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Sep 23, 2015

From Boston to Paris, Less Than 100 Days to COP21

China, “Big Oil”, and cities all emerge as important themes in the lead-up to the climate negotiations (COP-21) in Paris this December.
Photo courtesy of World Resources Institute.

China, “Big Oil”, and cities all emerge as important themes in the lead-up to the climate negotiations (COP-21) in Paris this December. Panelists and experts discussed these topics at a recent forum, Local and Global Climate Action on the Path to Paris, hosted by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and The Christian Science Monitor in Boston, Massachusetts. Watch the video here; a quick recap of the event follows:

China. In its INDC (intended nationally determined contribution), China pledged to increase its share of non-fossil fuel energy by 20% and to peak coal use by 2030. Valerie Karplus, Assistant Professor at MIT said that emissions may peak sooner, however, because the economy is slowing. The economic cooling is a double-edged sword because China’s renewable energy sector will feel the slowdown as much if not more than dirtier industries. A September summit bringing together U.S. and Chinese officials may, however, help spur the Asian giant’s transition to a decarbonized energy sector. China is looking to U.S. cities, including Boston, for leadership and innovation on climate change solutions in their cities.

“Big Oil.” “Big Oil,” referring to the world’s largest fossil fuel companies, spends $680 billion annually on fossil fuel exploration and extraction. We are investing $310-340 billion annually in renewable energy. This is not enough. The world needs to invest $1 trillion in renewable energy annually by 2030 to stay within the 2oC temperature increase threshold, said Mindy Lubber, President of CERES. We need to flip our energy expenditures, with the majority going to renewables and less to fossil fuels. Enacting this change will be difficult, and it will require fossil fuel companies to be at the table in Paris, willing and ready to work with the global community.   

Incorporating Cities. Cities are acting to address climate change in the absence of international agreements, according to Kelly Levin, Senior Associate with WRI. Look at Boston – through its Climate Action Plan (CAP), the city is decarbonizing its energy system, improving vehicle efficiency, retrofitting their building stock, and assessing all 321 city-owned buildings for rooftop solar. According to Austin Blackmon, Boston’s Chief of Environment, Energy and Open Space, the city is well on its way toward achieving its climate goals – a reduction of 25% from 2005 levels by 2020, and 80% by 2050. The information sharing, collaboration, and priorities set by city governments enables these successes. Municipal leaders are coming to Paris to share their mitigation strategies and help motivate others to do the same.

Collaboration between these three sectors - China, “Big Oil,” and cities - will be a critical part of any COP-21 outcome. Climate change is a global problem requiring global solutions. We need to form strong partnerships and get to work.


Emily Wier is a first year masters student at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. She is conducting research on the role of urban land use planning in climate action plans in preparation for the climate negotiations in Paris. Contact Emily by email emily.wier@yale.edu and follow her on twitter @EmilyWier.