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Article Article December 18th, 2015
Infrastructure • Technology

COP21: what's next?

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Signing a deal is one thing, actually achieving the intended impact is quite another

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The first issue is whether governments who signed COP21 ensure the commitments are irreversible

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Policymakers need to create an investment climate that helps new technologies be developed

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The COP21 deal has rightly been heralded around the world. The first new global climate deal in 18 years, we all, as Helen Clark has pointed out, had a stake in the summit succeeding.

But that was the easy bit.

It sounds like an odd thing to say. After all, it can be challenging enough to get policymakers in their own party to agree on a course of action, let alone 196 nations with all their competing needs and priorities. However, experience has taught us that signing a deal is one thing, actually achieving the intended impact is quite another. It's already clear that there are questions arising from the deal that will determine whether its objectives turn into reality.

Authorising environment

The first issue is whether or not the governments who signed the agreements ensure that the commitments are irreversible and that their successor administrations are locked in. While consensus may have broken out in Paris, divisions still remain far too prevalent. The most obvious short-term challenge is in the US - where there bipartisan support for the deal is in short supply - but similar problems will arise elsewhere.

Governments will also need to make sure that the agreement will transcend future global crises like the 2008 financial crisis which helped derail the 2009 climate talks in Copenhagen. Whether they succeed in doing so or not remains open to question.

Good policy

Further questions surround the policymaking decisions of these and future governments. For example, will they make good choices on how they will meet their emission targets? And how will they set the incentives for individuals and companies to respond?  Although the 12-page deal was designed to ensure that the countries are legally accountable to each other, it doesn't bind countries to meet specific climate targets, nor does it specify how they should get there.

Policymakers will also need to create an investment climate for innovation that will be stable enough to maximise the chances of new technologies being developed and commercialised in time. Perhaps technological advances will mean that we will be better placed to end fossil fuel subsidies, for example, or unlock new streams of growth that can pay for a form of carbon tax or pricing system - but only time will tell.


And even if there is the will and good policy, governments will still need the wherewithal to deliver what they set out to do. Delivery units like those in place at the World Bank can help but will the measurement of what is being achieved or not achieved be timely enough to ensure that all governments are held to account and be able to change course where necessary?

The success of the Paris talks is a moment to cherish. But only for a moment. The Centre for Public Impact will help identify and share those ideas and approaches across borders that will determine if the promise of COP21 is delivered.



  • Paris match. UNDP chief Helen Clark explains why the outcome of the COP21 climate change talks is crucial
  • Temperatures rising. The World Bank Group has recognised the importance of addressing climate change to achieve its development objectives. Here, one of its directors, James Close, tells us more about its approach
  • Measure for measure. Melanie Walker explains how overseeing the World Bank Group'sdelivery unit is underpinned by the aim to free a billion people from the grip of extreme poverty
  • Open data: unlocking development potential in Africa and Asia. Dr Savita Bailur sets out how open data can empower ordinary people to participate in development
  • Striving for scale. Clean water, deworming a whole community - Evidence Action is leading the charge to deliver evidence-based development interventions, says Alix Zwane

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