Op-Ed: Paris climate deal shows value of consensus building

Reason for optimism …

Bill McKibben COP21 Paris climate deal
Bill McKibben speaks on fossil fuels and fracking at the COP21 climate summit in Paris. @bberwyn photo.
Christine Scanlan Keystone Center
Christine Scanlan is president and CEO of the Keystone Policy Center.

By Christine Scanlan

This Earth Day may just represent a turning point in climate change history. On April 22, more than 130 countries will convene at United Nations headquarters in New York for the official Paris Agreement signing ceremony.

While questions remain as to when and how the Agreement will be adopted globally — as of now, it requires at least 55 countries representing 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions to sign before it enters into force — there’s good reason for optimism.

For decades the international community had struggled to reach true consensus and compromise on climate change action. From the 1992 Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit through the 2009 Copenhagen COP-15 discussions, the UN process was characterized by more of a “top-down” process, exemplified by the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, that often resulted in deadlocks over a variety of issues, including emission reduction responsibilities of developed vs. developing countries.

But in Paris this past November, we saw the fruit of a far different approach. Leading up to the 21st Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-21), the French government employed a “bottom-up” approach, regularly convening stakeholders ranging from government agencies and regulators, to academics and scientists, to civil society groups, and private sector companies. This broad and frequent engagement allowed various parties to reach consensus in a way they never had before, and the result was tremendous.

That’s because consensus-building with all the stakeholders is necessary and — thankfully — very possible when it comes to energy and environmental policy. I know this first hand from my work at Keystone, where we manage to bring representatives from companies like DuPont Pioneer together with organizations like The Nature Conservancy for honest discussions about environmental policy, energy infrastructure, and other cross-cutting interests.

But in the context of a global phenomenon like climate change, “all the stakeholders” means not just a broad range of interest groups — environmental, government, private sector and other important voices. It also means a wide range of countries. That’s why it’s so important that developed countries have committed $100 billion to support developing countries in reaching their own climate change reduction goals. That’s also why it’s significant that the parties to the Paris Agreement will assemble later this year in Morocco.

As Morocco’s King Mohammed VI said at COP-21, “The consequences of climate change are affecting developing nations as much as — if not more than — developed countries, especially the least advanced African and Latin American States and small island States.” It is essential to build upon the historic Paris Agreement with continued progress on climate financing and identifying and quantifying loss and damages related to climate change, among other important issues.

And Morocco has much to offer to the climate debate, since the country has shown that embracing sustainability is a workable choice. Morocco recently announced an ambitious plan to generate 42 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020 and 52 percent by 2030. As part of the effort to reach that goal, Morocco earlier this year inaugurated Noor 1, the first phase of what will become the largest concentrated solar power plant in the world. At completion, the facility is expected to produce 580 MW of clean electricity for more than one million people.

These efforts led the World Bank to note that Morocco “is setting an example by designing and embracing green growth strategies across sectors.” The 2016 Climate Performance Index also ranked Morocco among the top 10 countries making the most progress in combating climate change and number one among developing countries.

Just as climate change discussions and policy cannot be set by a narrow range of interest groups, they cannot be set by a narrow range of developed, often Western countries. As French President François Hollande said at the conclusion of the Paris Climate Conference: “In the face of climate change, our fates are intertwined.”

Christine Scanlan is president and CEO of the Keystone Policy Center, a Colorado-based nonprofit working to help policymakers and leaders address today’s most pressing and vexing policy issues with shared, action-oriented solutions.

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