Marrakech climate talks show there is no turning back on clean energy transition
As the dust settled on the arid grounds at the closing of COP22 in Marrakech – with the ripple effects of the monumental U.S. election hovering in the air – a sense of determination and resolve persisted. Nearly one year after the world came together to forge the groundbreaking Paris Climate Agreement and only weeks after the accord officially entered into force in record time, the conversation has shifted to concrete action.
The just-concluded climate talks here reflected a shared understanding of the need to supercharge the already irreversible global clean energy transition. And no one was waiting around for the U.S. to decide its next move. Even as some fretted that political developments in the U.S. might chill early-stage implementation of the Paris Agreement, the opposite occurred.
As the tremendous economic and social costs of climate change continue to mount, and as the window of opportunity for stabilizing the climate shrinks fast, talks among country delegations, cities, states, companies, investors, labor leaders and civil society took on a renewed sense of urgency in accelerating forward.
Underscoring that climate action makes good economic sense, more than 360 U.S. businesses and investors – from small enterprises to more than a dozen Fortune 500 firms, including household names such as DuPont, Mars, Kellogg’s, General Mills and Levi Strauss – came forward to express strong support for staying the course on the Paris accord and continuing to advance complementary clean energy policies and investments. This call was heard resoundingly throughout the tented corridors of the Marrakech climate negotiations. It was not lost on the negotiators that these businesses are backing up their words with concrete action, stepping up corporate investments in clean energy and lowering the carbon impacts of their operations and supply chains. Many of the companies, in fact, have committed to source 100 percent of their electricity needs from renewable power.
Leading investors from around the world, including New York State’s $185 billion public pension fund and Citigroup, outlined what they are doing to step up efforts to manage carbon risk exposure in their investments while also seizing burgeoning low carbon investment opportunities. Citigroup’s Michael Eckhart described impressive progress towards its 10-year commitment to finance $100 billion of low-carbon and other sustainable business activity. The bank provided $48 billion of sustainable financing last year alone, double from $24 billion in 2014.
Pete Grannis, a top official at the New York State Comptroller’s Office, discussed their $2 billion low-carbon index fund that was launched last year. He said the 2016 election results will not affect their fund’s interest in capturing low-carbon opportunities: “The die has been cast, there is no turning back.”
Further demonstrating that the transition to a clean energy economy is irreversible, nearly 200 nations together issued Marrakech Action Proclamation calling for the stepped-up ambition that is needed to limit temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius and avert the worst impacts of climate change. At the same time, some 47 members of the Climate Vulnerable Forum – including low-lying island nations facing some of the most immediate existential threats from rising seas – inspired the world by collectively agreeing to aim for 100 percent renewable energy within the next couple decades.
So, now that the dust has settled in Marrakech and COP22 has come to a close, what’s next? Beyond the well-understood need to focus on increasing the speed and scale of clean energy transition, one strikingly pervasive thread from the global climate negotiations was the focus on the need for a truly inclusive approach to clean energy transition. As this year’s climate talks revealed, there is a burgeoning global commitment to ensure that the transition from carbon-intensive energy to clean, low-carbon energy is just and fair, and leaves no one behind.
Sue Reid is vice president of the climate and energy programs at the nonprofit sustainability group Ceres