What Could the Paris Climate Summit Mean for the Global Clean Energy Transition?

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Download COP21 backgrounder here.

The world is gathering in Paris, France, for another round of negotiations that aim to produce a global agreement to ramp up the fight against climate change.

While there have been many rounds of talks before this, there are three main reasons the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) is seen as a significant milestone in the world’s transition to clean, renewable energy:

1. Global commitments can drive the expansion of clean energy. Countries previously agreed at COP17 in Durban, South Africa, that 2015 would be the year the world would strike a new global climate deal. Scheduled to come into force in 2020, this new international agreement is expected to include pledges from all countries to cut or curb emissions. COP21 represents an important moment for all countries to set firm, cooperative paths forward to cut carbon pollution and manage the impacts of a changing climate. A strong deal in Paris will also send a clear signal to world markets that clean, renewable electricity is quickly becoming the energy source of choice — and that signal will unlock the additional capital needed to throw the global clean energy transition into high gear.

2. Clean energy is the world’s best tool for fighting climate change. Building an efficient, clean energy economy around the world is the single best tool for holding back climate change. This worldwide transition requires strong policy, government and private sector leadership, and access to technology to harness the world’s abundant renewable resources and massively expand the supply of clean electricity. For the first time in recorded history, carbon pollution levels in 2014 did not rise while global GDP grew — a phenomenon the IEA largely attributes to the increase in energy efficiency and renewable energy around the world.

3. Momentum is building and leadership is taking many forms. Compared to previous years, clean energy innovation and other efforts to fight climate change have hit the mainstream globally, which increases the likelihood of success. Momentum is building thanks to leadership from many sectors — private enterprise, the mayors of major cities, and other sub-national governments are all stepping forward with climate solutions. Cities, corporations and individual citizens all have an essential role to play in cutting carbon pollution, so the leadership emerging from these quarters is cause for optimism and is raising expectations for a positive outcome.

Building an efficient, clean energy economy around the world is the single best tool for holding back climate change.

Undoubtedly, a strong climate deal in Paris would help to send a clear signal to world markets that clean energy is the power of choice, and clean energy will power the economic giants of the future.

However, the global transition to clean energy is already well underway — and that will hold true even if the Paris talks fall short of expectations.

It’s happening because clean energy represents an immense economic opportunity. In the past five years, more than a trillion dollars (USD) has been invested in renewable energy, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Nations representing nearly half of the global emissions have implemented or committed to implementing a price on carbon pollution, according to the World Bank. Even in Canada, new jobs were created faster in the renewable energy sector than in any other sector in 2014, our research for Tracking the Energy Revolution (Canada, 2015) found.

Certainly, a strong commitment in Paris to decarbonize major economies, invest in climate solutions, and help ensure clean energy access for the world would create a major incentive for countries, including Canada, to scale up investments in renewable energy technology and innovation. It would also encourage countries that are currently lagging behind in the transition to take serious measures — like pricing carbon pollution and phasing out fossil fuels — to change how they produce and use energy.

Ultimately a successful outcome in Paris could boost momentum around the world for the clean energy transition — and as Canada follows through on its climate leadership commitments, we could supply the expertise, technology and policy solutions the world will be looking for.

Merran Smith will be attending the United Nations climate summit in Paris from Dec. 3-12, 2015.

A detailed backgrounder on COP-21 and clean energy is available here.

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