Updates from COP21: A New Role for International Standards in the Fight Against Climate Change

January 5, 2015


As a follow-up to my last blog on the subject of COP21, I wanted to share another key development which I’ve been tracking for the past year and which was made clear at this month’s events in Paris. Namely, the discussion of international standards development to address climate change adaptation and mitigation signifies a major step which will make it easier for organizations and government agencies to meet emission reduction goals based on globally-established best management practices.


More than 50,000 participations from across the globe swarmed Paris for the COP, including 25,000 official delegates representing nearly 200 parties. The main takeaway from the event is that for the first time in 20 years of UN negotiations, international participants reached a universal agreement on climate change mitigation goals: namely, to keep global warming below 2°C. The new agreement—which supports the Kyoto Protocol (established in 1997)—has been accepted and includes nearly 200 country commitments to work toward concrete emission reductions. Moving forward, mitigation projects and initiatives by participating countries will be based on international standards rather than a patchwork of homegrown requirements. A community of global climate change experts—myself included—are contributing to providing these standards.


Notably, consensus has been reached among major international players – including the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and International Organization for Standardization (ISO) – that the use of internationally accepted standards developed by standards organizations will be most beneficial to organizations and governments around the world. These standards will include processes for third party verification (such as ISO 14064-3 and ISO 14065) as a key to ensure emission reductions resulting from efforts such as renewable energy implementation and other offset initiatives. They will also establish agreed-upon best management practices for climate adaptation planning. By establishing these International standards, jurisdictions worldwide will have a common guide to aid in developing their own requirements to strategically meet country commitments.


Beyond establishing a global consensus, why are standards so important in the grand scheme of meeting the promises made at COP21? At this point in the climate fight, it’s not only the developed countries that are responsible for reducing emissions; developing countries are also committed to limit high emission activities (such as building new coal power plants) and promote higher efficiency, low emission alternatives (such as renewables) in order to curb their emissions as they continue to industrialize. In order to achieve these goals with limited resources, however, they will require financial and technical support from outside organizations while still maintaining operational control over new initiatives. Internationally accepted standards offer a tangible benefit to these communities by providing a framework on how to accomplish and verify reductions, while allowing flexibility for countries to implement the standards in ways that make sense in their economies and with their resources.


While agreement on international standards for climate change is a major milestone, it will take time and a strategic, methodical approach to develop (or, in some cases, update) standards that are integrated, consistent, and functional. Likely next steps would include the UN officially designating ISO to develop the standards going forward, with both entities working collaboratively toward a common goal. As chair of ISO’s Climate Change Coordinating Committee (CCCC), I have already been working with a group of international experts on engaging stakeholders, conducting gap assessments, and communicating recommendations to ISO’s Technical Management Board (TMB) in order to lay out a concrete plan for moving forward. We look forward to involving our clients and colleagues in this process as much as possible and are excited to continue working to develop concrete solutions to face global climate change.


To view the communication to TMB summarizing CCCC mandates, priorities, gaps, and next steps, see the ISO-TMB-CCCC Final Deliverable.


For more on climate change standards, see the recording of ISO and GHG Management Institute’s COP21 side event, “It’s Time for Next Generation Standards for Climate Resilience and Neutrality.”

B. Tod Delaney, PhD, PE, BCEE


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Tod is the founder and president of First Environment, as well as a veteran of the U.S. Army. Since the firm’s inception he has provided direction, management, and technical oversight of the most complex project across all service areas. For First Environment’s litigation practice, he serves as an expert witness for natural resource damages cases, and has testified in more than 30 litigations involving the management, disposal, and handling of chemicals in the context of CERCLA, RCRA, state-law cleanup statutes, and toxic tort lawsuits. He has prepared expert opinions for clients in a number of states—including New Jersey, New York, California, Washington, New Mexico, Louisiana, Georgia, and Maryland—and has testified in both federal and state courts.

For First Environment’s work in the federal sector as a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business, Tod provides senior level management and quality oversight of deliverables. As a chemical and environmental health engineer, he also reviews all designs of remedial systems for our site investigation and remediation projects. In the 1990s, Tod initiated the firm’s early involvement in climate change mitigation, participating in the development of standards as a technical expert and/or international coordinator for ISO 14064 parts 1 and 2, ISO 14065, ISO 14066, and ISO 14067 regarding greenhouse gas verification and carbon footprinting. His continued involvement in international standards for climate issues includes his role as the elected Chair of ISO’s Climate Change Coordinating Committee, formed in 2014 to support the development of standards and best practices for mitigation and adaptation worldwide. Tod continues to grow the diverse collection of service First Environment offers, branching out into emerging areas such as environmental product certifications, green/climate bonds, and renewable fuel certification.