What does the green economy think of the Paris Agreement 100 days on?

Madeleine Cuff
clock • 11 min read

Today marks 100 days since the Paris Agreement was reached - we asked green leaders whether their feelings toward the deal have changed since the dramatic denouement of the summit

When Laurent Fabius brought down the gavel on the evening of December 12 at COP21, signifying that an international climate agreement had been reached, the global green economy erupted into a spontaneous celebration of hope mixed with relief that the world's leaders had finally struck a deal on climate change.

During those heady hours after the news broke, BusinessGreen gathered reactions from business executives, politicians, NGOs and investors to assess the potential impact of the new deal. But it's all too easy to get caught up in the emotion of such a high profile event, so perhaps it is only now, 100 days later, that we can begin to reflect on the real meaning of the Paris Agreement, and, with a level of objectivity impossible to attain back in December, consider whether it has marked a turning point in global climate politics.

So to mark 100 days since the Paris Agreement, BusinessGreen has asked some high profile figures in the green economy to consider whether the initial outpouring of optimism surrounding the deal still feels justified, and what needs to happen next to keep the low-carbon revolution on track.

Mike Barry, head of sustainable business, Marks & Spencer

"I walked into, through and out of COP21 with the same sense of pragmatic optimism and that's not changed today. The route ahead is fraught with anxieties and uncertainties (US elections, Brexit?) but there seems to be a genuine global desire to address the challenge.

Policy makers, with all their imperfections, made major breakthroughs in 2015 with COP21 and the Sustainable Development Goals. And now, 2016 has got to be the year when business steps up to the plate with long term, sectorial plans for the low carbon shift and their innovative ability to create low carbon products and services that mainstream consumers want to purchase."

Paul Simpson, chief executive of CDP, formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project

"The treaty sets a clear direction for the global economy, a new north star. It provides us all with a framework for what must now be achieved. We should not forget how unprecedented and historic a moment it was when nearly 200 nations, buoyed by the support of forward-thinking businesses, cities, investors and states and regions, came together in Paris. This creates great hope and optimism. Be it a 100 days or 1,000 days from when it was adopted, I believe that sense of optimism will endure."

Sandrine Dixson-Declève, Director, The Prince of Wales's Corporate Leaders Group

"Unfortunately, the sense of optimism so prevalent in Paris has started to fall into the trap of complacency in the face of difficulty. Pressing short-term concerns such as the refugee crisis (EU) or national elections/supreme court nominations (US) are now being used as an excuse for delayed action.

"Last week President Juncker and his Commission used this excuse as they started to move away from the EU's commitments. Specifically on commencement of stocktaking in 2018 and ensuring EU targets reflect the goals enshrined in the Paris agreement to stay well below 2 degrees and move towards 1.5 degrees, as called for by the EU alongside the world's most vulnerable countries. Such signals give the wrong message across the globe not only to other governments ready to move to implementation of their NDC's but to investors and business leaders already investing or planning to invest in low carbon solutions. The key objective now is to build on the individual and collective success stories of the COP and ensure action on the ground.

"Here in Europe, we must get promises from President Juncker and his Commission to maintain a leadership position by implementing the Paris Agreement and putting in place a robust European policy framework, which will allow the EU to become a zero carbon economy. We need Europe to stimulate long-term investments in low carbon technologies, in particular energy efficiency and renewable energy. We need to develop an innovative European market that will allow all European leaders, citizens and workers to benefit in terms of good quality jobs, sustainable growth, improved competitiveness and better public health, while ensuring a just transition for the workforce."

Andrew Steer, President and CEO, World Resources Institute

"We are at a pivotal moment. The spirit and will are in place, but there's also a real risk that the enthusiasm could fade. It need not. I feel very optimistic that with sharp focus and determination we can convert the Paris Agreement into concrete action on the ground. Within the first 100 days, we've heard from world leaders, including here in the US, who have declared their intention to make sure the Paris commitments are upheld. With more than 196 countries putting forward plans, along with hundreds of companies, cities and many others who pledged action, there is powerful energy behind the Agreement.

"The road from commitments to action is a tough one. World leaders need to continue to demonstrate they are willing to use their capital to drive action through government agencies and corporate suites. With many competing issues on the world stage, we need sustained political support to move from momentum to action.

"The most important next step is for countries that pledged to act to develop clear road maps to meet their commitments. This is not easy stuff. Many of these countries will need further guidance and support to ensure their efforts are ambitious enough to do the job. National leaders will need to enhance their country's transparency and accountability, including around climate finance. It's not just national action. Companies and mayors need to follow through on their pledges too. We need all hands on deck to deliver on the Agreement. Fortunately, it's clear that a growing number of these actions will not just address the climate challenge, but will deliver economic benefits as well."

Stephanie Pfeifer, CEO at the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change

"Clearly swift ratification of the deal by countries will be critical, but investors remain fundamentally optimistic because the Paris Agreement gave an unequivocal signal that the transition to a low carbon economy is happening. What has already changed are the goal posts. The pace and scale of warming being observed across the northern hemisphere in recent weeks has made very plain the future is likely to arrive far sooner than we might hope.

"What has to happen is really very clear. As UN climate Chief Christiana Figuerres warned pension fund managers, trustees and advisors attending the PLSA annual conference in Edinburgh last week, investors have around five years to turn this ship around so the decisions we make over this period will be very significant indeed. Having secured the Paris agreement, implementation by policymakers and by investors is now critical."

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