Four Years Since Paris: The Future of Climate Change

Signal Group

By Blake Androff and Madeline Wade

Despite an emissions and ambition gap, non-federal actors are championing climate policies and are showing tremendous leadership.

This week marks four years since world leaders came together in Paris to reach agreement on a landmark effort to combat climate change, adapt to its effects and support investments for a sustainable low carbon future.

The Paris Agreement sets out to strengthen the collective response to the growing threat of climate change by reducing emissions to keep warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels by 2100.

Global leaders, climate activists, and representatives from private corporations and non-profits are meeting today in Madrid for COP25, the annual international conference on climate change.  This year’s conference requires finalizing several policies under the Paris Agreement before countries’ individual pledges go into effect next year.

A lot has changed since the historic signing of the Paris Agreement. President Trump officially began the process to withdraw from the accord last month. Meanwhile, countries around the world have struggled to reduce emissions at levels of ambition deemed necessary under the climate accord.

Despite an emissions and ambition gap, non-federal actors are championing climate policies and are showing tremendous leadership. States are stepping up in a big way with 37 states setting renewable energy goals, 27 states adopting energy efficiency resource standards, and 23 states and the District of Columbia implementing emissions targets. This is largely driven by voter sentiment demanding that lawmakers act to combat climate change. A 2019 Yale poll found that 7 in 10 voters support government action on climate change.  A Washington Post poll released in September similarly found that 8 in 10 Americans believe human activity is fueling climate change and roughly half believe action is urgently needed within the next decade if humanity is to avert its worst effects. Nearly just as many Americans now say climate change is a “crisis,” which is the highest level to date and two thirds of respondents said President Trump is doing too little to tackle the problem.

Responding to public sentiment, the private sector now, too, is taking note of these trends and beginning to lead on climate. Over 2,000 businesses and investors, 353 higher education institutions and 28 health care organizations signed the “We Are Still In” pledge to uphold the goals of the Paris Agreement. We’re seeing businesses lead on emissions reduction strategies, acting as a driver of market innovation. This trend towards renewable energy procurement and sustainability goals shows time after time that these actions are not only good for the planet, but good for companies’ bottom lines as consumers choose to support good corporate stewards.

While deliberations in Madrid can seem far away and aren’t leading the nightly news here in the United States, the Paris Agreement is having real life implications here at home. House Democrats passed legislation requiring the United States to remain in the climate accord. Just this week, Senate Democrats introduced a resolution expressing support for remaining in the Paris Agreement and advancing government and corporate policies that uphold these goals. Given voter sentiment, it appears likely that rejoining this international agreement and maintaining America’s global leadership on climate change will remain front and center in the upcoming election.

As officials deliberate arcane governance policies in Madrid and the Trump Administration continues its effort to reverse course on the progress that has been made, American businesses and local leaders will continue forging ahead on policies that address the climate crisis. What was once viewed as a nice-to-have policy is now a need-to-have, as voter and consumer opinion prioritizes climate action. It’s clear that the principles of the Paris Agreement have permeated voter and consumer sentiment and will be a top issue for the foreseeable future.