After Paris: Why trajectories matter more than goals

global emissions record
CC BY-SA 2.0 Libelul via Flickr

When I argued that the G7's decarbonization promise may seal the fate of fossil fuels, some (including Lloyd) mocked my faith in any goal that's over 80 years away.

But the goal is less important than the path it sets us on. Or, more accurately, the date of the goal is less important than the thing we are promising to achieve.

Here's an illustrative point: Many major corporations now have renewable energy and emissions reduction goals. They may not be quite as ambitious as we like, but they are there, and they are spurring investment and action to shift away from fossil fuels. As these companies pursue these goals, many are finding that they are easier and cheaper to meet than they ever thought possible—meaning companies like Citi Group and GM are meeting goals years earlier than they expected and are consequently committing to do more.

The same holds true of the Paris Agreement which just got signed. True, the pledges that countries brought to the table fall well short of what's needed to limit the world to a 1.5 or even 2 degree Celsius temperature rise, but they make it clear to governments, investors, businesses and civil society that we are headed for eventual and almost complete decarbonization. Once that goal is set, dragging your feet no longer makes much sense, because you are in danger of being left behind.

From most of Britain's cities pledging 100% clean energy by 2050 to Unilever phasing out coal and aiming for carbon neutrality by 2030, we're already seeing major players jockeying not just to comply, but to lead.

Add to that the fact that China's CO2 emissions may have just fallen 15 years before they had been scheduled to peak—and global emissions may just be flatlining too—there's some solid reason to believe that this may really be a turning point.

Yes, we need to do more. Yes, we need to pressure our leaders to do more. But at some point, this transition picks up a momentum all its own.

So let's keep pushing.

After Paris: Why trajectories matter more than goals
Yes, the climate deal is not as ambitious as science tells us it needs to be. But that may not matter.

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