G7 members must act immediately to ensure the global temperature rise is kept below 2°C. They can take four steps in particular that would trigger action
and put the world on track to fulfill the Paris Agreement
Christiana Figueres is Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Six months after the landmark United Nations climate change agreement in Paris, the world’s richest countries will meet in Ise-Shima, Japan, to take forward these historic outcomes.
The G7 members can congratulate each other for the strong political impulse they sent from their last summit, held in Germany in 2015. Their commitment to foster national, low-carbon pathways while supporting decarbonising the global economy was among the positive announcements that lifted the Paris outcome beyond many expectations.
Today, the challenge is to translate intent into action and propel the huge momentum that has already been building at a speed and scale that does justice to the extraordinary ambition enshrined in the Paris Agreement, including its two critical temperature goals.
Countries across the globe committed to achieve, by the second half of this century, a world where emissions will be low enough to be safely absorbed by the Earth’s nature-based infrastructure such as forests and soils. Specifically they committed to keeping the global temperature rise well under 2°C. They also agreed to pursue efforts to keep that rise at an even safer level of 1.5°C – a lifeline for many vulnerable countries that are already suffering the impacts of climate change.
But there is a sobering reality that speaks to urgency not next week, next year or in the next decade, but today.
The world has already pumped so much pollution into the atmosphere that many estimate that two-thirds of the space has been ‘used up’. The remaining third may soon be filled unless the emissions curve is swiftly, decisively bent down.
Global emissions need to peak by 2020 and decline rapidly thereafter.
Delaying transformative action beyond 2030 could imperil even the below-2°C goal, triggering economically damaging extreme weather events and other impacts such as sea-level rise.
Urgent need for positive action
The G7 members, by virtue of their size and carbon footprint, can play a pivotal role in bringing the Paris Agreement into force as early as possible – at least 55 parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change representing at least 55% of global emissions are needed to do this.
Simultaneously, they can use their influence to trigger actions that can put the world firmly onto the 2-1.5°C pathway. First, they can focus sharply on overseas development assistance and the lending policies of the multilateral development banks, including the World Bank. No project – be it developing energy infrastructure or investing in urbanisation, transport, forestry or agriculture – should go ahead if it flies in the face of the Paris Agreement’s objectives and the new Sustainable Development Goals. Second, they can support developing countries’ climate action plans. For many, these Intended Nationally Determined Contributions are also blueprints for sustainable development. Many developing countries are determined to realise their ambitions, but they will go faster and further with the right kind of financial, technical or policy support.
Third, G7 members can, through forward-looking policy innovations and standards-setting, liberate far greater private financial flows into the green, cleaner investments needed to rapidly peak and then cut global emissions. Innovations are needed to assist in building more shock-resistant economies everywhere, able to handle the climatic impacts already stored in the Earth’s systems as a result of some two centuries of high-carbon industrialisation.
Fourth, greater partnerships between companies, central and local governments can also fast-track action nationally. Many cities, provinces, regions and corporations are already demonstrating their enthusiasm and willingness to act.
Before and after Paris
In the run-up to Paris, this broad and cooperative action agenda found expression in a huge range of initiatives, most captured in the Non-State Actor Zone for Climate Action (NAZCA) portal supported by scrutiny and data from bodies including the Carbon Disclosure Project and C40, the cities alliance. More than 10,000 commitments have been made by cities and companies, often in collaboration with governments, the UN and other international organisations. Almost 60 companies, including Unilever, Swiss Re, IKEA, Infosys and Walmart, have pledged to be powered by 100% renewable energy under the RE100 initiative. Around 450 cities, through the Compact of Mayors, are also moving on initiatives to cut pollution and build urban resilience.
Yale University’s analysis, released in December 2015, shows that:
Action by cities, companies and investors is continuing since Paris, underlining a determination to support governments in operationalising the new agreement.
Governments are also moving ahead: Norway’s $800 billion sovereign wealth fund pulled out of more than 40 firms linked with either coal or tropical deforestation; China will close 1,000 coal mines in 2016 in its plan to shut as much as 500 million tonnes of surplus production capacity in the next three to five years; Canada and the US have agreed to jointly reduce methane emissions by 40-45% below 2012 levels by 2025 from the oil and gas sector; Australia announced a A$1 billion ($760 million) Clean Energy Innovation Fund to support renewable energy investments; Sri Lanka announced it is targeting 100% renewable energy for electricity production by 2030; and the United Kingdom will enshrine net zero emissions into domestic law in line with the Paris Agreement long-term goals.
The World Meteorological Organization pronounced 2015 as the hottest year on record. February 2016 was, at a sobering 1.35°C above the global average, the hottest month ever recorded.
Time itself is becoming the limiting factor in global efforts to address dangerous climate change. The Paris Agreement at its core is about decoupling emissions from growth. The International Energy Agency has shown that for the past two years the world economy has grown while emissions have been flat.
Many of the biggest, richest economies are already on their way to breaking the growth-emissions link, so the next step – fast-tracking full decarbonisation – is decidedly doable.
Paris is also about urgently decoupling the impacts of climate change from lasting economic damage. In a globalised world of interconnected supply chains, this is in all countries’ interests, beyond the moral imperative of our shared humanity. With global growth slowing across economies and traditional stimulus responses running out of steam, there is an increasing urgency for new and fresh answers to regenerate stable and steady growth.
Greening infrastructure from transport to buildings to power generation provides proven answers to the challenge while also catalysing a rapid peaking of global emissions in line with the promise and pathways laid out from the Paris Agreement.