The Paris Agreement is a good framework to tackle climate change. But let’s not settle.

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JLL’s Dan Probst and Sarah Nicholls joined world leaders and experts from the private and public sectors at the United Nations climate conference – known as COP21 – in Paris in December, and blogged about their experiences here. Below, Sarah Nicholls discusses the COP21 outcome – known as the Paris Agreement – and what it means for the world and for business.  

At the COP21 conference last month, 195 countries agreed to limit greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to curb global warming. This outcome – referred to as the Paris Agreement – stipulates an overarching objective to limit global temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial levels. To deliver on this aim, UN members submitted carbon reduction plans, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), ahead of COP21. The delivery of the INDCs is the responsibility of each member.

We can acknowledge that COP21 led to a huge, unprecedented milestone: a global climate change agreement on this scale has never been achieved before. So we’re on the right path.

My main observation regarding the Paris Agreement is that the right framework now exists, but that the INDCs – as they stand today – will not achieve the outcome we need as explained below.  And the Agreement is only as good as the INDCs. This means that we must not be complacent when it comes to the outcome of COP21: the hard work begins now. Failure to deliver and stretch the commitments we have collectively made increases our exposure to the worst effects of climate change.

To begin addressing this, the Paris Agreement stipulates a legal requirement for members to review and, if necessary, submit new plans every 5 years, even though the targets themselves from members are not legally binding. Crucially, this means that the adoption of the Paris Agreement is not subject to approval from the US Senate. This ratcheting mechanism aims to ensure that members’ plans are maintaining the necessary level of ambition and taking account of emerging trends and market conditions.

But we must also face the facts: the INDCs are projected to limit global warming to only 2.7 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. Some estimates are even higher. This figure is telling: there’s an obvious gap between projections and the Paris Agreement’s objective of 2 degrees, and a mismatch too with the stretch goal of 1.5 degrees sought by many developing countries.

This gap isn’t necessarily a bad thing: it demands human ingenuity and innovation, which the business community is poised to deliver. The Paris Agreement provides a signal to investors and business leaders that momentum will need to shift away from fossil fuels in favour of clean and renewable energy. Furthermore, it provides a clear call-to-action for the private sector given that most of emissions globally stem from electricity and heat production as well as industry.

The ‘bottom up’ approach to tackling climate change played a significant role in making the Paris Agreement possible. However, it means the Paris Agreement depends heavily on the actors, including business, who will assist in implementing the INDCs. Given that we have a long way to go, no action is too small. Much like the members that will be scrutinized every 5 years, so too will businesses. After all, most of the reductions won’t come from governments themselves.

So what does this mean for JLL? Stay tuned for my next blog on how the Paris Agreement will impact the real estate and professional services industries, and you as an individual. In the meantime, I encourage you to read more about JLL’s COP21 thinking at CSR Wire or through Dan Probst’s video interview with Green Biz.


Nicholls, SarahSarah Nicholls leads JLL’s Global Corporate Sustainability (GCS) team. Sarah holds responsibility for JLL’s sustainability and integrated reporting, greenhouse gas emissions measurement, corporate sustainability governance, strategy and stakeholder engagement. As the inaugural GCS team member, she serves on the firm’s Global Operating Board alongside other corporate function leaders. She is currently pursuing a degree with the University of Cambridge’s Institute for Sustainability Leadership.

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