COP21: Opening the door to innovative solutions worldwide

Successful negotiations at COP21 are the world's best chance to have a lasting global impact on climate change, writes Ken Berlin, president and CEO of The Climate Reality Project. Photo by: Benjamin Géminel / COP21

We are on the cusp of critical change in the fight to end global warming. World leaders, national governments, business leaders and nonprofit organizations have gathered at the Paris climate change conference to negotiate a long-term strategy to combat climate change. This strategy has the potential to impact world economies, global citizens and the health of the planet for generations to come.

As a long-time climate activist and the president and CEO of The Climate Reality Project, I believe that COP21 is our best chance to achieve an international agreement that will have a lasting and global impact. Such an agreement includes commitments to meaningful emissions reductions based on national circumstances, a system of periodic review for these commitments and a long-term goal of zero greenhouse gas emissions.

While, the implementation of the agreement will be different in every country, by working to uphold the strategy laid out during the COP21 negotiations we are encouraging global innovation and revolutionary solutions.

Change is already happening.

Ahead of the negotiations, nearly every participating country including China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United States committed to combatting climate change at home and abroad with solutions ranging from a shift towards renewable energy from fossil fuels, a price on carbon to the prioritization of energy efficiency. This level and scale of cooperation is unprecedented and an early indicator of the global momentum here in Paris.

The U.S. has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. To help achieve such a lofty goal, President Barack Obama developed America’s Clean Power Plan. This plan is the first national standard focused on cutting carbon emissions from power plants nationwide. The plan dictates that by 2030, carbon emissions from existing power plants must be cut by 32 percent from their 2005 levels.

While the plan is the most significant single action the U.S. has ever undertaken to address climate change, it is only one facet of a big-picture strategy. That strategy calls for energy efficiency programs, fuel economy standards aimed at lowering emissions from our transportation sector, the national shift towards an all-of-the above energy strategy, and other innovative solutions.

China, the world’s largest carbon emitter, announced its intent to cut its carbon emissions per unit of GDP by 60 to 65 percent from 2005 levels. This means a significant shift from fossil fuels to alternative energy resources in a relatively short time frame — a challenge for a country whose rapid economic growth has been largely coal-based. In the near term, China plans to increase its installed capacity of wind power to 200 gigawatts and solar power to around 100 GW, up from current capacity of over 115 GW and 35 GW, respectively. This trillion dollar commitment will lean heavily on the innovative global supply chain.

These are just two examples. At the end of COP21, I hope that countries around the world will pass the laws and regulations needed to enact such change. I believe a successful agreement will gradually lead to increased ambition and action and inspire confidence in the implementation and verification of country commitments.

This progress will prompt innovative policy and business solutions as both the international business community and subnational governments are encouraged to invest at the level needed to ensure the rapid transition to a clean energy economy. For example, the implementation of a strong five-year review cycle, beginning as soon as an agreement is reached, will allow the international community to make deeper cuts and stronger commitments as solutions become even more affordable.

The COP21 negotiations present the global community with an opportunity to create and implement inspired strategies that utilize new technologies and foster unprecedented international cooperation and idea sharing. With such a framework, the potential for lasting change is limitless. We have the tools necessary to stop the destructive progression of climate change; we just need to use them.

Planet Worth is a global conversation in partnership with Abt Associates, Chemonics, HELVETAS, Tetra Tech, the U.N. Development Program and Zurich, exploring leading solutions in the fight against climate change, while highlighting the champions of climate adaptation amid emerging global challenges. Visit the campaign site and join the conversation using #PlanetWorth. 

About the author

  • Ken Berlin

    Ken Berlin is the president and CEO of The Climate Reality Project. He has devoted his career to leadership on environment, energy and climate change issues. A trusted adviser to businesses, nonprofits and federal and state governments, he has been recognized as one of the top climate change attorneys in the world and has extensive expertise on international environmental issues ranging from clean energy to biodiversity.