Here’s a message to world leaders at the U.N. climate conference in Madrid, Spain: The responsibility lies with you, each nation, to commit to deeper, faster and more all-encompassing cuts in the greenhouse gas pollution that is hurtling our planet toward catastrophe. Not at COP26 next year, but now.
That stark message emerges from new findings from the United Nations, which warned of a “bleak” future of devastating storms, hurricanes, wildfires, drought and heat waves if more action isn’t taken immediately.
So, get busy, world leaders, the time to protect our communities, economies, health, security and future from climate catastrophe starts in Madrid at COP25.
It’s clear that as leaders meet in Madrid they can play a central role in turning that potentially dire story to a brighter future. By committing to mobilize stronger national climate targets and elaborating more tools to help developing countries reduce emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change, leaders at COP25 can show that they will rise to the challenge.
Climate pollution isn’t declining fast enough to put the world on a safer climate trajectory to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. And the federal leadership from the U.S. isn’t what the world needs at this critical juncture. Too much money and investment are still flowing in the wrong direction. Countries aren’t (yet) stepping up with strong enough domestic action.
What leaders need to do isn’t rocket science, but it does require that they look squarely at the challenge and mobilize everything they can to deliver more climate action right now. Below are two of the key outcomes at the 25th Conference of the Parties (COP25) meeting in Madrid that would show that leaders are effectively rising to the challenge of our lifetime.
Commit to stronger ambition
Under the Paris Agreement, the mantra was that country’s initial commitments represent “the floor, not the ceiling of ambition”. We knew that the national climate targets announced before and during the meeting in Paris—the “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs)—were a huge step forward, but weren’t sufficient to put the world on the necessary climate trajectory. That is why a critical final issue in securing the Paris Agreement was around the process for strengthening the initial national targets and the timeframe for that first review. The process agreed under the agreement begins now, with countries expected to strengthen their NDCs in 2020.
The need to strengthen national action was obvious in December 2015, but a number of recent reports should send a clear signal to anyone that wasn’t listening before. The recent “emissions gap” report released by UN Environment has some stark findings. If countries deliver only their current targets that they have committed to under the Paris Agreement, then the world is likely to see temperatures rise by 3.2°C above pre-industrial levels—far off the safer 1.5°C threshold that the world should be mobilizing towards. Global emissions are projected to be around 56 GtCO2e in 2030 with the current national targets under the Paris Agreement, but we need to be at 41 GtCO2e for a 2°C trajectory and 25 GtCO2e for a 1.5°C trajectory (see figure). And every year of delay makes getting on a safer trajectory harder and more costly as the necessary pace of emissions reductions speeds up exceptionally fast for every bit of delay. In short, the world needs to step-up its climate commitments and corresponding actions now
Actions by key countries will be decisive in helping to close this emissions gap. In a report from NRDC and NewClimate Institute, we found that 24 distinct and realistic measures by key countries and sectors could put the world on track for 2°C trajectory and much closer to a 1.5°C pathway. A growing number of countries have recognized the need for stronger action by signaling their intent to strengthen their climate targets under the Paris Agreement. In the lead-in to COP25, 68 countries announced their plans to strengthen their NDCs next year. Whether major emitting countries announce stronger climate targets next year will be central to whether we are on a safer climate trajectory or whether we leave our children and grandchildren an even bigger mess.
We need to leave COP25 with more countries announcing their intent to strengthen their targets next year and others preparing for a significant announcements in advance of COP26.
Mobilize the resources to help developing countries
Leaders also recognized that the world needs to mobilize additional climate action and help the most vulnerable cope with the impacts of climate change. The world spends too much money continuing to subsidize and invest in fossil fuels and other climate destructive practices. And, they aren’t spending enough on investments in climate solutions and efforts to build stronger resilience to the impacts of climate change. A recent report—The Production Gap—has some sharp statistics on the current disconnect in investments. This report found that governments are planning to produce about 50 percent more fossil fuels by 2030 than would be consistent with a 2°C pathway and 120 percent more than a 1.5°C pathway. But to be on a safer climate trajectory, the world needs to be mobilizing away from fossil fuel investments and towards clean energy and other low carbon solutions.
Some countries and investors are starting to move in the right direction. The Green Climate Fund (GCF)—the multilateral fund established to help developing countries reduce emissions and build stronger resilience to the impacts of climate change is set to receive renewed funding. The fund has received pledges of $9.7 billion from 28 countries to support the second round of GCF investments. And the European Investment Bank—a key funding arm of the European Union—recently committed to effectively end investments in fossil fuels after 2021 and dramatically step-up its investments in climate solutions. So, there are some signs of progress but much more finance needs to be mobilized to accelerate the low-carbon economic transition.
At COP25, more countries, investors, and financial institutions can show that they are prepared to shift their investments away from climate destruction and towards clean solutions.
COP25 Can Help Turn Gloom to More Optimism
Reading can lead to pessimism as a slew of recent reports has shown that the world isn’t mobilizing fast enough to put us on a safer climate trajectory to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. But those facts are only fate if leaders don’t step up and deliver stronger climate action and financial resources in the coming months.
When leaders meet at COP25 in Madrid, they have a clear opportunity to show that their words will be followed by real action to address the climate crisis.
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