The COP21 Paris Agreement: GRI Witnesses This Historic Landmark

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The COP21 Paris Agreement: GRI Witnesses This Historic Landmark

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Monday, December 14, 2015 - 3:00pm

CAMPAIGN: Beyond Carbon, Beyond Reports

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GRI was present in Paris to witness the intense negotiations leading up to what is now being hailed as the most historic agreement for the future of our planet. For the first time, every nation on Earth has committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, to keep warming well below 2-degrees Celsius, and to pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5-degrees Celsius. 

​GRI Chief Executive Michael Meehan, GRI Deputy Chief Executive Teresa Fogelberg, and GRI Director Communications Rashmi van de Loenhorst, hosted two key events at the 21st annual meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) with business, government and civil society; and were invited to speak in many of the side events and sub-conferences. They also actively engaged with government delegations, UN representatives, business leaders, and media to help influence the historic outcome.

GRI’s unique role in the Paris talks stems from our long standing expertise as a pioneer in sustainability reporting. GRI Sustainability Reporting Standards are the world’s most widely used standards with thousands of organizations across 93 countries already using them to identify, disclose and measure their sustainability impacts on climate change, human rights, corruption and many other non-financial issues. Since 1997, GRI has provided metrics on climate change and these disclosures are among the most frequently reported by organizations that use GRI Standards. Emissions, water, energy and GRI’s other climate change related disclosures reflect state-of-the-art best practice in corporate reporting. GRI Standards are built upon a unique multi-stakeholder principle, ensuring the participation and expertise of diverse stakeholders. On the multi-faceted issue of climate change, GRI works with many global organizations including the OECD, CDP, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), UN Global Compact (UNGC) and the World Resources Institute (WRI).

Four essential elements for success

1. Transparency for Transformation
Transparency, measuring and reporting are central to this global agreement. Never before has the term “transparency” been formally used in a UN agreement, and in the Paris agreement a “robust transparency framework” is key. Within the agreement, all governments must measure and track the implementation of their Intended National Determined Contributions (INDCs). Every five years, the commitment will be reviewed and potentially sharpened. The first stock take will be in 2018; and the five-year measuring and reporting cycle will start in 2020.

It is still to be seen exactly how private sector contributions to mitigation and adaptation will be measured and reported – the technicalities of the reporting framework will be developed in 2016 – but as a minimum, this will be done at the national level of each individual country. It is extremely likely that instead of reinventing the wheel, sustainability reporting standards like GRI and the CDP carbon tracking will be used as a platform. We are working hard to ensure GRI Standards are fully harmonized with the reporting requirements of the Paris agreement. The GRI G4 and CDP Linkage Documents on climate change and water disclosure, which help organizations to identify and understand their climate related impacts and related risks and opportunities, will be updated in January 2016.
 
2. Beyond carbon emissions: a broader sustainability context
The Paris agreement is not only about carbon. It’s about saving the planet, and saving humankind. Although the main focus is on greenhouse gas mitigation and adaptation, this is embedded within a broad sustainability context, with an eye for common but differentiated responsibilities. The first page of the final agreement acknowledges that “climate change is a common concern of humankind, Parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity.”
 
Implementation of the Paris agreement needs to build on mechanisms that assess, measure, manage and disclose the multi-dimensionalism and interconnectedness of climate change and the other global challenges, which are captured in the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). To guide companies in taking a strategic approach to the SDGs, and to manage, measure and report their contribution to sustainable development through their core business activities, GRI, WBSCD, and the UN Global Compact, recently launched the SDG Compass.
 
Human rights in particular, which are addressed in the SDGs, have a direct link to climate change. “At the end of the day, solving the climate challenge is about addressing the world’s inequality and improving the lives of the men, women and children who are already suffering,” explains GRI Deputy Chief Executive Teresa Fogelberg. “When governments and businesses view climate change through a human rights lens, they create a better understanding of how operations affect the lives of people. GRI Sustainability Reporting Standards bring climate change and human rights together into one methodology that organizations can use to measure, manage and communicate their sustainability risks and opportunities.”
 
3. The crucial role of business and non-state actors
The role of business and other non-party actors is more central than in any other UN agreement. According to Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Christiana Figueres: “The recognition of actions by business, investors, cities, is one of the key outcomes.” The Paris Agreement starts a new mechanism for state and business (non-state) dialogue. It is crucial that states, as the sole party in a binding international instrument like the Paris agreement, have the skills to engage with business and civil society, and finds concrete ways in which to format the multi-stakeholder process; and monitor, manage and report on the non-state contribution (positive and negative) to mitigation and adaptation.
 
The UNFCCC Secretariat reports that “More than 5000 companies from more than 90 countries that together represent the majority of global market capitalization and over USD 38 trillion in revenue, have already committed actions and pledges to UNFCCC.” From GRI’s own Sustainability Disclosure Database, more than 8,500 organizations from over 90 countries have reported on their sustainability impacts to date, and this figure is set to increase as countries begin drafting new policies on disclosure to help monitor national progress towards the Paris agreement.
 
The investor community is also stepping into the process to strengthen climate change as a main filter for investment. Initiatives such as the newly announced Task Force on climate-related financial risks led by the Financial Stability Board, are promising. It is of key importance that they build on already existing and proven mechanisms and standards such as GRI and CDP.
 
4. Commitment to finance
GRI welcomes the commitment to finance in the Paris agreement, for nations to build clean, resilient futures. The agreement sets a new collective quantified goal from a floor of USD 100 billion per year by 2020. This will be complemented by a huge groundswell of private sector investment, technology transfer and innovation. The contribution by developed countries is binding, by developing country governments it is voluntary.
 
Now that the Paris agreement has been made, the work for us all really begins. Solutions to the climate challenge will require innovations in sustainability. In order to innovate, businesses need real-time, high quality and comparable data to empower sustainable decisions. As the architect of the world’s non-financial information, GRI is using its expertise, its partnerships and its trusted reputation to transform the way businesses, governments and other stakeholders use sustainability information to make better decisions. Businesses are taking action, but a transformational effort is required by all actors to unlock the real value of sustainability data and to ensure all nations live up to the agreements set at the world-changing COP21.
Keywords: Environment | COP21 | Energy | GRI | Innovation & Technology | global reporting initiative

CAMPAIGN: Beyond Carbon, Beyond Reports

CONTENT: Article

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