After 13 days at the Paris Climate Talks, nearly 200 countries approved a climate accord that aims to lower greenhouse emissions to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial averages. “Markets now have the clear signal to unleash the full force of human ingenuity,” said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
The historic Paris Agreement is, in a sense, a giant step forward. Nations large and small, rich and poor, have pledged to cut or limit emissions from burning fossil fuels. A system called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) was developed, which requires nations to outline their plans for cutting carbon. The Agreement lays out a set of rules for monitoring and verification, with an assessment in 2018, and then further reviews the progress every five years. Technical and financial assistance was also called for to help developing countries, which includes $100 billion a year in climate finance for developing countries by 2020, and a commitment to extend that into the future. At the talks, the Alliance for Rural Electrification announced the Electrification Financing Initiative, which gives incentives for sustainable business practices that benefit rural communities in developing nations without access to clean energy.
While many have been ebullient in reaction to the Agreement, others remain skeptical about all countries fully participating, and even if they do, if it will be enough. The pledges are a step forward, but it won’t be enough unless they are fully met and then stepped up at regular intervals (every five years?) into the future. Also missing in the Accord were carbon caps and carbon taxes. Once nations have put a price on their egregious use of fossil fuels, the use will subside. Rural communities and island nations will need help, here, and let’s hope that the non-binding goal of developed countries investing $100 billion per year by 2020 is met—and that it also increases over time.
Samantha Smith, leader of WWF’s global climate and energy initiative said, “The talks and surrounding commitments send a strong signal to everyone – the fossil fuel era is coming to an end. As climate impacts worsen around the world, we need seize on the current momentum and usher in a new era of cooperative action from all countries and all levels of society.”
A chance and an opportunity
In reaction to the Agreement, US President Obama stated that it’s “the best chance we have to save the one planet we have.”
The Paris Agreement is a chance. But it’s voluntary pledges rather than mandates. If the pledges are met, it’s a real chance. A chance for nations, states and towns to step up energy saving measures and institute renewable energy systems. It’s also an opportunity for advancing energy storage, smart grid, electric vehicle and other technologies that help to smooth the transition away from fossil fuels. And it’s an opportunity for strong policies in support of renewable energy. Extending the Investment Tax Credit in the US comes to mind. Extending net metering caps is another. Encouraging community solar is yet another.
The solar industry is buoyed by the Agreement. It validates what all in the industry know and have been trying to share with the rest of the world: Solar energy is viable source of electricity with the potential of being a leading source of renewable energy throughout the world. By affirming the fact that we must do something about reducing levels of carbon throughout the world, the Paris Agreement legitimizes the need for solar power. If nothing else, this accord is authorization for full speed ahead.
Written by Anne Fischer, Managing Editor, Solar Novus Today