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World leaders meet at the UN in New York 22 April formally to sign the Paris Agreement on climate change. The European Union is already translating the agreement into action, says Miguel Arias Cañete, European Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, in this article for the OECD Yearbook 2016.

The River Seine overflowing its banks is not an uncommon sight in Paris, as the winter catchment swells, causing water levels to rise and cover the lower banks, jetties and walkways. 

I have come here today to talk about the ambition needed to tackle climate change and the policy tools that can get us there. As we approach the Conference of the Parties in late 2015 in Paris, our leaders are facing a fundamental dilemma: to get to grips with the risks of climate change or see their ability to limit this threat slip from their hands.

©David Rooney

New innovative firms are needed to help step up the fight against climate change. That means new policies to encourage business dynamism, not least in the energy sector.

Is replacing fossil fuels with renewable sources such as solar and wind really feasible? A lot has to happen first, including a change in how we use energy. 

©Phil Noble/Reuters

World leaders attending the UN Conference on Climate Change (COP21) in Paris know they have a rare opportunity to forge a new international agreement to combat climate change and set forth a pathway towards a low-carbon world. More ambition will be needed by all sides if global temperatures are to be prevented from rising above 2°C, the agreed threshold for preventing catastrophic climate change. But even without that target, unleashing a low-carbon future makes sense for health, costs and sustainable development.

Click to read our seasonal cartoon. By Stik, especially for the OECD Observer

The OECD Observer team would like to wish all our readers a very happy festive season, and a safe and prosperous New Year.

Safe international trade is essential for the economic growth governments are currently seeking, but is threatened by the ever-evolving asymmetrical threat of fraud and illicit activity.

The UN Conference on Climate Change (COP21) in Paris 30 November-11 December is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reach a new international agreement to combat climate change and accelerate our transition to a low-carbon economy. World leaders attending the summit are aware of the urgency we face. However, to judge by their national contributions pledged so far, more ambition will be needed to keep global temperatures from rising above the agreed limit of 2ºC. The “carbon entanglement” of our economies is keeping us on a collision course with nature.

©Phil Noble/Reuters

When the International Energy Agency (IEA) was formed in 1974, concern over climate change was in its infancy. While the greenhouse effect was known it was not widely recognised, and the debate about the long-term effect of CO2 emissions was confined more or less to academia. 

©Marcelo Del Pozo/Reuters

Three key points will help world leaders and representatives of business, labour and civil society to strike an effective new deal on climate change at the crucial UN summit on climate change in Paris and accelerate climate action in 2015 and beyond. 

Geothermal plant in Indonesia, which holds considerable geothermal energy potential thanks to its hundreds of active and extinct volcanoes ©Reuters/Beawiharta Beawiharta

Climate change is the pre-eminent challenge of our time. We need financing to mitigate and adapt to its impacts.  

©John Macdougall/AFP

Our countries are lagging behind in their mitigation targets and will have to catch up. Yet we know what we need to do to solve the climate change puzzle. So what are we waiting for? 

Click to enlarge

There is a growing awareness that mitigating greenhouse-gas emissions is not only about introducing new climate policies, but also making sure that existing measures and regulations do not run counter to climate goals. In other words, governments should not undermine with one hand what they are seeking to achieve with the other. There is no better example of this problem than fossil fuel subsidies.

He’s lifting the lid ©REUTERS/Paul Darrow

Achieving the transition to a low-carbon economy to meet the 2ºC target requires shifting investment away from carbon-intensive options and towards low-carbon, climate-resilient infrastructure assets and technology. Over US$90 trillion will be needed in the next 15 years to meet global infrastructure needs across transport, energy and water systems, irrespective of climate change, according to the Global Commission on Climate and the Economy. But as the commission estimates, making these infrastructure investments “low-carbon” will impose additional costs of only 4.5% relative to business-as-usual, with benefits such as reduced local air pollution, improved energy security and lower traffic congestion. 

"Regional authorities in Africa are now getting involved in the fight against climate change by making concrete commitments."

Interview with Jeannot Ahoussou-Kouadio, President of the Assembly of Regions and Districts of Côte d’Ivoire (ARDCI)

©Olivier Martin-Gambier

OECD Business brief

"Electric vehicles are the only practical, affordable solution to our planet’s environmental challenges–and they are available today. To get the most out of it, there is one condition: we need to act on a much larger scale. Also, the policy makers at the state and regional level must continue to encourage the switch to zero-emission vehicles."

Policy makers should do much more to encourage pension funds and other institutional investors to put their ample assets into sustainable energy infrastructure. The wins would be significant. The question is how? 

What role can nuclear energy play in combating climate change? According to the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA), it can play a very pivotal one.

©Rickey Rogers/Reuters

Did you know that Brazil is among the most biodiverse countries in the world? Along with hosting one-tenth of all-known species of flora and fauna, it is home to the largest rainforest on the planet. 

Policies that are not aligned with efforts to fight global warming risk hindering the transition to a low-carbon economy, and can worsen climate change. They should be addressed. 

©TUAC

A structural shift to a low-carbon economy will entail gains in jobs, but also losses, and the first jobs to be lost are not those that you think. A just energy transition will be needed, but how? 

Transport accounts for 23% of global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels, making it the second-largest emitter after electricity and heat generation (42%). Transport CO2 emissions have increased by 57% between 1990 and 2012, and the sector has lagged behind in decarbonising. In the EU, transport CO2 emissions increased by 36% from 1990-2007, while other major sectors reduced theirs by about 15%. Recent decreases in transport CO2 emissions had more to do with the economic crisis, rather than a shift to greener forms of transport. 

©AFP/Mohammad Ponir Hossain/NURPHOTO

The UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris in November-December is the final crucial step in a year which has set forth several global milestones towards shaping a better common future. Tackling climate change is a determining factor in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed in New York in September 2015 in particular; an agreement in Paris would not only bolster all the efforts that led to the historic SDGs, but lift the hopes of everyone on the planet, especially the most vulnerable. 

©Reuters/Stringer

The human economy is a physical system embedded in society, which itself is embedded in a finite global ecosystem. The primary goal of the economy should be to meet basic human and social needs, now and in the future, without degrading the global ecosystem services upon which all life depends. How can this be done?

©AFP/Tripelon-Jarry

"We want to step out of the vicious circle of an economy which is an increasing drain on resources, and enter another circle… Paris is fully committed to combating climate change and determined to move forward as quickly as possible."  –Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris 

An ecological transition has been necessary for many years. It has now become vital. Faced with the prospect of the total destruction of people and the environment, we must send out an equally uncompromising wake-up call on the ties that bind humans and nature.

©Jackie Naegelen/Reuters

Faced with heavy pollution and congested roads, Paris is turning to electric vehicles to restore air quality. Its incentive policies for all forms of transport should inspire cities all over the world to follow suit.

Economic data

GDP growth: +0.6% Q4 2017 year-on-year
Consumer price inflation: 2.2% Feb 2018 annual
Trade: +2.7% exp, +3.0% imp, Q4 2017
Unemployment: 5.4% Feb 2018
Last update: 11 Apr 2018

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  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at www.oecd.org/careers .
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