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Success of Paris deal depends on both government and business

Meeting hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron this week will re-energise battle against climate change

French President Emmanuel Macron hosted a major One Planet climate summit yesterday, with dozens of world political leaders and a host of other key players, including Bill Gates, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Bloomberg in attendance.

The meeting - held on the second anniversary of the day that the United Nation's landmark Paris global warming deal was agreed - will re-energise support for it, focusing on how public and private finance can innovate to accelerate the battle against climate change.

The Paris deal came after years of painstaking negotiations and was agreed by more than 190 countries.

In the two years since the Paris pact was signed, critics of the deal have already sought to diminish its significance.

However, the agreement deserves to be defended robustly for as then US president Barack Obama asserted in 2015, it may prove to be "the best chance we have to save the planet we have".

The long-running UN-brokered talks over the Paris deal nearly collapsed several times over the years, and this was one of the most complex set of international negotiations ever.

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol involved a deal for the EU states and developed countries, whereas the 2015 deal involves developing countries and thus has a wider range of issues to contend with. Indeed, part of the deal's importance is that it represents the first genuinely global treaty to tackle climate change.

While the agreement is far from perfect, it has kept the process "alive", the importance of which cannot be underestimated. Moreover, the once-every-five-years review framework means countries can in the future toughen their response to climate change.

Rather than viewing the Paris agreement as the end of the process, it must be seen as a stepping stone in a longer journey.

Critics of the deal - including sceptics of climate change such as Mr Obama's successor Donald Trump - have lambasted it.

Despite the now-overwhelming evidence about the risks of global warming, Mr Trump and many others argue that climate change is at worst a grand hoax, at best an unwelcome distraction from other key issues.

While there is always uncertainty with science, these critics are misguided. Even if it turns out that the vast majority of scientists are wrong about global warming, what the Paris deal will help achieve is moving more swiftly to remove our dependence on fossil fuels, making the world a cleaner, less polluted and more sustainable place.

Moreover, many countries will also develop a broader range of energies, especially renewables, which can help enhance energy sovereignty at a time of potentially growing geopolitical turbulence.

Alternatively, the consequences of a failure to act now, as climate sceptics seem to advocate, would be the growing likelihood of devastating environmental damage to the planet. As the overwhelming evidence base of science suggests, this is folly on a global scale.

STEP FORWARD

So despite what critics assert, the Paris deal was a positive step forward that topped off a significant year in 2015, which some have called a once in a generation opportunity to build a new international framework to address the challenges of global warming and sustainable development more broadly.

Paris followed not only a UN summit in New York, which agreed on the new 2030 development goals, but also a financing for development conference in Ethiopia and a new framework for disaster risk reduction agreed in Japan.

Collectively, these agreements could provide a foundation stone for global sustainable development for billions across the world in coming decades.

Regarding Paris, what is now important is that the political window of opportunity provided by the treaty is followed up, and this is part of Mr Macron's ambition.

Two years on from its agreement, implementation will be most effective through national laws and regulations as the country "commitments" put forward in Paris will be more credible - and durable beyond the next set of national elections - if they are backed by national legislation and regulation.

These domestic legal frameworks are crucial building blocks to measure, report, verify and manage greenhouse gas emissions.

And the aim must be that they are ratcheted up in coming years so that the intent in Paris is realised to pursue efforts to try to limit global temperature rises to 1.5 deg C, and "well below" 2 deg C above pre-industrial levels, the level scientists say we must not breach if we are to avoid the worst risks of global warming.

This is a massively formidable agenda that will require comprehensive and swift actions from governments and businesses.

While this is uncertain, the fact remains that the 2015 Paris deal created a window for it to happen, and what is needed now is leadership from the public and private sectors to help ensure effective implementation, and holding them to account so that the treaty truly delivers.

The writer is an associate at LSE Ideas at the London School of Economics. This article appeared in The Business Times yesterday.

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