2 ways to help us meet the Paris climate goals

Diane Regas

When the world recently surpassed the Paris Agreement threshold of 55 countries representing 55 percent of global emissions, years earlier than planned, renowned climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe called it, “A moment of bright hope in the increasingly discouraging landscape of climate science.”

If the science is discouraging, we now have the rare opportunity to extend a moment of hope into meaningful change as the agreement enters into force on November 4.

I see two distinct ways to help us meet, and even exceed, the goals of this historic climate deal.

1. Use policy to unleash market-driven change

Economic theory and practice, to say nothing of history, illustrate how market-based policies can help us meet critical environmental goals while catalyzing new technologies and approaches.

Consider how the United States dealt with acid rain. We created markets for trading sulfur emissions, a primary cause of acid rain, and the emissions went down faster than expected at one-fourth of the projected cost.

Carbon markets, on both the local and global level, afford a similar opportunity today.

In all, 91 countries have expressed interest in using markets in their national plans to meet their emission reduction targets set in Paris, and this isn’t just wishful thinking.

Emission trading programs that cap and cut climate pollution are now underway in 50-plus jurisdictions around the world that are home to more than 1 billion people – including the European Union, China, California, Quebec and nine northeastern U.S. states.

Globally, there is a realistic path to doubling the amount of greenhouse gas emissions covered by carbon pricing mechanisms, from about 12 percent today to 25 percent of global emissions by 2020.

Most critically, China has committed to putting a national carbon emissions trading system in place by next year – making the country the global leader in carbon markets.

Done right, policies like these create incentives that align profit with public good, a recipe for durable and equitable change.

2. Grow high-impact, global partnerships 

To achieve and surpass the goals of the Paris Agreement, we must engage with all sincere stakeholders in pursuit of the shared goals of a healthy, prosperous planet.

That’s not to say it’s always easy. I admit, we had pushback from some of our board members and colleagues in the environmental community when we decided 10 years ago to put a team of experts in the Bentonville, Arkansas, home of Walmart’s headquarters.

Yet, we saw in Walmart incredible potential to drive sustainability, and were determined to make the most of the company’s rare convergence of market power and environmental ambition. We began a partnership that continues to bring outsized environmental results.

Walmart cut 36.5 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from its global supply chain in just five years – equivalent to taking nearly 7.5 million cars off the road for a year. The company also doubled the efficiency of its truck fleet, avoiding another 650,000 tons of carbon pollution.

The biggest businesses and organizations operate at societal scale, as do the solutions we need. That’s why we push our partners in business, agriculture and other areas so hard, and work with them to set and accomplish audacious goals.  

It’s how we get meaningful results.

Emissions reductions on a fast track?

The next round of global climate talks is coming up in Marrakesh, Morocco, in November. “Negotiators need to roll up their sleeves and get to work on the rules and guidance that will put Paris into practice,” my colleague Nat Keohane notes.

As they hammer out logistics for helping and holding nations accountable for turning commitments into action, the rest of us have work to do as well.

The Paris Agreement going into effect well ahead of schedule is an unprecedented global recognition of the urgent need to fight climate change. With the right policies and partnerships in place, we could also see significant results from the agreement sooner than expected.