Climate change can push the world over the cliff if urgent action is not taken. As a threat multiplier, it can lead to poverty, insecurity and a breach of human rights. These well-known concerns formed the backdrop of the 2015 Paris Agreement which commits the world to keeping average global warming to below two degrees Celsius, and ideally 1.5°C. Importantly, it establishes a common framework for all countries to tackle climate change — a departure from the bifurcation of developed and developing nations which often led to acrimony and contentious outcomes at climate meetings.
The agreement formally adopts an inclusive ‘all hands on the deck’ approach to the contribution of non-state stakeholders to propel a coordinated response to a growing crisis by employing all means and galvanising action at all levels.
Developed countries reaffirmed their financial commitments for assisting developing countries to effectively combat climate change. Signatories committed themselves to raising ambitions after five years by revising their Nationally Determined Contributions. The agreement entered into force in the unprecedented short time of less than one year.
The UN has since worked vigorously and rallied collaborative efforts to cut emissions and switch to renewables and facilitated financial and technological assistance to developing nations. Countries have implemented national plans, formed multi-stakeholder partnerships and joined UN-led international coalitions for climate action.
Despite these endeavours, the current state of play is highly disturbing. The last decade has been the warmest. Notwithstanding an economic slowdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the year 2020 was one of the warmest years on record. A dire climate crisis looms larger than ever. Facing the brunt are poor nations and peoples as global warming threatens lifelines. Pledges of financial support from development partners have yet to fully materialise and match the gravity of the issue. Most developing countries are handicapped by financial and policy challenges.
Obviously, efforts to address climate emergency are falling short.
Two reports released lately by the UN Environment Programme provide insights into the crisis and offer possible ways out. The first report cautions against increased fossil fuel production and encourages governments to reverse the trend in favour of green and clean options and to “wind down fossil fuel production by six per cent per year to limit catastrophic warming”. The G20 governments have “committed $ 230 billion in Covid-19 measures to sectors responsible for fossil fuel production and consumption, far more than to clean energy, roughly $150bn”. The report calls for ensuring that stimulus funds go to green investments.
The second, the Emissions Gap Report, reveals that “greenhouse gas emissions continued to grow for third consecutive year in 2019” and the “short-term reduction in global emissions due to the Covid-19 crisis will not contribute significantly to emissions reductions by 2030 unless countries pursue an economic recovery that incorporates strong decarbonisation”.
It is clear that the climate emergency is putting the world on a perilous path.
The UN has appealed for ambitious action as governments embark on a new set of plans to enhance the implementation of the Paris Agreement. Secretary-General António Guterres has presented a three-pronged strategy to address the crisis: to achieve global carbon neutrality within the next three decades, to align global finance in support of the Paris Agreement and to take effective adaptation measures to protect the most vulnerable countries and people from the impact of climate change.
Encouraging signs are emerging already. The recent UN Climate Ambition Summit 2020 held virtually, witnessed a groundswell of political commitment and support for urgent and long-term action as governments outlined new polices and fresh strategies. Several major economies have committed to climate neutrality or net zero emissions in the coming decades including the EU, UK, Japan, South Korea by 2050 and China by 2060.
Pertinently, climate change is also a moral issue. Wasteful habits and unsustainable production and consumption patterns driven by the current economic model are contributing to the crisis and reflect what Secretary-General Guterres calls “humanity’s war on nature”.
While policy measures are critical for providing suitable conditions, awareness reflected in the personal choices and actions of citizens as consumers, investors and communities is essential to nudging society towards a sustainable lifestyle. Behavioural change must supplement policy and technological innovations if we are to seek peace with nature. The imperative to address the climate emergency is more urgent today than it was at the time of signing the Paris Agreement.