Where does the road from Paris lead?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Will it take until 2022 before Paris deal of COP21 becomes a reality? [Jackie.lck/Flickr]

The Paris climate deal is a tremendous, historic achievement. For the first time since the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, the world has been able to agree on a common path to fight climate change, writes Jim Currie.

Jim Currie was the European Commission’s Director General for Environment in 1997-2001. He led the Commission’s team at the Kyoto climate talks and launched the EU Emissions Trading Scheme.

The success of the Paris agreement is due to excellent leadership.

President François Hollande and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius deserve much of the credit, as do all those in the UN process, headed by Ban Ki-moon and Christiana Figueres, who have worked tirelessly for many years to make this breakthrough possible. This is a truly global agreement that gives all nations a stake in its success.

But looking back, there is a worrying lesson that the Kyoto Protocol has taught us. After all the euphoria, we lost the political momentum. After Kyoto, it took more than seven years for the agreement to enter into force. The EU in particular had to continually push its partners to ratify Kyoto. Ironically, with the US Congress vehemently opposed to international binding targets, it was the Russian Duma’s ratification that finally brought Kyoto into force in 2002.

Will it take until 2022 before the COP21 Paris deal becomes a reality? I expect not. The world seems to realise that we do not have the luxury of time.  We must act now. As President Obama said, “We are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it.”

Three actions will determine the real success of the Paris agreement.

First, the world’s leaders need to mobilise political support for the implementation of the agreement. Some of it may be unpopular at first, but it is crucial for the well-being of our planet. The review process will create a framework that can help maintain the momentum for progress. It is up to the courage and leadership in Paris to be translated into courage and leadership at home by each and every government who gave its support at COP21. 

Second, the strong leadership needs to be maintained in the coming months. I would like to see Fabius continue in his role driving forward the fight against climate change. He has shown a deft diplomatic touch and a capacity to heal the rift between developing and developed countries and forge partnerships and agreements. The risk of opposition in the US Congress looms large. More than just a moral duty, ensuring successful implementation of this climate deal is absolutely in France’s national interest.

Third, we need to mobilise the knowledge, enthusiasm and willingness of society – consumers and industry – to make real changes in the way we use the earth’s resources and transition to a clean energy future. Whereas the first two actions are similar to the situation after Kyoto, Paris can benefit from a world that is more aware of the importance to fight climate change.

The interest of business, industry, workers and young people in developing and using new, cleaner and more sustainable technologies is phenomenal. This force is there, waiting to be used to make a positive change, to rethink and reshape the way we use the earth’s resources and transition to a clean energy future around the globe.

Let’s not forget that the world has changed dramatically since Kyoto. We live in a more global, more interconnected world. In the coming years, the road from Paris to a low-carbon future will pass through Abu Dhabi’s World Future Energy Summit in 2016 and then the Astana Expo with its theme of ‘Future Energy’ in 2017.

Only then will we see if the world is finally moving toward one powered by cleaner, more sustainable energy.

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