Reasons to be cheerful?
Following the scathing speech by Greta Thunberg at the U.N. and the mocking of that speech by President Trump it is difficult to identify reasons to be cheerful about climate change. Particularly when you also consider the report United in Science which highlights increasing CO2 concentrations, climate impacts that are hitting harder and sooner than predicted and the continuing gap between the level of action needed and the level of action promised.
The UN Secretary General’s Climate Action Summit though brought some positive messages. First, the Youth Climate Summit gave a voice at the UN to the young people who are demanding swifter action to reduce emissions. Together with the climate strike on Friday - in which millions of people all over the world marched against climate change – this raises the political temperature. At the Summit itself, 77 countries joined the UK in committing to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050 and a coal phase out was announced by 9 countries, including Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. In addition, new commitments were made on financial contributions to the Green Climate fund to assist developing countries in adaptation and mitigation. However, it has long been recognised, including in the Paris Agreement, that climate change requires action by all in society and not just governments. Businesses, cities and regions and civil society also have a big role to play in delivering action and increasing ambition. At the Summit, the commitment from these actors was also evident. The new Leadership Group for Industry Transition, bringing together countries and companies such as Dalmia Cement, Mahindra Group, ThyssenKrup and Vattenfall will drive transformation in the hard-to-decarbonise and energy-intensive sectors. Eighty seven companies, with a market capitalisation of US$2.3 trillion and including well-known brands such as Astra-Zeneca, Danone, Levi-Strauss and L’Oréal , have pledged to set science-based targets aligned with a 1.5°C trajectory (Business Ambition for 1.5°C - Our Only Future). In addition to these examples, cities, businesses and civil society also committed to many initiatives with governments including to price physical climate risks in infrastructure investing, increase the resilience of small-scale farmers to the impact of climate change, promote sustainable transport, increase the efficiency of energy use and to scale up the use of nature-based solutions.
So, the Summit brought new commitments which add to those made previously – referred to collectively as Global Climate Action. These many commitments are reported in the Yearbooks of Global Climate Action and tracked on the NAZCA portal. Together these commitments, if delivered, could have a significant impact on emissions (see Global climate action from cities, regions and businesses – 2019). The key though for all actors is to deliver on the commitments, which we have seen from past experience is not always easy. The answer to the question posed in the title is then – reasons to be cheerful – not yet – reasons to be hopeful – yes.