Agreement to address climate change under negotiation in Paris

By Katie Fletcher | December 01, 2015

This week, President Obama traveled to Paris to join nearly 200 nations for the COP21 conference on climate change, stating that it's an opportunity to stand in solidarity with our oldest ally, just two weeks removed from the barbaric attacks there, and reaffirm our commitment to protect our people and our way of life from terrorist threats. He adds that it's also an opportunity for the world to stand as one and show that we will not be deterred from building a better future for our children.

While in Paris, Obama and other world leaders will work to secure an agreement that reflects ambitious climate targets from all countries, puts in place a long-term framework that incentivizes countries to reduce emissions over time in a transparent way with an outlook on achieving a low-carbon transformation by the end of the century, and to provide financial and technical support to the poorest and most vulnerable countries.

In his speech on climate change given at the conference, President Obama states that 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have occurred since the year 2000 and that 2015 is on pace to be the warmest year of all.

“What should give us hope is that this is a turning point,” stated President Obama in his speech. “Our nations share the urgency of this challenge and a growing realization that it is within our power to do something about it.”

Over the last seven years, ambitious investments in clean energy and ambitious reductions in carbon emissions have been made. “We’ve invested in energy efficiency in every way imaginable,” Obama said. “We’ve said no to infrastructure that would pull high-carbon fossil fuels from the ground, and we’ve said yes to the first-ever set of national standards limiting the amount of carbon pollution our plants can emit into the sky.”

The national standards he refers to is his Clean Power Plan to cut emissions from the U.S. power sector—which makes up a third of U.S. emissions—by more than 30 percent by 2030 and save more than $50 billion in climate and health-related costs.

Since the release of the Clean Power Plan, other countries are following suit. China, Brazil and more than 180 countries representing nearly 95 percent of global emissions have announced climate targets, or Intended Nationally Determined Contributions.

“Our task here in Paris is to turn these achievements into an enduring framework for human progress,” Obama said in his address given in Paris. He said that what is needed is a long-term strategy that gives the world confidence in the low-carbon future. “Let’s secure an agreement that builds in ambition where progress paves the way for regularly updated targets.”

Obama indicates that commitment to innovation and acquiring capital to drive down the cost of clean energy will be needed. As a means to help achieve this, Obama referenced what he calls a historic joint effort to accelerate public and private clean energy innovation on a global scale.

The historic joint effort “Mission Innovation” is an initiative to accelerate public and private global energy to consumers, including in the developing world, and create additional commercial opportunities in clean energy. President Obama and 19 other world leaders formally announced the initiative yesterday. To complement this effort, Bill Gates is spearheading the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, a private sector-led effort that has pledged to invest private capital in clean energy, focusing on early-stage innovations.

“We need to move to sources of energy that are affordable and reliable, and don’t produce any carbon,” said Bill Gates, member of Breakthrough Energy Coalition and co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “The renewable technologies we have today, like wind and solar, have made a lot of progress and could be one path to a zero-carbon energy future. But given the scale of the challenge, we need to be exploring many different paths—and that means we also need to invent new approaches.”

Gates adds that “private companies will ultimately develop these energy breakthroughs, but their work will rely on the kind of basic research that only governments can fund.” Gates said he is optimistic that globally we can invent the tools we need to generate clean, affordable, reliable energy that will help the poorest improve their lives and also stop climate change. “I hope even more governments and investors will join us,” Gates said.

“There is no greater challenge society faces than creating affordable clean energy innovations,” said John Arnold, member of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition and co-chair of the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. “However, private industry, government and philanthropy are unlikely to succeed alone. The Breakthrough Energy Coalition recognizes that one sector’s investments can complement another and lead to new technologies. Only by leveraging the strengths of each sector will the world find and develop new solutions to supply the rising demand for energy in an environmentally friendly way.”

A joint launch statement was issued with the initiative outlining the vision for each participating country. One of the activities the involved countries will do is seek to double their governmental or state-directed clean energy research and development investment over five years. According to the joint launch statement, new investments would be focused on transformational clean energy technology innovations that can be scalable to varying economic and energy market conditions that exist in participating countries and in the broader world. Research and development projects would be designed and managed to attract private investors willing to advance commercialization. The initiative recognizes that while each participating country’s clean energy innovation portfolio is unique and reflects national priorities, under the initiative, all participating countries share the common goal to accelerate the pace of the clean energy revolution now underway in an appropriate way.

Business will play a vital role in commercialization and cost-effectiveness of clean energy breakthroughs. According to the joint statement, participating countries especially commend the contribution being made by a group of investors through the Breakthrough Energy Coalition.

As far as implementation, the joint statement calls for participating countries to work with existing international institutions, as well as cooperate and collaborate to help governments, private investors and technology innovators make available data, technology expertise and analysis in order to promote commercialization and dissemination of clean energy technologies so they reach global market penetration.  Participating countries will build and improve technology innovation roadmaps and other tools to help in innovation efforts, to understand where research and development is already happening, and to identify gaps and opportunities for new kinds of innovation. The first implementation meeting for Mission Innovation will be held in early 2016.

One final note in the launch statement is that each participating country will commit to provide, on an annual basis, transparent, easily accessible information on its respective clean energy research and development efforts to promote transparency, broadly engage stakeholders, spur identification of collaborative opportunities and provide the private sector more actionable information to improve its ability to make investment decisions.

More on Mission Innovation can be found here, and President Obama’s full speech on climate change can be listened to here.