myclimate Statement: Is the Paris Agreement on Climate a Historic Milestone?

14. December 2015

What does the Paris Agreement on climate mean for the future of our society? What are the next steps that must be taken and what does it all mean for Switzerland? This statement presents myclimate’s assessment.

Paris, COP21, Statement, Climate Protection

myclimate CEO René Estermann was present throughout the COP21 in Paris and followed the negotiations, the difficulties and the progress up to the agreement. (foto credit: Gian Marco Castelberg, Sonntagszeitung)

In December 2015, a historic feat was achieved in Paris. 195 nations negotiated a compulsory agreement under international law and mutually pledged to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, the fundamental vision of myclimate. This alone represents a global revolution, on both a large and a small scale. A great deal has already been written about the feat of diplomacy that preceded this agreement. However what was significant and perhaps also part of the decision was the spirit and fantastic esprit of Paris.

And this is where the major mission and challenge for the coming years and decades begins. Everyone must adopt this spirit and use it to implement the specific measures necessary to achieve the goals.

We all have a problem… which we can solve and which we will solve!

The time for procrastination, shying away and passing on responsibility is over. In the lead up to the summit, the 5th IPCC report once again highlighted the absolute urgency. There is collective awareness that there is a problem. And there is clear acknowledgment of the necessity of a joint global solution to the problem. The enormous impacts of global warming of more than 1.5°C must not simply be accepted. A major joint effort must be made to greatly expand the use of new CO2-free or CO2-reducing technologies.

The declared aim is to decarbonise industry and energy supplies as quickly as possible. The Paris Agreement states this, but everyone needs to be aware of it: the end of the age of fossil fuels has been heralded. Phasing out their use is imperative and mandatory thanks to the agreement and must be tackled immediately – even if this project will take decades and will inevitably result in huge changes within society. This issue is at the heart of what needs to happen: without decarbonising industry and society, the agreement will not achieve its aim.

The commercial and financial markets need clear signals and specific, long-term parameters. The agreement delivers this requirement. Immense investments are still being made in fossil fuels. These must now be redirected into clean energies. This not only opens up unbelievable opportunities for climate protection, but also means new strong markets, new areas of activity and many new jobs.

And what does this mean for Switzerland?

Swiss energy supplies are currently still based predominantly on fossil fuels. Mobility and building heating systems still mainly use petrol, natural gas and oil. The Swiss Energy Strategy 2050 is already clearly heading in the direction of decarbonisation. However this needs to be done in a more decisive manner and with more ambition and pace.

  • The transformation process to energy efficiency and clean energy in buildings and in mobility must be accelerated. New construction with fossil fuel heating systems is taboo. For existing buildings, the replacement of fossil-fuel-based heating systems is on the agenda. Rather than 1% of existing buildings switching to renewables yearly, we need at least 4%. This actually means that all old buildings will be modernised, and above all decarbonised, within 25 years.
  • The decision has been made worldwide to phase out fossil fuels. The Swiss energy industry can now undergo a much more decisive, faster transformation. In doing so, demand must be reduced by means of energy efficiency measures and the remainder must be replaced by clean energies.

The more ambitious the general conditions for heating systems, buildings and mobility are in Switzerland, the more our industry must be able to innovate and develop technologies. For Switzerland as a high-tech country, this is not a burden but rather an opportunity. Large, interesting markets are emerging around the world, and Swiss companies could satisfy their demands. The historically low global fossil fuel prices play into our hands. These savings can be redirected as investments. This profit is sustainable, both from an ecological and an economical point of view.

Making the polluters pay

The transformation process requires considerable global commitment and investment. In addition to restructuring investments in the economic and financial world, there is another effective and inevitable leverage factor: an earmarked charge on all greenhouse gas emissions in accordance with the “polluter pays” principle. “Earmarked” means financing efficiency measures and innovation in Switzerland while supporting globally sustainable and clean development through recognised climate protection projects. This principle has proved most successful in waste and sewage management, and it could make the model of a climate-neutral Switzerland a reality much sooner than 2050.

More and more companies are already voluntarily implementing this climate-neutrality strategy. Switzerland could position itself very positively as the world’s first climate-neutral country. Water pollution control and clean waste management have also been achieved, even though the federal principle – which is prone to inactivity and reservations at the grassroots level – stood in the way of both. Government regulations finally brought a breakthrough, which nobody questions now.

More than just paper

The Paris Agreement is a historic milestone. It signifies the outcome of the common will of leaders from politics, industry, society and science to decarbonise the future. This will was tangible everywhere in Paris, whether at the conferences or as articulated by prominent figures such as the head of the OECD, Angel Gurria, and myclimate patron and head of the IEA, Fatih Birol. This palpable euphoria must now be sustained.

Of course the agreement is not perfect, but it is up to all of us to keep working on it. We can’t allow momentum to subside. We have to actively address fears and reservations. We must not accept inactivity. We have agreed to a century-long task. If we tackle it with courage, determination, responsibility and consideration of those weaker than us, we can only win!

Link Statement myclimate: A net zero carbon Switzerland?

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What was agreed in the Paris Agreement on climate?

  •  All of the world’s 195 countries have agreed to take steps to limit global warming to well below 2°C. In fact, express efforts are actually to be made to achieve the “1.5°C target”. The aim of this is to prevent the worst impacts of global warming.
  • The Paris Agreement is binding under international law. To achieve the targets, all countries have to develop individual, national climate plans with their own targets. These will be reviewed every five years and must be stepped up if necessary. 188 countries had already submitted such plans (INDCs – Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) to the UN prior to the conference. However, when added together, the plans submitted so far would only achieve just under half of the 2°C target. That means that the actual efforts to reduce greenhouse gases still need to be revised significantly in all countries.
  • Global climate-neutrality is expected to be achieved by the second half of the century. The emissions that may be released must not exceed the amount reabsorbed by additional reduction measures, such as reforestation.
  • Industrial countries will be the development countries in the fight against climate change and provide financial support for clean technology development. That means an annual payment of 100 billion US dollars to the GreenClimateFund. This is to be reviewed in 2023 and increased if necessary. A separate fund and an insurance solution have also been created for the restoration of damage and measures to adapt to advancing climate change.
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