As 2015 begins, the road to the crucial COP-21 summit here in Paris (where I am based) is being outlined by the French government, the UN, and a huge number of other actors and NGOs. But the first big question might be, is it crucial at all?

The 2009 UN summit in Copenhagen was famously ineffectual, and ever since hopes have been tempered by what exactly all 193 nations recognized by the UN can agree to, which is saying something.

There are those who argue that the UNFCCC negotiations are crucial to drumming up support for the fight against climate change, and there are those who see it as a major distraction from actual on-the-ground action. Wherever you fall, it is clear that much is happening on a local and regional level, not to mention in the private sector e.g. green bonds, but perhaps international climate negotiations do have a role?

With the EU almost reaching its 2020 climate targets several years in advance, South Korea launching the world’s second largest carbon trading market, and Indonesia cutting costly fuel subsidies, there are some good news items from 2014, but are they enough? And are national and international actions just results from a lot of hard, grass-roots work and long-term efforts? In some ways, it is proof that every bit counts, and in other ways, it also suggests how showy commitments (US and China) can ultimately become quite substantive.

The French government is pushing a positive and solutions-driven agenda for COP-21, and perhaps there is something to be said for that, especially if you account for all the existing progress on-the-ground. But are we missing the forest for the trees? Whatever the case, one thing is for sure: we can’t sit on our laurels in 2015. Time is against us with scary new milestones reached and fast rising seas.