Our comment: What does the historic global climate deal mean for the West Midlands?

As our team and members watched the results of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, it was often difficult to comprehend what was happening. Many of us who have worked in this area for years felt numb or in shock whilst we watched emotional and tired negotiators signalling a deal, then the media trying to get a sense of whether this was yet another talking shop or something more significant.

When I polled the average 14 year old at breakfast, I was told the conclusion of the summit was obvious and no big deal as “The world’s rulers needed to get an agreement or they would have no world left to rule over”. Then he went back to reading the latest young adult dystopia book, until I switched the wi-fi back on.

Other older commentators talked about the significance of the largest global agreement, the transition to the low carbon age and the end of fossil fuels now being unstoppable. While the BBC’s Matt McGrath concluded “The key thing about this deal may ultimately not be the rules and mechanisms and targets it sets – it’s about signals and signs.”

We have reproduced the official UK government statement on the climate deal at the end of this comment, but what does it mean for the West Midlands?

The reality is that the deal is light on details but strong on signals around future investment and business opportunities:

  • It strengthens the certainty for West Midlands businesses operating globally involved in growing low carbon technology and services markets, while weakening legacy industries such as oil and gas.
  • Financial investors, including hopefully West Midlands pension funds, will be looking to reflect this certainty in switching longer-term investments into clean and green energy funds that will provide a good rate of return.
  • Our manufacturing, innovation, and skills base – especially within our strengths of low carbon transport, buildings and energy – will continue to grow in response to global and local demand.
  • The public sector has been struggling with continued cuts and signals that the green agenda was not perceived as a national priority for the current UK Government. This climate deal should renew confidence for our local leaders, and encourage others to demonstrate practical action for a better future for our communities and businesses and how to export this to the global marketplace. After all, not all 196 countries can be wrong can they?

Expect trouble ahead in terms of the global treaty regarding political delivery, monitoring, finance, speed of change, technology sharing, reparations to developing countries, and an endless list of challenges. However the debate will not be on ‘if‘ but on ‘how’ to deliver.

The West Midlands, as the birthplace of the high carbon economy, has a key role in working with others to create the low carbon economy.

As always, Sustainability West Midlands will use our staff, members, and networks to play our part as the sustainability adviser to the leaders of the region and catalyst for change.

Thank you for all your support to the team and myself in 2015 and we look forward to working with you in 2016.

Dr Simon Slater, SWM


For Information:

UK Government Statement – 14 December 2015

A historic new global climate agreement has been reached at the United Nations conference on climate change in Paris.

The deal takes a significant step forward to reducing emissions. For the first time ever 196 countries, including the world’s largest emitters, have now committed to act together to combat climate change and be held equally accountable.

Prime Minister David Cameron said:

“In striking this deal, the nations of the world have shown what unity, ambition and perseverance can do.Britain is already leading the way in work to cut emissions and help less developed countries cut theirs – and this global deal now means that the whole world has signed to play its part in halting climate change. It’s a moment to remember and a huge step forward in helping to secure the future of our planet.”

Energy and Climate Change Secretary Amber Rudd said:

“We have witnessed an important step forward, with an unprecedented number of countries agreeing to a deal to limit global temperature rises and avoid the worst impacts of climate change. This is vital for our long-term economic and global security. This deal will ensure all countries are held to account for their climate commitments and gives a clear signal to business to invest in the low carbon transition.”

Key aspects of the deal:

  • Countries will now have to come together regularly to review their climate plans and collectively ensure that the necessary action is being taken to tackle climate change.
  • Setting out a clear long-term goal of net zero emissions by the end of the century, showing that the world is committed to decarbonising. Progress against this goal will be independently assessed in 2018 and then every five years.
  • A legal obligation to make new post-2030 commitments to reduce emissions every 5 years, from 2025. For the first time, all countries will be held accountable by independent review for acting according to their pledges.
  • As previously agreed, all developed countries will collectively mobilise $100 billion per year from both the public and private sector, to help the poorest and most vulnerable countries to protect themselves from the effects of climate change and support low carbon development. This agreement now recognises the role of emerging economies in mobilising resources and contributing finance over time as well.

To read the final agreement, please click here to find the new text on the UNFCCC website and here to see the EU statement.