Over the past year, you might have heard mention of the Paris Agreement or COP 21, but what does it mean? Why is it topical now? And – what does it have to do with you?
The 21st meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) was held last December in Paris, and it made history. Never before had so many Governments shared a clear promise to act on climate change – and that became the Paris Agreement. This was effectively a unanimous commitment from 197 member countries to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and therefore limit global temperature rise to ‘well below’ 2°C (compared with pre-industrial levels). They also embraced the support and efforts of non-government stakeholders to tackle climate change (such as civil society, the private sector, financial institutions, cities and other sub-national authorities).
In practice, this meant that countries should explain their contributions through Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and should deliver on these activities in the years ahead (through structured national programmes). The governments also agreed on a number of measures to act on climate change before 2020, aimed at more immediate and visible outcomes, and proposed some ambitions to limit the rise to just 1.5°C. However, most experts think we’re already too late for that.
It was good news that the Paris Agreement achieved a majority of confirmed commitments quicker than expected and became ‘live’ on 4th November. The UK has today become the 111th country to ratify their pledged commitments to reduce GHG emissions, joining Canada and the United Arab Emirates. The 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22) is meeting now in Marrakech, Morocco, to focus on implementing it through tangible actions. The UK has got the ball rolling by also submitting a climate action plan, with the suggestion that new legislation could follow soon to help the country deliver.
What does all this mean for us and Carillion? It means there’s hope. For many years, there has been no effective global response to the threat of climate change, and limited national abilities to deal with its impacts. The Paris Agreement and adoption of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals offer a new strategy for action, with a clear message that a low-carbon future is here and it offers new opportunities. For business, that means both a requirement to act, and a potential for new growth without harming the planet.
Working out exactly what those opportunities are requires some clarification. The decision that “global GHG emissions should peak as soon as possible, with rapid reductions thereafter to reach zero emissions sometime this century” is a bit too vague for my liking! Progress towards global emissions targets requires collaboration at every level, whether you’re the CEO of a FTSE company, a national leader or simply a concerned worker. Businesses, including Carillion, have a responsibility to consider the longer-term impact of their activities on the environment. As a business, we need to step up to promote and share best practices, change current ways of thinking, and drive forward action on climate change. One of the best ways of making it stick will be to show how we can make that an offer to a customer.
Regardless of the industry we work in, we all need to continue cutting energy use daily and pressing for investment in renewables. We need to keep saving water and reducing waste. And we need to keep coming up with bright ideas to make a difference (big or small). As we go about our daily jobs at Carillion, we just might think of an innovation that can help to cut carbon or offer something new for a client. If we join enough of those together, as a business, we might just save ourselves from the impacts of climate change.
I hope The Paris Agreement won’t just be empty words. I hope the American election won’t jeopardise this global progress. The ultimate goal is to reduce climate risk and ensure sustainable development for a prosperous and secure world. We need to start now and build for the future, for everyone. Will you join me?