Summit Puts Us on the March to Stronger Climate Action

The Global Climate Action Summit set the stage for countries to strengthen their targets by 2020 and to help build momentum for other actors to ensure that we are a safer climate trajectory.
NRDC delegation at the Climate March (Sept 2018)

The Paris Agreement is a critical foundation for the kinds of actions that are needed to protect us from the ravages of climate change. But it wasn’t yet sufficient to help us avoid the worst impacts from climate change. That is why the Paris Agreement set forth the expectation and the process for countries to strengthen their climate targets over time. More action was needed, and more would be expected. The Global Climate Action Summit that just concluded has helped to continue that march towards stronger climate action in the coming years. It sends a clear signal to leaders: step-up your action and commitments quickly.

Going into the Paris Agreement the world was headed for a 4° Celsius world. A 4°C world is like the movie Mad Max on steroids—massive sea level rise, widespread droughts, huge species loss, extensive extreme weather events, and so on (as the World Bank documented). The national targets committed to in the Paris Agreement will lead to a temperature rise of around 3.2°C (range 2.6-4.0°C), according to the Climate Action Tracker. That is a world with significantly less damages, but still not yet on the needed trajectory for a 2 or 1.5°C world that the science demands.

Given that there is an emissions gap—between what the science demands and what countries have committed to—we need countries delivering their commitments and more countries committing by 2020 to strengthen their national climate targets. We need more companies and investors shifting their investments from brown to green. We need more cities and states/provinces helping build low-carbon and more equitable communities. We must have more climate action, from more players, and with a greater level of intensity—and we need it now (not in 5, 10, or 30 years).

The Global Climate Action Summit leads to stronger actions by encouraging new commitment from new players. Here are some of the highlights of the commitments made at the Global Summit (see here for an NRDC rundown):

California more than just dreaming, acting for safer climate future. Governor Jerry Brown signed into law SB 100 to move California to 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2045. At the same time, Governor Brown also signed an ambitious executive order establishing a target of carbon neutrality by 2045 and for the entire State of California to achieve net negative emissions thereafter. And California didn’t stop there as Governor Brown signed into law two bills that help provide a roadmap for addressing greenhouse gas emissions from buildings—which represent a quarter of California’s emissions—produced by burning fossil fuels onsite for heat and hot water and signed a bill to help protect California’s coast from the Trump administration’s plans for new offshore drilling. See more on these bills from my colleague and more on the two buildings bills here and here.

Super progress on the super-polluting hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). California Governor Jerry Brown signed the California Cooling Act (SB 1013), sponsored by Senator Ricardo Lara, to accelerate the HFC phase out in the world’s 5th largest economy. The act limits HFCs in air conditioning, refrigeration, and other uses and creates financial incentives to replace old equipment. New York, Maryland, and Connecticut announced plans to phase out HFCs and replace them with climate-friendlier coolants in new refrigerators and air conditioners, following the move by California. In addition, together with eight companies and the industry trade group Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI), NRDC released its recommendations to support the adoption of these requirements in states across the nation. See more on this steps from my colleague.

Indian cities and states stepping-up more climate action. Five cities in Telangana state plan to adopt mandatory Energy Conservation Building Codes by 2020. Building efficiency is a key strategy for saving energy and combating pollution in the rapidly modernizing nation. Hyderabad, the capital of southern India's Telangana state, will install 1,000 “cool roofs,” a cost-effective way to reflect sunlight and absorb less heat, by the end of 2019. These roofs will be placed on all low-income government housing, as well as schools and hospitals. Ahmedabad, the largest city in the western state of Gujarat, will also institute a cool roof policy by 2019. Telangana plans to increase solar capacity, including more solar parks and rooftops. Building on the momentum of its Ahmedabad Heat Action Plan, India will continue to develop and implement extreme heat preparedness at every level of government. With the help of NRDC, six other heat-prone states are adopting heat action plans, which include key strategies like broader public awareness campaigns, better identification of vulnerable populations, and expanded use of “cool roof” reflective paint. For more on these Indian actions see the round-up from my colleague.

NRDC with key Indian city and state leaders at GCAS

U.S. states continue act to help U.S. meet the Paris targets (despite President Trump). The governors of the U.S. Climate Alliance—a bipartisan coalition of 16 states and Puerto Rico committed to meeting their portion of U.S. Paris Climate Accord goals—announced a slate of new joint commitments on climate action. These include working together to phase out climate super pollutants, deploying $1.4 billion from the Volkswagen settlement to drive down transportation emissions, and identifying priority state-level appliance efficiency standards and working together on the adoption, implementation and enforcement of these standards. In a positive step in that direction, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced that the state will join the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI), a group of 12 northeastern and mid-Atlantic states working together to reduce pollution from the transportation sector—which, in Virginia, is the largest source of greenhouse gases. The TCI could eventually link with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a coalition of the same states that work to reduce emissions from the power sector. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy stepped-up as well by revving up the state’s offshore wind production with the biggest single state solicitation to date, with the potential for more than 1,100 MW of offshore wind turbines over the next few years. Governor Murphy also joined the bipartisan Governors’ Wind & Solar Energy Coalition.

Global electric vehicle market keeps charging ahead. The world is at a tipping point when it comes to moving our transportation sector to zero emissions. At the Summit we saw additional actions from leading cities, companies, and investors to help speed up the transition to zero emissions transportation. Indian cities are beginning to embrace electric vehicles, with Telangana planning to add 2,000 electric buses to its fleet before March 2019—up from just 40 – as part of its new electric vehicle policy. The city will also require that all new three-wheel rickshaws will be electric and no new diesel three-wheelers will be allowed. Pune, a city in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, will add 500 electric buses by 2020 and eliminate all diesel buses by 2021. Los Angeles Mayor Garcetti committed to 100% zero emissions buses by the time the city hosts the Summer Olympics in 2028. Around the world 12 cities have committed to have only zero emissions buses after 2025.

Twenty-six states/regions, major cities and businesses have committed to 100 percent zero emission vehicle targets, with IKEA announcing that all its delivery services will be 100 percent zero emissions by 2025 and five major cities—Shanghai, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, and Amsterdam—achieving that target by 2020. Steps to build out the charging infrastructure for electric vehicles also progressed at the Summit with leading charging service providers, such as EVBox, announcing plans to build 3.5 million new charging ports for electric vehicles by 2025 across the United States and Europe.

Cities rolling up their sleeves. As the Summit was wrapping up, Atlanta and Seattle were chosen as the first two cities to be selected as part of the landmark American Cities Climate Challenge—a $70 million effort led by Bloomberg Philanthropies to spur climate action at a local level and work to meet the country’s Paris Agreement commitments. Around the world, 72 of the world’s key cities, representing more than 425 million citizens, signed on to develop inclusive climate action plans and become carbon neutral by 2050 as part of the Deadline 2020. An additional 9,100 cities representing 800 million citizens are now committed to city-wide climate action plans. And in an effort to create more energy-efficient buildings, 38 climate leaders—including cities, states, regions, and businesses—have signed the Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment. It includes targets for businesses, like eliminating the operational carbon emissions of their buildings, and cities, such as operating all buildings at net-zero carbon by 2030.

Oceans get on the global climate agenda. At the Summit, the oceans were given a significant spotlight with leading representatives focusing on how this critical ecosystem can both reduce climate pollution and help minimize the damages from climate change. NRDC premiered Our Ocean Planet, an important new film narrated by Sigourney Weaver that shows the vital link between a stable climate and healthy oceans. The Netherlands, Hawaii, Virginia, and the City of Seattle joined the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification to take concrete steps to address ocean acidification. Apple, in partnership with Conservation International, committed restore and protect a 27,000 acre forest of mangroves in Columbia in an effort to increase carbon sequestration and protect coastal communities against extreme weather. An initial $1 million public-private partnership between the office of US Senator Brian Shatz of Hawaii and NOAA, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Marc and Lynne Benioff was announced to support monitoring and research at the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, a preserve that will help make the coral reefs and marine resources of Hawaii be resilient to climate change.

Financing climate action, not climate destruction. Private sector investors are stepping up their actions, with a group of nearly 400 investors, managing $32 trillion in assets, having launched the climate-focused Investor Agenda, a plan to speed and scale up investments in climate action that are nececssary to achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement. Bank of the West, a San Francisco–based bank with more than 600 branches, plans to reduce its carbon footprint by 25 percent and achieve carbon neutrality by 2020. It is also committing $1 billion toward financing, investments, and loans in the clean energy sector and low-emission vehicles. A group of city, state, and corporate founding signatories including California, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Mexico City, and San Francisco launched the Green Bond Pledge to spur $1 trillion worth of investment in low carbon and climate resilient infrastructure by 2021.

And donors are increasing their investment, with 29 philanthropic organizations committing a total of $4 billion to fight climate change—called the biggest philanthropic investment yet in the fight against climate change.

Major companies are taking steps to align their business with deep climate targets. A total of 488 companies from 38 countries have now set science-based targets to reduce their emissions in line with the Paris Agreement. These 488 companies represent $10 trillion of the global economy, equivalent to the value of the NASDAQ stock exchange. Towards this objective, the Mahindra Group, a $20.7 billion leader in technology and vehicle manufacturing based in India, committed to become carbon neutral by 2040. To date, 145 companies have signed the 100% renewables pledge, up from only 12 in 2014. It is time for them to step-up deliver stronger actions across their entire supply-chain by 2020.  

Pumping communities towards solar energy. The climate summit didn’t just see announcements from big cities and companies, with rural communities in India announcing new programs. Most of the India’s salt farmers (agariyas) use inefficient water pumps powered by diesel. Through a pilot program led by the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) and NRDC, women agariyas installed solar-powered pumps, which are cleaner, make energy more accessible in remote regions, and significantly lower costs. Now SEWA and NRDC are expanding the program to build 15,000 solar pumps. SEWA is also working on a new residential energy-access project in two villages—which will facilitate solar-powered lights, cleaner stoves, and more efficient appliances—with plans to expand it to 10 more locales.

Wasting less. The climate summit saw some new commitments to help reduce the climate pollution caused by food waste and municipal solid waste. The Pacific Coast Collaborative, a coalition of cities and states in the United States and Canada, committed to cutting food waste and loss by 50 percent by 2030. An additional 25 cities, states, and regional governments have also committed to reducing solid municipal waste by at least 15 percent per person by 2030, as compared to 2005 levels. Towards that goal, the city of Ahmedabad in India announced its ambitious goal of zero waste by 2031 through a new policy.

Stop cutting down forests, in the tropics and the north. Nine of the world’s leading philanthropic organizations announced their intent to commit at least $459 million through 2022 to the protection, restoration and expansion of forests and lands worldwide. An investor coalition representing over $5.6 trillion in assets joined forces with over 70 companies—including McDonald’s and Tesco—to call for a halt to deforestation in Brazil’s sensitive Cerrado region.

And northern forests, dominated by the global boreal forest, finally got their day in the sun. Because these forests store more carbon than the world’s recoverable fossil fuel reserves, keeping that carbon in the ground is critical to our global efforts to maintain a safe climate. However, these essential carbon sinks are under serious stress from logging, mining, and oil and gas production. That is why NRDC gathered a group of prominent experts and advocates who work to defend these ecosystems—and the carbon—at event with representatives working in Canada, Alaska, Russia, and the United States. More steps will be needed in the coming years to ensure that these critical intact forests are helping the world move on a climate safe trajectory.   

Powering past coal (and other fossil fuels). South Chungnam province in South Korea, home to about 50 percent of the country's coal-fired power generation, announced it will join the Powering Past Coal Alliance this October – a coalition committed to phasing out coal entirely in their city, state/province, country, and investment mix. Ten new members, including New York, Connecticut, Minnesota, Hawaii, Honolulu and Los Angeles have joining the Alliance. And more investors are throwing their dollars behind these goals, with APG, a global finances service provider that manages more than $560 billion in investments, committing to banning all coal-related infrastructure investments moving forward. While many global insurance companies such as AXA have announced divestment from coal projects, the largest US insurers have not followed suit yet. That is why a new effort was launched at the Summit—Insure our Future—to shift the $450 billion U.S. insurers currently invest in fossil fuels towards low carbon projects. Lemonade, one of the smaller US insurers, announced during GCAS that it would be the first US insurer to ban investments in coal. They join the European insurance companies that have already divested over $30 billion from coal companies.

Time for countries to step-up and commit to stronger climate action by 2020. We left the Global Climate Action Summit with a signal that leaders have a clear choice: move forward with faster climate action or be left behind because your market, citizens, companies, and other countries are investing in a low carbon future.

The summit set the stage for countries to strengthen their targets by 2020 and to help build momentum for other actors to ensure that we are a safer climate trajectory.

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