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The Year Ahead 2021

Getting Back on the Paris Climate Track

After a year in which COVID-19 left the world reeling amid deep uncertainty, there has never been greater clarity about the need for stronger commitments to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. But, looking ahead, much will depend on political leadership – a resource that has been notably scarce in recent years.

PARIS – When representatives from nearly 200 countries finalized the Paris climate agreement on December 12, 2015, there were celebrations around the world. But it has now been five years, and the world is in a state of deepening uncertainty. The COVID-19 crisis admits of no quick fixes. The pandemic has ushered in deepening economic and social crises, as well as a wave of increased indebtedness. The geopolitical landscape is as fractured as it has been in decades, and with global supply chains being reorganized, the prospects for achieving deeper global integration through trade are fading.

Yet despite all the recent turmoil, one certainty remains: the climate crisis and the need to stick with the Paris accord, which is the only roadmap that we have for decarbonizing the global economy. Though the agreement initially met with doubts, its primary mechanisms are proving their efficiency and efficacy, and its target of reaching net zero greenhouse-gas emissions by mid-century is now the point of reference for governments and businesses around the world. A growing number of economic sectors – public and private finance, energy, transport, and, increasingly, industry – are setting targets consistent with this objective.

With the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) approaching, the immediate task for governments is to strengthen their climate plans (following the logic of the Paris agreement’s “ratchet mechanism”) to lock in emissions-reduction targets for 2030. Politically, the world has reached a tipping point. Donald Trump’s infamous June 2017 Rose Garden speech announcing America’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement set off a negative domino effect, encouraging Brazil, Australia, and Mexico also to temper their climate ambitions. But now, we are on the cusp of a positive domino effect, as more governments and sectors realize that decarbonization is the key to future economic competitiveness.

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