UN Climate Summit: Did it have an impact?

Almost a week after the UN Climate Summit, lasting effects are difficult to size up. While key announcements and pledges were made, it is difficult to discern how much impact this summit will actually have since a treaty will not be made for another fifteen months.

One especially encouraging announcement was the pledge of more than 130 governments, companies, civil societies, and indigenous peoples to cut forest loss in half by 2020 and to end it a decade later. Furthermore, dozens of big corporations such as Nestle, Phillips, and Statoil have promised to incorporate the price of carbon into their business decisions and challenge governments to follow suit. The Compact of Mayors, an agreement of cities to measure and publicly announce their emissions and then reduce, was also instated at the summit. Lastly, new steps were formed to make it easier for municipalities to borrow money for projects which would reduce their carbon footprint.

These environmental strides are fueled by public support and the demonstrations, like the Climate March, that called for action in New York and other cities. Leaders are finally accepting that the impacts of climate change are real, costly, and require both attention and intent to fix. Despite this need for immediate action, however, three more steps remain on the path before the final treaty. A draft will be presented at the annual Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. A few months later, individual countries will announce the reductions they are willing to make in 2020. Finally, in December 2015, leaders will meet at the Paris COP where they have agreed to sign a Paris treaty.

With the official treaty fifteen months away, the question stands: in the long term, will the Climate Summit have made any difference? Initially this meeting would consist of governments announcing their concrete plans for reduction, but these decisions were pushed back at the COP in Warsaw—a perpetual problem for the treaty. Leaders agree, the feel in the air was a positive one, but how much positivity relays into results?

There is much further to go before a treaty is in hand, but most of the pledges made this week are a step in the right direction. They are expansive, but also measurable.

The upcoming months will test the positive outlook generated by this meeting. A lot can change in fifteen months; hopefully the prospects will only get greener.

-Rebecca Croy