Eiffel Tower Paris © Trey Ratcliff/Flickr

Mark Tercek

5 Ways We Can Turn Paris Climate Commitments into Action

Mark Tercek Former Chief Executive Officer


This Earth Day, world leaders are coming together in New York City to sign the historic Paris Agreement. The event marks a watershed moment in global efforts to address climate change and create a prosperous, low-carbon future.

But now isn’t the time to declare victory and go home. We need to carry on the spirit of collaboration we saw at the Paris climate talks. And we need to hold leaders accountable for their climate promises.

Here are five ways government, business and community leaders can roll up their sleeves and turn their countries’ Paris commitments into action.

1. Put a price on carbon

Economists on both sides of the aisle generally agree on the easiest and cheapest way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions—putting a price on carbon.

A well-designed carbon tax could be simple to administer. And if swapped for another tax—for example, a reduction in the corporate tax rate—it could even help grow the economy. A carbon tax would incentivize new technologies that accelerate the transition to cleaner energy and enhance our competitiveness in the global marketplace.

Regardless of what you think about climate change, these are goals most of us can agree on.

2. Reform land use practices

We’ve long known the climate benefits of protecting tropical forests, but it turns out that grasslands, peat bogs, mangroves and salt marshes also sequester huge amounts of carbon. Protecting, restoring and improving how we manage all of these carbon sinks—which can range from improving agriculture to reforming forest management—can potentially offset more than 25% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

That’s a huge opportunity we can’t afford to miss. But we need to mobilize businesses, capital markets and public policy around these land-use solutions if we’re going to realize their full potential.

Red Mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) grows along the edge of Baie Liberte.
Red Mangrove Red Mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) grows along the edge of Baie Liberte. © Tim Calver

3. Invest in renewable energy and siting

Yesterday’s Senate passage of a bipartisan energy bill is another sign of the clean energy revolution underway.

Consumers want choice more than ever before – the ability to select from various energy providers, choose electric cars and smart thermostats, even generate their own energy at home and sell the excess back to the grid.

Businesses want similar options to increase their energy efficiency and take advantage of the increased availability of diverse clean energy sources.

None of this is news to electric power companies. They are already diversifying fuel sources to accommodate the marketplace. Bloomberg New Energy Finance recently reported that clean energy made up 68 percent of new electric power generation installed in the U.S. in 2015.

Globally, renewable energy attracted a record $329 billion in investment in 2015, nearly six times the 2004 total. For the first time, half of this investment came from developing countries.

As these investments continue to pick up speed, organizations like the Nature Conservancy are eager to help decision makers make smarter siting choices that maximize economic and environmental benefits of new energy installations.

The big switch to clean energy is already on. Let’s do all we can to help spur on the revolution.

Wind turbines, West Virginia. Wind turbines are a growing source of electric power in the United States.
Wind turbines, West Virginia Global investment in clean energy reached an all-time high in 2015. © Kent Mason

4. Continue to change the climate narrative

Regardless of where they stand on climate change, four out of five Americans – including 70% of Republicans – want more renewable energy. Two out of three support regulating power plant emissions.

These poll numbers spring from something we all agree on – the need for more and better energy choices. Who doesn’t want lower energy bills, good jobs at home and more control over their energy choices?

Across the country unlikely allies are coming together to push for smart energy policy. For example, Tea Party Republicans in Georgia and the Sierra Club collaborated to pass solar legislation that expanded consumers’ energy choices. This kind of legislation had failed for years, but these groups succeeded by joining forces with one another and looking for common ground.

And public dialogue on climate is also starting to shift. A recent study found a growing recognition that climate action and economic growth can go hand-in-hand.

Americans are clearly more united in their desire for clean air and clean energy than some would have us believe. It’s essential that legislators recognize that bipartisan support exists to promote more use of clean energy—and work together to advance these popular, common-ground solutions.

Laura Crane and a Fuller Star employee walking through the array of solar panels at the Fuller Star plant in Lancaster, California.
Solar Panel Array: Laura Crane and a Fuller Star employee walking through the array of solar panels at the Fuller Star plant in Lancaster, California. © Dave Lauridsen

5. Learn from cities and states taking the lead on climate

Realizing the full potential of the Paris Agreement will take action at all levels. And while federal policies can get mired in political gridlock, cities and states often have the flexibility to take quick action.

For example, California — the world’s eighth-largest economy — has a cap-and-trade program to reduce emissions. More than half of U.S. states have instituted renewable electricity standards that are making wind and solar prices competitive with fossil fuels. Twenty-two states require their utilities to offer programs to customers that will reduce the total demand for electricity each year.

And at the Paris climate talks, more than 300 mayors pledged to take bold climate action—and publicly report on their progress. Together, these cities are on track to deliver half the world’s emissions reductions by 2020.

These kinds of innovations can be shared across state and national lines, driving global progress toward meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

The signing of the Paris Agreement is a clear signal that we’ve turned the corner toward a safer, healthier and more prosperous low-carbon future. But much work remains to be done. Now is the time to act—as individuals, in our communities, as business leaders and as policymakers—to turn our Paris pledges into action.

Mark Tercek is the Former Chief Executive Officer of The Nature Conservancy, the global conservation organization known for its intense focus on collaboration and getting things done for the benefit of people and nature. He is the author of the Washington Post and Publisher’s Weekly bestselling book Nature’s Fortune: How Business and Society Thrive by Investing in Nature.

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