Or, to put a more pessimistic slant on it, the beginning of the end of a stable climate.
But why be pessimistic? Sure, there’s certainly a lot of heavy lifting to do between now and Dec. 11, but no Conference of Parties has begun with so many members already committed to climate action (170 as of this writing). Delegates are ready and -- dare I say it -- eager to walk away from Paris with a deal.
"Governments from all corners of the Earth have signaled through their INDCs [intended nationally determined contributions] that they are determined to play their part according to their national circumstances and capabilities,” Christiana Figures, executive secretary for the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) said in an Oct. 30 press release.
The mood is reminiscent of the high hopes felt at the outset of COP15 in Copenhagen. Even if COP15 pales in comparison to the opportunity now before us, one important lesson we can take away from 2009 is managing expectations. It's reasonable to ask: What if we don't reach our goals in Paris? Does it mean the end of the U.N. COP process? That's what many said in the wake of COP15, but after the hand-wringing and acrimony eased, did everyone throw in the towel and give up?
We wouldn't be here now if that were the case.
The lesson of managing expectations learned at COP15 is balanced by the lesson of perseverance. The disappointing outcome in Copenhagen six years ago compared with the ambitious start in Paris today demonstrates the resilience of the COP process.
“I think Copenhagen was that decisive moment for the UNFCCC,” Evan Juska, head of U.S. Policy for The Climate Group, told TriplePundit. "After Copenhagen, the fact that the UNFCCC was able to change course and mobilize wide support for a new approach in just three years bodes well for its future. Years ago that kind of course change would have been hard to imagine. It’s a testament to both the increased momentum for action on the issue, and the leadership of the UNFCCC under Christiana Figures."
We also need strong provisions on financial and other kinds of assistance to poor countries that need it, and we need to move this agreement from the old-style, backward-looking bifurcation between two distinct categories into a world which is forward-looking, where there is differentiation across the range of countries. Countries can’t be expected to do more than they’re able to, but we shouldn’t just have this antiquated way of bifurcating climate change."
For example, in the area of transparency: We will need enough guidance in the agreement reached in Paris itself to point the way quite clearly to what countries have decided to do. But even with the best guidance possible, there will be a lot more detail; there will be more granular issues that need to be worked out in the course of guidelines that will be negotiated, again, we would hope next year. And that will be true for any number of issues."
At the regional level, new regulations like the Clean Power Plan in the U.S. allow states to manage their own path to a low-carbon economy. New building and design technologies are already transforming manufacturing and the built environment.
Initiatives like the Compact of States and Regions bring together state and regional emissions reductions contributions through a global reporting mechanism. "In less than a year since it was launched," said the Climate Group's Evan Juska, "we’ve seen leaders from state and regional governments spanning North and South America, Europe and Australia announce collective climate targets that would save 7.9 GtCO2e [gigatons of CO2 equivalent] by 2030 -- greater than the U.S.’s carbon emissions in 2012."
Regardless of what happens in Paris," Juska continued, "this bold climate action by states, regions, cities and businesses will continue to be the main driver of [a] global climate push, demonstrating what is possible and backing up nations’ broad goals with tangible action."
"You get the sense that more and more countries understand the importance of this moment," Juska told 3p, "and that no deal in Paris won’t necessarily lead to a better deal down the road.
"There are still disagreements between some countries on issues like finance and 'loss and damage.' But in the end, those differences may not prevent a deal.
"Today, with 170 countries having submitted INDCs, including the U.S., China and India, most parties have a reason to see the process succeed, even if they don’t get agreement on all of their positions.
"That’s a key difference between these negotiations and the negotiations of the past, and I think it makes them more resilient."
"This is the moment, and we want to seize it," Stern declared.
"What I will say is this: The stars are more aligned right now to reach agreement than I have ever seen them ... We have a real opportunity. We are riding on the wave of those 170 targets that have been submitted. We know countries are interested in getting this done.
"The situation right now – there’s no comparison, for example, to the most recent major moment, which is 2009, when people were heading into Copenhagen ... We have this opportunity; we have this moment. Countries are going to need to be willing now – starting now, starting today, starting yesterday – to depart from some of their fixed positions, seek common ground, find that middle zone, that landing zone where we can actually get this agreement done.
"That is happening. That has been happening. It has to happen more. But we can get this done. I think we will get this done. And I’m not going to think about the alternative."
So, I'll join Stern and focus on the upside. Let's leave what ifs for later, maybe never. Right now, there's work to do.
Tom is the founder, editor, and publisher of GlobalWarmingisReal.com and the TDS Environmental Media Network. He has been a contributor for Triple Pundit since 2007. Tom has also written for Slate, Earth911, the Pepsico Foundation, Cleantechnia, Planetsave, and many other sustainability-focused publications. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists