09/18/2014 10:23 am ET Updated Nov 18, 2014

The Negotiations: Overcoming the Obstacles is Critical to Our Future


My hope is that our world leaders will emerge from the UN climate talks in Paris in December 2015 with a new international climate agreement that will ensure our global temperature increase remains under the target of 2 degrees centigrade.

Yet hope must reflect reality: while the momentum to address climate change is rapidly gaining speed, the clock is ticking down on our ability to act.

There are two key obstacles that have impeded international action on climate change: the first has been the failure around the world to understand the urgency of the problem, with countries stalling on climate agreements and shirking responsibility. The second major obstacle is doubt about the solvability of the climate crisis: many countries argue that implementing climate measures will be vastly expensive, prevent development, and make their economies less competitive.

As a result, countries from around the world have been hesitant to commit to strong emissions reduction agreements.

The good news is that -- in reality -- both of these obstacles to action are rapidly diminishing.

With respect to urgency, we can all see and read about increasing evidence of climate change virtually every day. Business leaders are recognizing the negative economic impacts of a warming climate. Governments -- including the United States -- are publishing reports on how climate change will uniquely affect them. Key financial institutions are realizing that dirty energy is a bad investment.

At the same time, the cost of alternatives -- wind, solar, batteries and other renewable technologies -- is rapidly declining as compared to fossil fuels, weakening the argument that addressing climate change will hurt the economy. In fact, as clean energy becomes cheaper and more reliable, countries are beginning to realize that implementing renewables will help -- not hurt -- economic development in developed and developing countries alike.

Furthermore, we are much closer to renewables being cost-competitive with fossil fuels than most commentators note. A recent report predicted that by this year solar would be cost competitive in 79 countries and by 2020 it would be competitive with fossil fuels in 82 percent of countries, including most of the United States.

So what does all this mean for the ongoing climate negotiations that will culminate with the Paris Conference in 2015?

Even with the increasing recognition of the urgency of climate change and decreasing costs for renewables, countries may not yet be prepared by 2015 to trust the trends and make the bold reductions commitments necessary to arrest climate change.

Unfortunately, we do not have the luxury of time.

With the December 2015 deadline looming, national governments cannot wait until renewable technologies become 100 percent cost-competitive -- a very large number of projects are cost-competitive now. We cannot insist on grants, reparations or only public finance to support deploying renewables in developing countries -- any investment that enables more cost-competitive projects to be built should be encouraged. We cannot afford to be questioning the urgency of climate -- if we do, we may still be at gridlock in 2015.

It is time for countries all over the world to show bold leadership and make the leap by committing to ambitious emissions reductions targets based on their own specific emissions profiles. These commitments must be unconditional and binding -- anything else would undermine their value and render them ineffective.

Granted, the risk with letting countries submit their own chosen level of commitments is that they may not reduce emissions enough to hold temperature increase to 2 degrees centigrade. However, an agreement with strong emission reduction commitments by all countries should still be strongly supported, both politically and financially. Then, as renewables become more cost competitive and the evidence of climate change mounts, there should be a critical mass of support to provide the needed strengthening by the end of the decade.

This post is part of a month-long series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with a variety of events being held in September recognizing the threats posed by climate change. Those events include the UN's Climate Summit 2014 (to be held Sept. 23, 2014, at UN headquarters in New York) and Climate Week NYC (Sept. 22-28, 2014, throughout New York City). To see all the posts in the series, read here.