On Earth Day, April 22, history was written. World leaders from 175 parties (174 countries and the European Union) came together at the United Nations to sign the Paris Climate Change Agreement. The signing ceremony far exceeded the historical record for first-day signatures to an international agreement.
The world must move quickly to fulfill the promise of the climate change agreement reached in Paris four months ago and accelerate low-carbon growth, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said on the opening day of the Spring Meetings.
More than 190 countries came together last December to pledge to do their part to halt global warming. The result was an unprecedented agreement to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial times, with the goal of limiting warming to 1.5° C.
It is widely acknowledged that reducing emissions from deforestation could bring about one-third of the greenhouse gas emission reductions we need by 2030 to stay on a 2-degrees trajectory. But protecting and managing forests wisely does not only make sense from a climate perspective. It is also smart for the economy. Forests are key economic resources in tropical countries. Protecting them would increase resilience to climate change, reduce poverty and help preserve invaluable biodiversity.
Here are just a few facts to illustrate why forests are so important. First, forests provide us with ecosystem services like pollination of food crops, water and air filtration, and protection against floods and erosion. Forests are also home for about 1.3 billion people worldwide who depend on forest resources for their livelihood. Locally, forests contribute to the rainfall needed to sustain food production over time. When forests are destroyed, humanity is robbed of these benefits.
The New Climate Economy report shows us that economic growth and cutting carbon emissions can be mutually reinforcing. We need more innovation and we need more investments in a low carbon direction. This requires some fundamental choices of public policy, and the transformation will not be easy. However, it is possible and indeed the only path to sustained growth and development. If land uses are productive and energy systems are efficient, they will both drive strong economic growth and reduce carbon intensity.
Already, the world's large tropical forest countries are taking action.
We already see a large number of cities taking the lead in sustainability through innovative financing mechanisms, technological advances, policy and regulatory reforms, efficient use of land and transport, waste reduction, energy efficiency measures, and reduction of GHG emissions.
What is needed now for scaling this up is systematic knowledge exchange and learning among cities. Peer-to-peer learning is a powerful tool once contextualized and adapted to the particular socio-economic and political context. Iterative learning with feedback loops can help in finding transformative solutions.
Over the past two years, the World Bank’s flagship climate change report series Turn Down the Heat and its complementary free Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) have helped bring important climate related issues to policy makers and concerned citizens, reaching nearly 39,000 people in more than 180 countries worldwide.
Now, with the adoption of the Paris Agreement at COP 21, we are ready to launch a new and exciting MOOC: “From Climate Science to Action – Turn Down the Heat Series”. The MOOC is delivered in association with the World Bank’s Open Learning Campus – the one stop shop for development learning. This interactive course focuses on region-specific impacts and opportunities for climate action in the context of the Paris Agreement. With an overview of the submitted National Determined Contributions (NDCs), it lays out implementation challenges and opportunities of the Paris Agreement.
Today, over 80 million tons of CO2 will be emitted from economies around the world. Tomorrow will be the same, as will the day after that. The emitted amounts of CO2 will likely stay in the atmosphere for hundreds, if not thousands of years, further compounding the challenges in reversing the current and expected effects of climate change.
This past December, in Paris, leaders of 195 nations of the world agreed that this trend must be reversed, signaling a historic turning point in the global fight against climate change. The Paris Agreement ratified a global consensus to limit the global average temperature rise to ‘well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.’ Developing nations were at the forefront of this agreement, with almost every one of them setting carbon reduction goals. While the public sector will play a major role in helping achieve the ambitious targets, the sheer volume of investment required to support low-carbon energy, transportation, and agriculture projects throughout the developing world leaves a gap of hundreds of billions of dollars that only the private sector is in a position to fill.
Climate change imposes stark challenges in West and Central Africa, where droughts and floods are already frequent. Vast portions of the region’s populations are poor, dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods, and unable to prepare and respond adequately to extreme weather events. Weak monitoring and information systems, absence of proper infrastructure, and limited governance capacity render countries in the region unable to manage their climate risks, threatening food and energy security, economic development, ecosystem health, and overall regional stability.
Negotiators in Paris last December achieved a previously unattainable consensus among all countries — large and small, industrialized and developing — on a target for minimizing climate change.
They agreed to hold planetary warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, which can only happen by drastically cutting the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.
Adhering to the target requires a de facto energy revolution that transforms economies and societies by weaning the world from dependence on fossil fuels. The magnitude of the task means strategies and spending on a scale far exceeding previous efforts.
It has been nearly three months since 195 nations reached a historic agreement at COP21 in Paris to combat climate change and set the world on a path to a low carbon and more resilient future.
And in a little over a month, heads of state and governments will gather in New York to sign the Paris Agreement. Countries will then have one year to ratify the agreement, which will enter into force after it is ratified by at least 55 countries, representing at least 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
As we approach the signing of the agreement, it's time for countries and companies to seize the momentum from Paris and move from celebration of a landmark deal to action.
So what needs to happen?