With the climate crisis worsening, continued failure to act risks even more devastation. However, the Cornwall Summit presents an opportunity to spur collective action from the global community
Throughout 2020, the world faced one of its most challenging years in recent memory. The COVID-19 pandemic reached practically every country, threatening the lives of billions of people. The measures adopted by governments and societies to protect people’s health and well-being have led to the most severe global recession in nearly a century, shutting down businesses, destroying jobs and affecting livelihoods.
The challenge has been formidable, but so has the collective response to overcoming the pandemic. Governments have placed their confidence in scientific evidence and technical expertise. Medical and healthcare professionals have worked tirelessly to protect the lives of the sick and vulnerable. Businesses have changed their everyday practices to concentrate on the safety of employees and the immediate needs of consumers. Societies have reassessed their priorities, harmonising personal freedom with collective well-being and social responsibility.
Hope for the future
In 2015, the countries of the world adopted the Paris Agreement, a covenant of hope with the people of the world. It was a milestone for multilateralism – a declaration that humanity could and would stand united and address the most significant threat to its collective future. We were right to be optimistic then, and we remain so today: after all, history shows that the world succeeds together when the world works together. Multilateralism is how countries, united, cured polio, eradicated smallpox, began to repair the ozone layer and more.
Much has changed in the five years since the Paris Agreement was adopted. Multilateralism is besieged by those championing isolation over cooperation. Misinformation proliferates at alarming levels, threatening post-Enlightenment scientific and social progress. A global pandemic has dramatically changed the way we live and work.
In five years, the climate emergency has worsened as well, with impacts threatening lives and livelihoods globally. The facts are sobering. The year 2020 was among the hottest three years on record. The past decade was the hottest in human history. Ocean heat is at record levels. According to Germanwatch, between 2000 and 2019, more than 475,000 people lost their lives as a direct result of more than 11,000 extreme weather events globally with losses amounting to more than $2.5 trillion. This is our new reality: one devastating for millions, especially the most vulnerable.
Despite this, countries have not yet moved the Paris Agreement from adoption to implementation. Nor have they fulfilled commitments under it. The recent NDC Synthesis Report, measuring the combined impact of national climate action plans, shows that current levels of climate ambition are very far from putting countries on a pathway that will meet the goals of the Paris Agreement to limit global temperatures to 1.5°C by the end of the century. At the current rate, countries will achieve only less than a 1% reduction in emissions by 2030 compared to 2010 levels. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calls for that reduction to be 45% lower. To say current levels are insufficient is an understatement.
G7 members have a critical role to play in driving climate ambition in mitigation, adaptation and finance. Not all G7 members have yet submitted an updated and more ambitious nationally determined contribution. Doing so in 2021 is essential not only with respect to aligning the world’s trajectory with the goals of the
Paris Agreement, but also with respect to multilateral leadership as well.
This year, 2021, must be the year of tough decisions and significant progress by countries. Yet it also offers an unprecedented opportunity, as countries build forward from COVID-19, to structure resilient, sustainable and green post-recovery economies aligned with the Paris Agreement. The milestone event of the 26th Conference of the Parties in Glasgow in November, while always important, is now crucial. It is nothing less than a credibility test for our collective efforts to address climate change, implement the Paris Agreement and continue building climate ambition. To achieve success, parties must:
- fulfil promises previously made: specifically, the COP16 Cancún pledges outlining broad climate action by 2020;
- wrap up outstanding negotiation items;
- raise ambitions in mitigation, adaptation and finance;
- and bring state and non-state voices together to continue building climate ambition.
These keys to success represent an incredible amount of work. Progress will not be easy. A robust negotiation process is required to achieve good outcomes. Such a process must be built on trust and inclusivity, and G7 members can lead, both through the fulfilment of previous pledges and by encouraging fulfillment of the above-mentioned keys to success. This was, as readers will recall, vital in the lead-up to Paris in 2015, especially with respect to achieving the Cancún Agreements, and it remains so today when we must finalise the rules of implementation. This is why UN Climate Change continues to work with both states and non-state actors in a spirit of inclusive multilateralism to achieve a unity of vision and continue advancing the climate agenda despite pandemic-related challenges.
Never has a generation had the chance to change so much in so little time. Our collective climate agenda is significant and our challenges many, but we must get it right. This is the year we can do it – the year the world commits to making pivotal, transformational change in global climate policy and action; the year we finally move closer to implementing the Paris Agreement; and the year we finally unleash its true power and potential when the world needs it most.