The Malta Independent 18 February 2020, Tuesday

A growing surge of non-state initiatives to curb global

Vanya Walker-Leigh Thursday, 17 January 2019, 16:28 Last update: about 2 years ago

With its key political agreements slammed by media and civil society as inadequate and disappointing, the 197-nation two week UN climate change conference which ended here on 16 December also showcased a growing surge of non-state initiatives to curb global warming and build a new global green economy.

Unilever's just retired CEO, Paul Polman repeated calls from all sectors that much more would happen if governments could get their act together.  "Business needs three things from the political community: clarity, confidence, and perhaps most of all, courage. The more of these that the global business community can see, the greater and more transformational will be the business response."


A spokesperson from the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change whose 169 members manage $23trn  in assets emphasised that  "only clear, credible and long-term policy frameworks will provide us with the confidence we need to deliver the required shift in investment for a low-carbon economy."

The conference adopted a laboriously negotiated and much criticised 133-page 'rulebook' for implementation of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change whose provisions will start to operate in 2020, but failed to endorse a report commissioned by the 2015 conference from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on goals for limiting global warming.

The Agreement committed states to keeping the increase in the average global temperature above pre-industrial to well below 2C (already above 1C) while pursuing efforts to attain 1.5C. 

The IPCC strongly urged the lower figure as greatly limiting future disastrous climate change impacts worldwide, but major oil producers US, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait barred the conference from formally adopting the report as a basis for future government policies.

Governments also failed to agree a range of financial issues as well as on strong mandatory language to raise their climate action ambition. UN Environment's Emissions Gap report issued on 23 November had warned that commitments for post-2020 greenhouse gas emission reductions contained in nationally determined contributions tabled with the UN in 2015 amounted to hardly one-third of the effort needed by 2030 to keep open the possibility of achieving the 1.5C goal. Revised commitments of the 2015 figures are to be presented next year, according to the Agreement.

With dramatic urgings of the need for immediate and extensive action, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres emphasised the key role of non-state actors against a background of escalating public concern about climate change impacts already seen in a series of weather catastrophes in recent years.

The heads of state and government climate change summit he will host at UN headquarters in New York on 23rd September will aim to mobilise political will and demonstrate transformation action in the real economy so as to inject into a 'race to the top' involving states and all non-state actors. Six 'action portfolios' to be prepared by facilitators working with multi-stakeholder coalitions will cover finance, industry transition, nature-based solutions, cities and local action, resilience and adaptation. Special emphasis will be placed on  citizen and youth mobilisation.

Answering a question from this reporter at a press conference, Mr Guterres said that conversations with the oil and gas industry already underway were sometimes "difficult and complex" but that the latter were "coming to recognise that the current trend is not sustainable" and the progressive reduction of fossil fuel use in energy production and transport was inevitable.

A report by 200 industry experts "Mission Possible: Reaching net-zero carbon emissions from harder-to-abate sectors by mid-century" highlighted here outlines the possible routes to fully decarbonise cement, steel, plastics, trucking, shipping and aviation - together representing 30% of world energy emissions. Full decarbonisation is technically possible with existing technology costing less than 0.5% of mid-century GDP and a minimal impact on consumer goods prices.

The UN-organised Global Compact linking 2500 business presented a report on 'Ambition Loops' proposing a set of joint governments/ industry to promote climate action. The We Mean Business Coalition of 845 companies with $16.9trn market capitalisation has made 1375 commitments to align with the Paris Agreement Goals while the World Business Council for Sustainable Development issued a multi-sectoral road map to achieve the 1.5c target. The Science-Based Targets Coalition announced a membership of 509 top companies committed to aligning operations to achieving low-carbon development.

A 3-day event highlighted the continued push by the 'We are Still In' network of US businesses, state governments academia and others committed to achieving climate goals set by the Obama administration but rejected by President Trump who last year announced US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

The Partnership on Sustainable Low Carbon Transport issued its Transport and Climate Change Global Status Report  showing how the sector could contribute to the 1.5C target including by electrification of road and rail transport, as well as a modal shift by consumers from owned to shared cars, walking, cycling and far greater use of public transport.

The world's leading container shipping company, Maersk announced it would reach carbon neutrality by 2050 requiring commercially viable neutral vessels to start operating by 2030 and invited the global shipbuilding sector to come up with the necessary technology and other shipowners to support this effort.

The Powering Past Coal Alliance led by Canada and the UK announced a membership of 80,  including 30 national governments, 22 subnational governments and 28 businesses. In contrast, the US delegation hosted a seminar on promoting coal which was seriously disrupted by environmental activists.

The C-40 coalition of major cities announced that 72 had already committed to its Deadline 2020 initiative setting out the level of ambition and urgency needed to ensure cities deliver on the objectives of the Paris Agreement.

The nine leading multilateral development banks announced they would fully align operations to the Paris Agreement goals while UN Environment-hosted Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction set out goals to achieve a zero-emission, efficient and resilient sector.

With the EU committed to review its 2030 emission reduction targets and issue in 2020 a long-term low-carbon development strategy to 2050 aligned with the Paris Agreement - based on a Commission draft issued on 28 November - it remains to be seen how far non-state pressures for action will convince Member States to agree to action to meet EU's fair share of global action needed to achieve the 1.5c goal..and consolidate EU's wish to be seen as a global 'climate leader'.

Vanya Walker-Leigh was in Katowice, Poland


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