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The Eiffel Tower Guide to the UN Climate Change Summit

Jacob Scherr, Senior Advisor, International Program, Washington, DC

Here is why I am so hopeful about the UN climate mega-gathering in Paris starting today, November 30th: There is a very encouraging new global architecture for climate action being forged in Paris over the next two weeks; and It is embodied perfectly in the Eiffel Tower.

Thumbnail image for IMG_0249.jpgConstructed 126 years ago, the Tower is a globally-known icon of Paris and on the official logo of the UN climate talks. It is a monument to two revolutions – built to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the French revolution in 1789 and then seen to symbolize the technological and economic revolution that reshaped our lives in the 20th century.In December 2015, the Eiffel Toiwer could become the emblem of the start of the “climate revolution.” As the UN recognized with adoption of a new set of 17 Global Goals in September, the world needs to make a rapid transformation to deal with the climate crisis and the broader challenge of sustainable development.

Much of the media and public attention around the Paris Climate Summit will undoubtedly focus on the UN climate talks at the top of the Tower. There is no question that they are important in providing the vision and direction for our path forward, but the international negotiations and hoped-for agreement are only one interlinked element of a larger global edifice needed to drive transformative action.

COP 21 will be the 21st meeting of Conference of the Parties to the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Each year, national governments meet to discuss its implementation and to refine some of its elements. Once a decade since the 1990s, the 193 member nations engage in prolonged intensive negotiations for a major update of the framework. The last time was in Copenhagen in 2009. COP15 there was seen by many observers as a failure, but infact the gathering produced a major shift in the talks with a much greater focus on climate action where it matters – at the national level and below.

Paris will be different than Copenhagen. It is starting with a summit of Presidents and Prime Ministers, but Paris is following a bottom-up, “all hands on deck” approach that has gotten strong support from the UN, President Obama, and other leaders. Also what has changed in the last six years is that climate change is now real for millions of people, and they are demanding that their leaders take action now.

The Goverments will be discussing a long-term global goal for 2050, as represented by the pinnacle of the Eiffel Tower. Right now, it is keeping the planet from warming up more than 2 degrees Celsius – a rather obscure objective at best. It is also not very inspiring since we have already increased global average temperatures by 1 degree Celsius.

In Paris, there will be push for greater clarity about where we need to be by mid-century to avoid a climatic catastrophe. There is momentum behind a number of candidate replacement or complementary goals, including 100% renewable energy, 100% clean energy, carbon net zero, and a carbon neutral world. Don’t expect the climate talks to reach agreement on any of these new formulations, but there will be another strong international signal coming from Paris that business-as-usual and the fossil fuel era are ending.

Paris has already been a great success as the UN climate treaty process has stimulated more than 170 nations to submit their own long-term targets and plans starting 5 years from now out to 2030. We already know that the governments have not been ambitious enough, but COP21 will in the end after alot of wrangling be succesful in updating the current framework to encourage, support, and provide some additional accountability for national pledges of ambition at home and for cooperation abroad. For a deeper dive on strengthening this top platform, see my colleague Jake Schmidt’s blog.

The middle platform of the Tower represents the Lima Paris Action Agendawhich highlights more than 50 initiatives to transform global goals into results on the ground in 12 critical areas, including finance and innovation. Since Copenhagen, we have seen the emergence of dozens of “international cooperative initiatives” involving not only national governments, but also cities, states, provinces, companies, foundations, and citizen groups. These non-globally-negotiated arrangements -also labeled variously as “partnerships”, “networks”, “clubs”, “coalitions”, and “alliances” – are starting to drive needed policy, finance, and technology innovations worldwide. Most days at the UN climate talks in Paris, there will be announcements of new and improved versions of these commitment platforms; and Saturday, December 5th at COP21 will be fully devoted to Action Day .

Cities and states are emerging as leading players in dealing with climate change. The Compact of Mayors adopted last year is now strengthening the networks of more than a thousand cities worldwide making commitments on climate change. With the encouragement of the White House, more than 200 American cities have now joined the Compact . The State of California, the seventh largest economy in the world, will have a delegation in Paris led by Governor Brown and will get alot of attention for its leadership on climate action at home and its cooperation with other “sub-national governments” around the world on a Memorandum of Understanding on climate change.

The New York Declaration on Forest is another non-treaty intiative with the potential to reduce major amounts of greenhouse gas emissions – here equal to those of the United States., The Declaration adopted in 2014 provides a structure for scores of efforts to stop and reverse the loss of forests. One of the most important initiatives associated with the Declaration is the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020. Launched in 2012, the Alliance brings together 40 of the world’s largest corporations with the United States and other governments to make supply chains for key tropical products deforestration- neutral. The Alliance is making progress in Indonesia on palm oil and could become a major force for action on various commodities in regions around the world.

The lowest and broadest platform of the Tower represents NAZCA. Launched in 2014 at COP21 in Peru, NAZCA is a registry of more than 10,000 individual commitments to climate action in every sector and level of societies worldwide. One very recent example getting a lot of notice is Bill Gates’s expected announcement at the start of COP21 of a billion dollar fund on renewable energy innovation. We are witnessing a groundswell of climate actions worldwide and are expecting significant progress in Paris on building robust web-based platforms for transparency and crowdsouring accountability for these promises.

The above infographic accompanying this guide uses an artist’s conception by ARTEL of the Eiffel Tower with the proposed HUMAN ENERGY art installation at its base. Artist Yann Toma and his team had secure unprecedented permission to construct a “village” where thousands of people each day starting December 5th would “transform” their own energy through biking, dancing, and rowing into electricity to light the Tower each night. Unfortunately, in the wake of the November 13th terrorist attacks, the installation had to be cancelled,along all other major public gatherings in Paris during COP21.

HUMAN ENERGY is now proceeding ahead with plans for a virtual “generator” that will enable people around the world to help light the Tower to signal our unity in demanding and taking climate action. HUMAN ENERGY is one of many manifestations of public concern around climate change, inclduing marches worldwide and various electronic petitions, like this one. Paris will be the first truly internet Climate Summit and miillions, if not billions, of people, will be connected with the gathering and touched by it.

Like the Eiffel Tower, the new global architecture for the climate revolution is already in place. All the elements will be there in Paris, we just need to see, use, and strengthen them to accelerate the transitions needed to secure a brighter future for all of us.

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