Commission Directorate-General for Climate Action (DG CLIMA)

The EU expects the Paris climate change conference to show that all major economies are leading the rest of the world in a new global agreement to prevent dangerous climate change. The science tells us that success depends on limiting the global temperature rise to below 2ºC by gradually reducing greenhouse gas emissions to near zero before the end of this century. But will the emissions reduction targets announced by Paris put us on this pathway?

On their own, the Paris targets are unlikely to meet this challenge. For many countries, whether industrialised or developing, this will be the first time they act domestically and commit internationally to limiting their greenhouse gas emissions. And for most, the Paris targets will set goals only until 2025 or 2030. Paris can nonetheless be judged a success by reaching three critical tipping points.

The first tipping point is regulatory. The targets set in Paris should demonstrate that more than 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions will for the first time be regulated domestically for their effect on the global climate system. This means that governments in all the major economies are acting to limit emissions in the near-term, and it implies that policymakers must continue to act within the timeframes and emissions limits determined by science.

The second tipping point involves markets and the technological innovations driven by market forces. The Paris conference should provide evidence that a combination of regulatory push and consumer pull is driving down the costs of the low carbon technologies essential to decarbonisation. Together, public and private investors, multinational companies that command global supply chains and governments that procure products and services need to demonstrate that demand is growing inexorably for alternatives to fossil fuels, and for the technologies that will deliver carbon neutrality.

The third tipping point is political. Paris should show that it’s no longer possible for any political leader to deny the science of climate change, or to shirk its country’s responsibility to be part of the solution. The key evidence for this will be the commitment by all governments to a legally binding system of transparency and accountability that will hold each party to account for meeting its targets, and to return regularly to the negotiating table to strengthen their targets over time, in line with what the science requires.

While the Paris agreement will represent a first step, it may also be our last chance to stabilise greenhouse gas emissions at safe levels.

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