This month, we have focused on embracing failure as means of making us better entrepreneurs and individuals. This applies to the current climate change negotiations which turned past failings into a success in Paris.This teaches us to learn from the past and better shape our future decisions.

When it comes to climate change, the Paris Agreement is a good example of how we have learned and moved away from past failures.The following are key characteristics of the agreement that are based on moving away from previous failures in the COP process:

Engaging with and including developing countries

The Kyoto protocol included no mechanism for the involvement of developing nations in their own emissions management or even sustainable economic development. This loophole in the process meant that when both China and India (which are considered developing nations under Kyoto) experienced huge economic and emissions growth, there was no obligation for them to mitigate their emissions.
The Paris agreement has addressed this issue by requiring all member Parties of the UNFCCC to put forward Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). This should hopefully enable developing countries to follow more sustainable growth pathways that should be a benefit to their economies in the long term.

Commitments from the highest emitting nations 

Another failing of the Kyoto Protocol was the lack of ratification and commitment by the US, in particular, who were the highest emitting country in the world when the Kyoto was first put into place. This was further emphasized later on by China’s unprecedented growth. Many nations were unwilling to commit and ratify the agreement without leadership from higher emitters.

In the lead-up to the Paris Agreement, the US and China made a joint statement over a year before COP21 putting forward their intended contributions. This sent an early signal to other nations that this time around the agreement was aiming to step things up from the previous agreement, right from the start.

Specific targets for limiting temperature change 

One of the most significant aspects of the Paris Agreement was the inclusion of a target to limit global temperature rise to 2°C with a strong aim for limiting temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Additionally, the agreement also made reference to the need to “achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century”. This can also be interpreted as achieving net-zero by 2050 and opens up the dialogue to the idea of negative emissions and carbon removal technologies.* 

This is an improvement from the Kyoto Protocol, which had an aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions based only on 1990 emissions and didn’t provide a specific long term targets to work towards.

Moving forward

During a Climate Change panel that took place in Davos last week, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, Christiana Figueres was quoted saying “COP21 was a success, but that was the easy part”. This statement clearly frames the challenge at hand. Regardless of whether you view the Agreement as a failure or a success, the effort it took to reach it is only a fraction of the effort required to meet the goals set within it.

One of the primary practical achievements of the Paris Agreement was sending a clear signal to businesses and investors what the direction of travel needs to be if we are to come close to guaranteeing climate stability and quality of life for the most vulnerable communities.

To put this into perspective, 2015 was officially the hottest year on record and it is estimated that we’ve already reached 1°C global warming. This means we need to act now, and act fast. The Paris Agreement was just that, an agreement. Now the global community needs to put their money where their mouth is and start acting.

*Negative emissions technologies (also referred to as greenhouse gas or carbon removal technologies) describes techniques and technologies that capture and sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide and sequester them in a manner that achieves the net removal of carbon from the atmosphere. For more information see The Virgin Earth Challenge and The Center for Carbon Removal 

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