All eyes on climate change

Leaders from around the world have convened in Paris this week to develop multilateral solutions for combating climate change. Potentially game-changing in scope, many are hoping that the 21st Conference of the Parties under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will result in binding agreements to curb greenhouse gas emissions and keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius. These climate summits have taken place on a regular basis since the Rio Summit of 1992, but the lack of binding agreements stymied previous global efforts to make substantial changes.

This year’s COP seems to have started off on a more positive note than previous summits—or maybe that’s my glass-half-full perspective. Momentum has been growing out of diplomatic efforts in the months leading up to this Paris meeting. President Obama is optimistic that “we’re gonna solve this thing.” Public opinion polls show increasing support for international climate policies.

And there is the growing sentiment that this is a now-or-never kind of moment. Many climate scientists point to rising global temperatures (2014 was the warmest year on record since 1880), increased droughts and high intensity storms as evidence that climate change is already occurring. With a predicted sea level rise of 1 to 4 feet by 2100 set to displace millions of people, we are facing a global-scale crisis that will result in massive planetary changes.

Climate change is one of the most complex problems humans have faced and it will have to be tackled on a global scale and from many fronts.

For this summit, leaders have each brought their country-specific Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) (or simply put, a plan) to reduce carbon emissions. To make this work, these plans need to be agreed upon, backed up by real money, and enforced on a global level. Moreover, developed countries (who have historically been the ones emitting the most greenhouse gases) need to work to support lesser developed countries who have not reaped the benefits from fossil-fuel based growth, yet will likely feel the negative consequences of climate changes most acutely. These are the big issues that need to be addressed during the next two weeks of diplomatic talks. And closer to home here in the U.S., political rifts will surely create roadblocks for any implementation or funding of climate change initiatives.

That said, there is a reason to feel good about the direction things are moving. Over 150 countries have submitted their plans and while some say the efforts may fall short of the necessary changes, it is forward motion. Also at the start of the summit, global business leaders and governments announced a partnership to invest in research and development for clean energy technologies, demonstrating increasing commitment to financially backing a clean energy future.

Slipstream is doing its part as well. We strive on a daily basis to advance energy efficiency through research in how people use energy and how buildings can be made more efficient in the face of climate change. And Slipstream’s own Executive Vice President Marge Anderson is on the ground in Paris, working in her role as the Chair of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Board of Directors to highlight the crucial role building energy use plays in a strong climate policy. The first-ever Buildings Day at COP21 on December 3 will bring together multiple stakeholders to advance climate commitments in the building and construction sectors. She is certain to have highlights from COP21 that you won't want to miss: follow us on Twitter @MargeAnderson or @_slipstreaminc_. And stay tuned to hear about outcomes from the COP21.