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Summary: COP21 - UN Conference on Climate Change and Implications for the Western Hemisphere

Turk, Amin, Gomez

L to R: David Turk, Amal-Lee Amin, and Christian Gómez, Jr. (Image: Jorge Merino)

January 11, 2016

What provided a tailwind for #COP21 negotiations in Paris? Private-sector engagement in clean energy.
The Americas had a big role at #COP21. Experts from @the_IDB, @Itamaraty_EN & US Dept of @Energy give an analysis:


  • Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, Ambassador of Brazil to the United States (keynote speaker)
  • Amal-Lee Amin, Chief, Climate Change and Sustainability, Inter-American Development Bank
  • David Turk, Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Climate and Technology, U.S. Department of Energy
  • Christian Gómez, Jr., Director of Energy, Council of the Americas (moderator)


On December 17, Council of the Americas’ Energy Action Group hosted a public program on the COP21 climate change conference in Paris. Participants discussed the outcome of the negotiations and their implications for the Western Hemisphere. 

Watch Ambassador Figueiredo's keynote address:

Climate change realities

With 196 nations is attendance and an 11-page agreement giving countries the flexibility to meet their own goals, the speakers agreed that the COP21 climate change conference can only be described as fair, innovative, and inclusive. According to the speakers, this could only be achieved thanks to certain realities that pushed the world to recognize that it is time to act against climate change.

 “We all belong to the same world, we will all be affected by climate change, and should therefore all do our part in that fight,” said Ambassador Luiz Alberto Figueiredo. This appreciation of climate change has permeated around the world and made the issue much more prominent. David Turk affirmed that the clean energy economy and the possibility of a low-carbon future is one of many realities that drove the negotiations at COP21. A large number of investment opportunities in renewables and clean energy increasingly becoming more cost-competitive, and high levels of private-sector engagement in the clean energy economy provided a tailwind for negotiations. Amal-Lee Amin added that the alignment of political leadership and realities also made an impact.

Common but differentiated responsibilities

The speakers agreed that the 187 INDCs submitted by the end of the COP21 conference are evidence that the world is truly committed to fighting against climate change. However, as Ambassador Figueiredo described, the beauty of COP21 is not that everyone agreed that something needs to be done, but rather that countries self-differentiated and  determined what each country by itself should do. “Countries have not forgotten the fact that they are different, they have different circumstances and have different carbon footprints or responsibilities in the generation of the problem,” he said, adding that through the submission of INDCs countries could determine their own objectives and goals to meet their needs. This principle of common-but-differentiated responsibilities is the key to the agreement.

The principle also extends to the areas of finance and transparency. Industrialized and developed countries will continue to fulfill their engagements to aid developing countries if stated in their individual INDCs. A unified system for tracking transparency has also been created taking into account the flexibility of an individual country’s INDC.

The role of the Western Hemisphere

Through the years, the Western Hemisphere has gained an important role in leading discussions on environmental and energy issues, and the region’s performance at the COP21 climate change conference was no exception. Amin detailed how countries such as Costa Rica and those in the Caribbean played a key part by highlighting existing environmental vulnerabilities and voicing the concerns of developing and exposed countries. Meanwhile, large Latin American countries like Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and Peru presented ambitious INDCs. Amin said that the interaction of the countries in the region at the climate change conference have allowed multilateral organizations like the Inter-American Development Bank understand at what scale and pace it should be moving to aid countries in implementing their INDCs. Latin American nations also emphasized the importance of sustainable livelihood and natural capital, both crucial to creating resilience to climate change.

Overall, panelists argued that the success of COP21 and the Paris agreement depended on the will of countries to meet their INDCs and successive rounds of those proposals.

Compare and contrast the INDCs countries submitted with our guide to the Americas at COP21.