Cascadia Law Group

Environmental Attorneys in Seattle and Olympia

Jay Manning Debrief from Paris: COP-21 UN Climate Talks

December 14, 2015

I was privileged to attend the COP-21 meeting in Paris, where 196 countries from around the world worked to negotiate a new agreement to reduce international emissions of greenhouse gases and limit global warming. I was there supporting the Pacific Coast Collaborative (PCC), whose members are the states of Washington, Oregon, and California, and the Province of British Columbia. The four jurisdictions have been working together on climate and energy issues for several years. Through Jessie Turner and me, Cascadia Law Group has been part of a small team of consultants tasked with providing support and guidance as the PCC works to develop regional leadership in reducing emissions and shifting to a clean energy economy. The PCC also is working with its largest cities — Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, BC — on such projects of common interest as advancing electric vehicles and promoting energy efficiency. These cities, like the PCC jurisdictions, were well-represented in Paris.

It was fascinating to be in the City of Light for COP-21. While PCC leaders were there to provide momentum and state/province/city level leadership, the actual negotiations were occurring between the 196 nations in attendance. These negotiations were private, and felt like a roller coaster ride as rumors flew that negotiations were going well, or going poorly — sometimes both — each and every day. The French government invested hugely in COP-21. They, with considerable help from the City of Paris, put on a great conference and made it clear that they had every intention of achieving a breakthrough climate agreement. It was easy to get around, people were extremely friendly, security was tight but not oppressive, and there was a feeling of optimism and a “can do” attitude from the beginning.

It was thrilling when a final agreement was reached. The new agreement is specific, clear, enforceable in part, and contains a new commitment to keep global temperature rise to “substantially less than 2 degrees centigrade” with the new target being no more than 1.5 degrees. This new, more aggressive target was pushed for by many countries, but hardest by Pacific Island countries and countries with substantial tundra or arctic territories. In both of these areas, the impacts of climate change are being felt more quickly and more severely than most of the world. Obviously, now begins the more difficult challenge of implementing the agreement. Shifting to a clean energy economy and away from fossil fuels — and doing so quickly — remains very challenging. The PCC will have to continue to demonstrate that our region, the fifth-largest economy in the world, will continue to combine remarkable economic success with rigorous limits on emissions of greenhouse gases. That said, the Paris COP-21 Agreement is a landmark, a "game changer" as they say, and it will serve to accelerate the necessary shift away from fossil fuels and to an economy that is more sustainably prosperous.

News coverage of agreement:

BBC World News

New York Times

National Public Radio