How Businesses Made Their Mark on the Paris Climate Accords

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on January 12, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Paris climate accords, agreed to in December by 195 nations, are one of the largest economic and environmental policy advancements in recent decades. The accords marked the first time that all countries have agreed to reduce climate change causing greenhouse emissions. The accords also committed nations to a global temperature rise of 3.6 degrees, just enough to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

The impact of businesses can be seen throughout the accords, and we're not talking climate change denying fossil fuel companies here. Instead, large businesses were immensely supportive of climate action -- though not as supportive as some civil society groups would want. Here's the impact big business had on the climate accords.

No Two-Tier System

Western business interests call this having a level playing field. Advocates from the developing world call it not paying your fair share. For years, the fundamental disagreement in climate action was over which countries should have to reduce their emissions and by how much.

For decades, climate change agreements have held fast to the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities." Developed nations, whose economies are responsible for the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions, would have to bear the initial burden of reduction.

That compromise was never popular among business and U.S. politicians, and, as economies such as China's grew rapidly, with increasing pollution to match, it became harder to justify. While the Paris climate accords don't reject differentiated responsibilities altogether, they do require reductions across the board for the first time ever.

Workstream 2

Supported by many businesses the Workstream 2 mechanism incorporated into the Paris climate accords creates a way for governments and businesses to work together before the climate agreement comes into effect in 2020. It was spearheaded by RE100 and The Climate Group, two large groups dedicated to corporate sustainability.

Workstream 2 addresses climate issues that will be faced in the immediate future, while a wide spectrum of sustainability priorities. Perhaps most importantly, it also creates a "Technical Examination Process" to encourage development and adoption of low-carbon technologies across many industries.

Corporate Policy Asks

Businesses concerned with global warming and climate change -- whether for environmental, humanitarian, or purely profit-based reasons -- were able to see many of their policy goals reflected in the Paris accords. For example, the We Mean Business coalition put together eight "key policy asks," before COP21, the meeting of signatories to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change where the Paris accords were adopted.

Those policy goals were largely reflected in the final agreement. According to BSR's Edward Cameron, "seven of those eight asks are captured in full in the final text." They are:

  1. Net zero greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the century
  2. Strengthening commitments every five years
  3. Increased climate financing
  4. Transparency and accountability
  5. Ambitious national commitments
  6. Adaptation for climate resilient economies
  7. Pre-2020 Action via Workstream 2

The only ask that wasn't reflected in the Paris accords? Carbon pricing.

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