By Ciara Shannon
This blog follows on from an earlier one, the Glare of the Glasgow Gavel, I wrote in November 2019. One year and a bit later, how galvanised are we? Progress But Much More Needed – Time to Gallop
Five years on from world leaders agreeing on the Paris Agreement, it was encouraging to hear from some 75 nations speaking virtually at the Climate Ambition Summit, co-hosted by the UK, France and the UN, in partnership with Italy and Chile on December 12th, 2020.
Let’s begin with those nations, not at the Climate Ambition Summit 2020 – a number of big emitters such as Australia, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Mexico, were not invited to take part, as their climate actions were not ambitious enough.
Compared to previous years, nations spoke for 2 minutes or so by recorded video and this format worked well. Compared to other years – more world leaders clearly knew their stuff, beyond trotting out the perfunctory.
New was that 12 leaders highlighted their plans to increase the use of nature-based solutions to combat climate change. However, there was only 45 new and enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to speak of, 24 net-zero emissions commitments, and 20 new adaptation and resilience plans.
Meanwhile, greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions continue to rise, the impacts continue to starkly stack up and the world is heading to 2.9°C, according to estimates by the Climate Action Tracker.
Even though this is progress from 2015, when we were heading for a 3.5°C (plus) temperature rise – we are still not moving fast enough and much more action and money are needed.
According to the OECD, we are still US$21 billion (based on 2018 numbers) short of the 2020 goal of mobilising US$100 billion in public finance. However, there is a lag in reporting data and the most recent amount will not be known until 2021, but it is expected now to be less than US$10 billion short). But what remains worrying is that adaptation finance is lower than mitigation and represents only 21% of climate finance flows (2018 figures).
UN Secretary-General António Guterres criticised developed countries for spending 50% or more on their pandemic recovery funds on fossil fuels rather than on low-carbon energy. “We cannot use these resources to lock in policies that burden future generations with a mountain of debt on a broken planet,” he said. He then urged nations to declare a climate emergency and this will be the central objective for the UN in 2021.
With Covid still being rampant, it was remiss that few leaders spoke of the opportunity of the green recovery and to ‘build back better’ from the pandemic. Boris Johnson was one of the few who articulated this and did so well – outlining the merits of using scientific advances to not only recover from the pandemic but also to protect the planet and biosphere while creating millions of high-skilled jobs. He also spoke of the new UK emissions reduction target of at least 68% by 2030 from 1990 levels and detailed aspects of the UK’s 10 Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution.
But, I thought it a missed opportunity that he didn’t use his ‘top’ slot to mobilise more on the global agenda of the UK’s COP26 Presidency to frame the whole event (and wished someone would buy him a hairbrush). Presumably, outlining the agenda was the job of Alok Sharma the COP26 President, who did unfurl it eventually – right at the end (scroll down).
It’s been and was a long time in coming.
Most memorable for me was Hon. Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados who gave a powerful speech that had at its core the mantra “1.5 to stay alive” – vital for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) (and pointing out that getting 1.5°C into the text was, pretty much down to their great work and was a major win during the Paris negotiations).
She mentioned that some of their mitigation resources had gone into fighting Covid and said that unless the climate crisis is addressed, there will be no ‘build back better’ for SIDS and numerous nations will be robbed of their future. She said she wanted to believe that major emitters were not capable of, what in essence would be, climate genocide and said she wanted to believe that SIDS were visible and indispensable.
President Xi Jinping outlined a range of new targets for 2030 including an increase to 25% “non-fossil” energy by 2030. This includes an increase in solar and wind installation to about 1200GW by 2030 from 460GW, so that will be a new 740GW over the next ten years. This and other measures should ensure peak emission between 2026 – 2030. Xi also confirmed plans to achieve carbon neutrality before 2060 and this is hugely significant top-down climate goal that will drive the climate system (but it is not yet good enough for a 1.5° C trajectory by 2050). Noting also, that all of this is still to be agreed in their 14th Five-Year Plan.
There was no mention specifically of coal reduction, domestically or on greening plans for the ‘mighty and GHG scary’ Belt and Road. By way of background, according to Li Shuo of Greenpeace – getting to their 2030 targets has not all been plain sailing, “challenging politics – powerful and provincial industrial push back, rock bottom US-China relations and a lack of ambition from non-European major emitters,” he wrote.
The EU confirmed their 2030 pledge to cut emissions by at least 55% by 2030 on 1990 levels, and it should added that getting to this included a bit of a battle with Poland and others to agree on. While encouraging, it is below what the science tells us is needed – ie. at least a 65% emission cut by 2030.
Beyond the EU members, outstanding leadership, in my mind, came from Sweden and their Net-Zero by 2045 pledge and their pioneering work in tackling harder to abate sectors such as steel and cement. In the autumn, Hybrit the first pilot fossil-free steel project was launched and they also plan for fossil-free cement by 2030. In addition, there has been a big investment by Swedish mining LKAB of an additional €40 billion to reduce emissions by 35 million tonnes per year.
Then over to Iceland who is doing a lot in carbon removal and this will be a key factor to them reaching carbon neutrality. How they will do their carbon removal is something we should all watch.
Quite a few climate tweeters quickly celebrated Pakistan’s commitment to no new coal-fired power generation. They have already scrapped two proposed coal power projects recently – replacing them with hydroelectricity. This is good news as until 2016 Pakistan had just one coal-fired power plant, but by 2020, coal had surged to 57% of its energy mix. I think it is true to say that coal increased in Pakistan because of Beijing’s investment, as part of the Belt and Road Intiative (BRI).
Which brings us back to the mighty and GHG scary BRI and the importance of its green plans.
India announced its target of 450GW installed capacity of renewable energy by 2030 – while this is positive – it was nothing new to what was already known, nor was there mention on reducing coal production. However, I was interested by his mention of their International Solar Alliance (ISA), which I’ve long been following, and it was good to learn that India will leverage ISA to help with solar expertise to 47 least developed and small island countries. Another thing to watch.
Just before the summit, many people were buoyed that the UK Government will end financing and support for overseas fossil fuel projects – about £21bn of such UK funding has been provided in the last four years. Congratulations to Cafod and those who have long campaigned for this. France and Sweden also set out plans to end international financial support for fossil fuels, and Canada announced it will increase its price on carbon to C$170 per tonne by 2030.
2021 will be critical to show that finance is flowing to meet and surpass the US$100 billion goal. So it was also encouraging (but not good enough) that several countries and financial institutions made new climate finance-related pledges, including the UK, which pledged to double its climate finance contribution to US$15.5 billion over the next five years.
Angela Merkel spoke (without details) of contributing to Post 2020 climate financing and of #Germany’s (just under) €5 billion in international climate financing – double the amount from 2014.
Plus, the European Investment Bank’s goal of 50% of investments going toward the climate and environment sectors by 2025 was welcome. But overall, multilateral development banks (MDBs) have not yet shown much climate ambition (despite announcing in 2017) they would align their finances with the Paris Agreement.
Then there is the worrying data from Oil Change International’s Shift the Subsidies that shows that the World Bank has spent at least US$1 billion in funding new fossil fuel projects during the pandemic recovery.
At some point, it would have been good to hear of progress on the stickier issues not agreed at COP25 around the ‘Paris Rulebook’ such as Article 6 and carbon markets.
At the end of the summit, Alok Sharma COP 26 President-designate said: “[People] will ask ‘Have we done enough to put the world on track to limit warming to 1.5°C and protect people and nature from the effects of climate change?’ We must be honest with ourselves – the answer to that is currently no.”
He then outlined four key goals for the global climate agenda: a “step change” in mitigation by aligning every NDC with a 1.5°C degree pathway; strengthened adaptation, including by addressing loss and damage; increased flows of climate finance; and enhanced international collaboration. You can read his speech here. Plus, also follow John Murton (UK’s COP26 Envoy) and the like who are working around the clock on COP26, yet candidly recognise more needs to be done.
Despite this, what remains striking is the fact there are still ~120 countries/ 60% more to submit their enhanced NDC’s. The looming deadline for this being December 31.
While it is understandable that Covid-19 may have stymied efforts – why are there so many laggards, even though the urgency of addressing climate change has never been clearer? Is it down to a lack of political will, funds or a lack of capacity and technical expertise? Or they’ll simply respond to the December 31st deadline at the last minute? Most likely it’s all the above.
If it is a technical issue, and as this is an emergency why doesn’t the UK, China, USA and others loan out some of their climate experts for a few months? Think a Climate RedR – and create a portal to share experts to technically assist others in enhanced climate plans and economists to help determine right capital investments needed. Of course, I realise this is all competitive stuff – but equally at these earlier stages, less so. Plus, the UK has a great number of climate experts and China a large number of engineers etc.
Yes, there is still much more to do – but gratitude goes to the 75 or so ‘nation’ climate horsemen and thumbs up to the progressive leadership of a few. Glasgow’s glare is indeed galvanising the Paris Agreement’s ratchet mechanism (albeit in need of a fast-acting lubricant).
Now with the COP26 agenda set, the UK must whip up its diplomatic efforts into a gallop and perhaps turn its glare to a charming scowl to get more leaders to dive deeper and the money flowing.
At this critical time, nations must not be pairing back their climate policies to respond to the pandemic – but rather see the green recovery as a way to support the pandemic, boost their economies and embrace all the opportunities that will come.
The UK must shout from the rooftops that emissions can be lowered through green recovery packages, and if this happened, according to UNEP, emissions could fall by just over 25% by 2030.
All said, my biggest hope (like at most COPs) on Saturday came from listening to progress from non-state actors in the #RacetoZero and to learn of the new #RacetoResilience. (Details for another blog)
[On Saturday, it was also a joy to remember that historic day five years back – sitting outside a cafe in Paris, glued to my phone. When the gavel went down, I remember jumping up in the most unchic way – calling out to waiters – anyone passing by, to listen in. “Bien sûr!” they said, quickly moving on as if the Paris Agreement was the most normal, easiest thing in the world. Congratulations to all of its architects].