Paris agreement marks “turning point” in history

Governments around the world have for the first time in history committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions to tackle climate change, signalling an end to the fossil fuel era. Heads of businesses and organisations give their reactions to this landmark deal.

After 20 years of fraught meetings, including the past two weeks spent in an exhibition hall on the outskirts of Paris, negotiators from nearly 200 countries signed on to a historic deal on Saturday evening that outlined firm goals to limit temperature rise and to scrutinise government targets to get there. 

Addressing delegates in the final closing session of the United Nations climate change conference, UN secretary-general Ban Ki Moon congratulated negotiators for achieving what was a daunting task.

“History will remember this day the Paris agreement on climate change is a monumental success for the planet and its people,” he said.

In noting that the world has now entered the “low carbon age”, French President Francois Hollande said of the new agreement: “This is a powerful movement and this goes beond governments. This will revolutionise the world, but this agreement is only the beginning.”

(Read the Eco-Business live blog of events as they unfolded on the final day of COP21.)

Some key elements in the Paris Agreement included a target to limit global warming below 2 deg C, with further efforts to limit it below 1.5 deg C, a financing mechanism that will raise at least US$100 billion a year to help developing countries tackle climate change, and review and monitoring process that will track the transparency of pledges and raise its ambition in five-yearly cycles.

Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan echoed Hollande’s view. Speaking at the final plenary, he described the agreement as not “perfect”, but a “good and necessary agreement” which “sets us on a collective journey for climate safety”.

Acknowledging that differentiation was a key hurdle during the negotiations in the run up to the final agreement, he noted that the challenge had always been how to create a fair system “that recognises the inequalities of the past, the diversity of the present, and the uncertainties of the future”.

Differentiation is a term used to describe the different level of responsibilities for countries, taking into account their history and unique national circumstances.

The current agreement, he said, “strikes the right balance between the developed countries and the developing Parties, the right balance between mitigation and adaptation, the right balance between means of implementation and ambition.”

Balakrishnan told Eco-Business in an interview shortly after the plenary ended that the agreement also sends a much-needed signal to the global business community.

Many businesses want “to do the right thing,” he said, “but they were hoping for a clear signal at a multilateral level”.

“So it’s very important for us to join the dots between businesses, and the environment. This agreement helps to join those dots,” he said.

United Nations Environment Programme executive director Achim Steiner noted that now the negotiations have concluded, the work continues.

“We must focus on implementing the solutions that drive an inclusive green economy, including renewable energy, green finance initiatives, and sustainability in transport, construction and other sectors.”

Here are some further reactions from the global business community and organisations on the Paris agreement. 

Mark Kenber, CEO of The Climate Group: “This is undoubtedly a momentous result and a watershed moment for mankind: it will enable us to unleash the trillions of investment that will spearhead a low carbon economy. Business, state and regional leaders have had a transformational role in the run up to Paris. They were committed to a deal being done because they are convinced that the low-carbon future is the only option for them. This agreement will allow them to go further and faster in their own ambitious plans and policies, and ensure that the transition to the new, smart economy is a swift one.”

Kumi Naidoo, executive director, Greenpeace International: “It sometimes seems that the countries of the United Nations can unite on nothing, but nearly two hundred countries have come together and agreed a deal. Today the human race has joined in a common cause, but it’s what happens after this conference that really matters. The Paris Agreement is only one step on long a road, and there are parts of it that frustrate and disappoint me, but it is progress. This deal alone won’t dig us out the hole we’re in, but it makes the sides less steep.”

Paul Simpson, CEO, CDP: “This monumental agreement by the world’s governments in Paris marks a critical ‎turning point for the global economy. The deal is an unequivocal signal to investors to shift trillions of dollars of capital to low-carbon solutions and to companies, in their turn, to invest in developing and scaling up clean technologies. Those that do will surely be the winners in the now inevitable transition to a low-carbon economy. At CDP, we will unreservedly support governments in implementing the agreement, keeping track of progress through transparency and helping companies to set targets in line with the science for a well-below 2 degree world.”

Sir Richard Branson, B Team Co-founder and Founder, Virgin Group: “Today, the course of history has shifted. Paris will be remembered for generations as a watershed moment when the people of the world came together and set us on a pathway to net-zero emissions, economic justice and shared prosperity. We have an opportunity to build a new economy, and business is poised to help make it happen. The “Paris effect” will ensure the economy of the future is driven by clean energy.”

Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General: “The Paris Agreement at COP21 marks a decisive turning point in our response to climate change. I strongly applaud this historic commitment and the robustness of a deal that includes an ambitious target for limiting the global temperature rise, a five-year review cycle, clear rules on transparency, a global goal for resilience and reducing vulnerability and a framework for supporting developing countries.”

Paul Polman, CEO, Unilever:“The consequences of this agreement go far beyond the actions of governments. They will be felt in banks, stock exchanges, board rooms and research centres as the world absorbs the fact that we are embarking on an unprecedented project to  decarbonise the global economy. This realisation will unlock trillions of dollars and the immense creativity and innovation of the private sector who will rise to the challenge in a way that will avert the worst effects of climate change.”

Arianna Huffington, Co-Founder, President & Editor-in-Chief, Huffington Post: “This is truly a turning point in human history. We now have the chance to advance the wellbeing of people everywhere, while creating millions of new jobs and ending our reliance on fossil fuels. This will help us build a safer, more peaceful world for all. This is exactly what business needs in order to thrive in the long run.”

Sharan Burrow, General Secretary, ITUC: “The Paris deal gets us part of the way and ups the ante for climate action with a 1.5 degree Celsius goal. The race to stabilise the climate is now on in earnest. The industrial transformation required is bigger and more rapid than at any time in our history: it must be a just transition and it will take all of us.”

David Crane, B Team Leader: “The strong outcome in Paris sends a clear signal to the energy industry that clean energy is the future of their business. With the new global framework providing the guideposts, the time is now for energy consumers every where to demand clean energy in every aspect of their lives.”

Peter Agnefjäll, President and CEO, IKEA Group: “The Paris Agreement marks the start of a new journey in the fight against climate change. Over the last two weeks we have seen countries working together and businesses and civil society raising their voices for positive change. We are pleased to see that a solid commitment has been made. We will continue to invest in renewable energy and to transform our business with the confidence that governments are also committed to building a low-carbon economy. Only together can we build a better future.“

Peter Bakker, CEO, World Business Council for Sustainable Development: “2015 is a historic year and the news coming out of Paris is a major step forward by all governments of the world to safeguard the future of all life on our planet. I am so pleased that science and the many commitments from business, cities and citizens were heard. COP21 has resulted in the agreement of a tangible and ambitious global trajectory to reduce emissions during the century, making the transition to a low-carbon economy inevitable.

“This agreement is a resounding call to action to all businesses around the world to collaboratively scale up the implementation of solutions to reduce the emissions and lead the acceleration of the transition to a low carbon world. This will change everything.”

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