Jeremy Leggett for Recharge Magazine: On Saturday, 12 December 2015, I witnessed an event that nothing else in human history comes close to in terms of scale and stakes. Most of the nations on earth, 195 of them, adopted the world’s first universal agreement to fight an existential threat to civilisation and indeed life as we know it.
Going into the Paris climate summit, there were three outcome scenarios. “No Signal” would have told the greenhouse-gas-profligate organisations and institutions of the world that they could maintain course with the ruinous status quo. It would have stranded the rising tide of efforts by states, cities, companies, communities, faith groups and many others to persuade the world otherwise. “Contested Signal” wouldn’t have been as bad, but would have handed plenty of ammunition to opponents of change. Instead, the governments of the world delivered us “Clear Signal”.
This clear signal, not to be confused with the “Problem Solved” scenario that was never on the table, will be felt most strongly in the energy sector, from where the majority of the emissions that threaten a liveable climate derive. Top of a long list of implications, the signal tells financial institutions that the hundreds of billions of dollars invested annually in clean energy will become trillions, and much faster than most people ever suspected. It tells energy incumbents that the fossil-fuel era is over: they are in an age of transition, of rapid managed retreat, whether they like it or not.
The renewables industries needs to offer a heartfelt “thank you” to everyone who has made this turning point in human history possible. We owe a debt of gratitude to many key state, sub-national and civil-society actors.
Top of the list must be the amazing Christiana Figueres, the UN’s lead at the climate negotiations, who doggedly built a platform for agreement in Paris, for years keeping hope alive when it was in danger of dying. This lady deserves a Nobel Prize. Other UN officials played a marvellous game, not least secretary-general Ban Ki-moon.
Then the governments. America and China, together representing 40% of global emissions, negotiated bilaterally for more than two years ahead of COP21. Despite their many disagreements in other areas of world affairs, they resolved enough differences to be able to align in the treaty endgame. France, the hosts, played their hearts out, with considerable elan, in the staging of the summit and in the diplomacy needed to execute the agreement.
Beyond these vital three, we should be thankful to all the other 192 governments that adopted the agreement. They know, from the advice of their scientists, how much trouble we are in, and finally they let this knowledge overcome their historic enmities and current conflicts. Watching their efforts, it was as though glass walls had been erected between their collective fight to save the climate and all the other disputes on our troubled planet.
Next, the cities. Led by Paris, a thousand of them signed up for 100% renewable energy during the summit.
Most companies are now working with the grain on climate change: 52 of the top 100, according to a survey. This was clear in the deep and broad representation of the corporate sector in Paris and the overwhelmingly positive nature of their interventions. Many have signed up to 100% renewables targets: Unilever by 2030, Ikea by 2020. If every corporation had Ikea’s approach to climate change, the threat would be over.
More than 500 institutions worth $3.4trn have now divested from fossil fuels. Just ten weeks before the summit, those figures were 400 and $2.6trn. The writing is so clear on the wall now. I have never seen so many financial institutions at a climate summit, and they were all singing much the same song.
As was their regulator, Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England and chairman of the international Financial Stability Board. He needs our thanks for listening to Carbon Tracker and other financial analysts who have argued that climate change poses a danger to the capital markets, directly and in the risk of stranding assets.
I’ve run out of space to thank the communities and faith groups that have embraced renewables; the NGOs that have campaigned so hard for so long on our behalf; the foundations and philanthropists that have funded much good work building the platform on which the Paris Agreement could be adopted. I have done so in my book about all this, now available free online on my website, www.jeremyleggett.net