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World Leaders Talk Climate Solutions - Solar Stands Out

12/01/15

  03:24:00 pm, by Laurel Hamilton   , 1009 words  
Categories: Climate Change

World Leaders Talk Climate Solutions - Solar Stands Out

COP21 LogoMonday marked the onset of what may be the most important (and most exciting) gathering of world leaders in human history. From November 30 to December 11, representatives from more than 190 countries are coming together to reach agreement on global climate efforts at the United Nations Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris.

There is a great deal of optimism around the world as national heads come together with commitments in hand. This is a huge step forward compared to past climate conferences which have failed to reach any target that the world could agree upon. It remains to be seen if this positive momentum will result in an accord with the power to spur change on a global scale. 

So what is COP21 all about?

United NationsIn preparation for the conference, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) evaluated the current research (over 30,000 papers) on the science of climate change. The key takeaway in their synthesis: Scientists are now more certain than ever that climate change is real; it’s caused by human activities – especially the burning of fossil fuels; and it’s already impacting people around the world, from rising sea levels to more extreme weather events. Hence the overarching goal in Paris this week is to frame a deal to prevent Earth from warming above the point of no return (more than 2°C).

In the months leading to the conference nearly every country on the planet submitted their commitments to reduce greenhouse gases based on the IPCC report, called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). The United States’ INDC outlines a commitment to cut emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025, mostly by reducing CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants.

All 156 INDCs, representing 97.8% of global emitters, will be plugged into a final document crafted through the high level negotiations. The COP21 final accord will actually be divided into a “core agreement,” laying out the broad objectives for emissions reduction and how to pay for poor nations’ efforts, and “decisions” describing how these objectives will be achieved.

One hot issue to be settled in Paris is over the legal status of this document. A formal treaty would need the impossible approval of the Republican-controlled US Senate. Instead, President Obama will likely sign off on the accord as an “executive agreement.” There seems to be an understanding that the “agreement” would have more binding legal status than the “decisions,” which would include the national pledges and be subject to revision. The US has held that they will not sign any legally binding emissions targets.

While the commitments to cut emissions by the world’s countries is a great start, without legally binding targets and accountability, these promises hold little weight. It will also be interesting to see if, and how, leaders will establish a path forward with plans to reconvene and re-affirm their targets regularly.

Will the Paris accord stop climate change?

The unfortunate reality is that even if every country followed through with their commitments, scientists estimate that global warming will be about 2.7 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Given that a 2 degree increase is the limit necessary to avert the worst impacts, we will still need to focus on adaptation as well as mitigation to climate change. But on the bright side, it’s a lot less warming than would happen if we continue the status quo without curbing any emissions at all!

This summit isn’t the end of the fight to limit climate change. But considering there has never before been international agreement on climate efforts - the Kyoto Treaty never got off the ground, due in large part to the failure of the US to join - it is a huge step to come together in the battle. As technologies such as solar improve and countries become more confident in their ability to transition to cleaner energy, they can step up their action over time.

COP21 Too Late

What impact will COP21 have on the fate of clean energy?

Renewable energy stands out as the most common strategy for meeting targets out of all of the INDCs! This is a great sign of growing prospects for the solar industry. According to research by the World Resources Institute, if Brazil, China, the EU, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, and the United States follow through on their commitments, the amount of clean energy installed will more than double by 2030! 

The US targets were largely based on the projected outcome of Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which limits greenhouse gas emissions from coal plants and aims to get 20% of electricity from renewables by 2030. The Clean Power Plan has yet to be approved by the Senate and has significant opposition. One can hope that the COP21 and international pressure to act will help on this front. But in a climate where federal tax credits are under threat and state-level clean energy incentives are rapidly drying up, the US commitments on an international stage could be an important backstop to helping the renewable energy sector grow.

Outside the negotiating rooms, thousands of business leaders, state officials, activists, scientists and others from the private sector are also holding events and meetings. The mere existence of the political agreements taking place will lead to increased investment in the renewable energy sector. While the value of political will to accomplish the enormous task of an energy transition shouldn’t be underestimated, the private sector is likely where the real growth will occur without the partisan challenges of the government.

On a final note, we at Run on Sun are thrilled about the events in Paris this week. As the international community finally comes together to tackle climate change our optimism about the world’s ability to act meaningfully is renewed! However, the work that must be done doesn’t end this week. Next week, next month, next year and on and on the fight will continue. Governments, the private sector, and even individuals must continue to act every day on behalf of the only planet we’ve got. Going solar is one of the best ways to reduce your emissions impact from your home or business. We look forward to doing our part!

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Jim Jenal is the Founder & CEO of Run on Sun, Pasadena's premier installer and integrator of top-of-the-line solar power installations.
Run on Sun also offers solar consulting services, working with consumers, utilities, and municipalities to help them make solar power affordable and reliable.

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