What are the major priorities for mitigating, adapting to and reinforcing resilience to climate change?
What’s clear from the recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is that we have to significantly raise our ambition if we want to limit warming to 1.5°C. It means aiming for net zero by mid-century. It means no more new coal plants and phasing out the old ones. It means a shift to clean energy, and low-emissions buildings and transportation. We have to also address the cooling challenge – making sure that we have green buildings and urban environments that are clean and therefore safe. It means a dogged focus on energy efficiency, and also greening efforts such as reforestation, better agricultural and land use management, and environmentally friendly urbanisation.
At the same time, we need to prepare and adapt, and that means investing in making the most vulnerable areas more able to face the brunt. The good news is that this shift – decarbonising, detoxifying and protecting our economies – presents huge business opportunities. The technology is there and there is no excuse for inaction.
How is innovative action in education, infrastructure and food security important to advance these goals?
These are all critical. Education is fundamental, but not to lecture people on the dangers of climate change. The priority must be on inspiring a new generation of entrepreneurs who are equipped to bring new solutions.
Infrastructure drives development and is an essential tool for reducing poverty. The key is to ensure this does not come at the expense of the environment or drive environmental destruction.
Food security is perhaps the biggest issue that needs to be addressed. The fundamental question is how we can feed a growing population without the instinctive compulsion to simply plough more land. That means better land use, less waste and overall a major jump in efficiency. The business-as-usual approach is simply not sustainable.
How is UN Environment working to this end?
These are all areas we work on. For example, in southern India we’re spearheading a major shift to organic, sustainable farming that is more resilient. We’re helping to drive a change in unsustainable consumption and production through our CleanSeas campaign, which is taking on the issue of single-use plastics and oceans pollution. The key here is to help encourage the broader shift to a more circular and less wasteful economy.
We’re also engaging with China on the Belt and Road Initiative and other infrastructure plans, for which it is critical that we maximise the sustainability agenda and promote environmental regeneration.
Our work on cooling and energy efficiency, including the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, which will phase down the industrial and consumer use of powerful greenhouse gases, will also help mitigate climate change. The same applies to protecting peatlands in Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
How can the G20 leaders at their Buenos Aires Summit help?
The key is to keep the environment at the top of the agenda, where it belongs, and take that a step further by thinking big. The recent IPCC report was a clear, final call to save the planet.
As a species, we really must up our game if we want to limit the damage being done. And that’s not just about coal and oil. It’s about cutting and offsetting emissions from agriculture, deforestation, buildings, transport and more. We have to look for wins everywhere.
The second step is to see the solutions are all at hand. There is not a single problem – and that includes climate change – that we cannot innovate our way out of. We also have compelling and conclusive data that shows the shift to a low-carbon economy is a driver of growth. It’s therefore up to governments to help create the conditions for more sustainable business to flourish, and to have confidence in this pathway.