Ambitious and accelerated climate action: A blueprint for course correction
19 September 2023
This UN Chronicle story was written by Grenadian Simon Stiell, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
The year 2023 is on track to be the hottest year in recorded history. Emissions of greenhouse gases continue to grow and are at record levels. And this year we have seen extreme weather all over the planet. Heatwaves on land and in the sea. Devastating wildfires, droughts and floods. The climate chaos that scientists have been warning about for years is here.
But we have the chance to put it right. This is a critical decade to take the actions needed to stabilize our climate and build prosperous, resilient societies. The Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows that we still have a narrow window to do that. It sets out the necessary pathways and the options we can take. The twenty-eighth United Nations Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 28) , beginning at the end of November, must be the point from which we start to course-correct. The first global stocktake shows us where we are falling short in our efforts to limit global warming to 1.5ºC and meet the other targets set out in the Paris Agreement. There can only be one response to this alarming assessment: renewed ambition and accelerated action—climate action that charts a course to 2030 to limit global warming to 1.5ºC.
The Climate Ambition Summit convened by the Secretary-General is a critical moment to prepare for a COP that delivers strong and concrete outcomes. We need to do more, faster. The Secretary-General’s accelerated agenda shows us the way.
Renewed ambition means commitments marked by specific and concrete targets and milestones that will deliver the unprecedented social and economic transition to keep 1.5ºC alive, even if we temporarily breach that limit over the next five years. We must accelerate action through implementing these solutions-oriented commitments faster and credibly, mobilizing all economic actors and sectors of society to the benefit of all. There can be no wavering on the path to this goal: half of humanity lives in areas vulnerable to climate change.
Let’s look at how this will work in detail.
Firstly, we must bend the curve on emissions. IPCC shows that a pathway to limiting global warming to 1.5ºC means emissions falling 43 per cent from 2019 levels by 2030, and reaching net-zero by mid-century.
We need parties to the Convention to up their ambition in cutting emissions. Nationally Determined Contributions must go further than previous ones, involve absolute cuts in emissions and cover all sectors of the economy. They must also include updated net-zero targets.
A key element of emission cuts will be energy transitions: phasing out coal by 2040 (or 2030 for industrialized countries) and phasing down oil and gas in line with a mid-century net-zero target. Renewables are already the cheapest form of power in most parts of the world. A massive scale-up in renewables will power the energy transition and help move away from fossil fuels in a just and equitable way.
In some countries, net-zero is becoming politicized. But net-zero is not a political slogan. It encapsulates the hard truth that if we want temperatures to stop rising, then we must stop emitting greenhouse gases. It means decarbonizing economic sectors wherever possible. In cases where emissions will continue, we must compensate by withdrawing emissions: hence the net in net-zero. Keeping 1.5ºC alive means net-zero: it is a fact.
To be truly effective, climate action must be credible. It must involve everyone—cities, regions, businesses, households. And it must be built around specific targets.
But we are already experiencing the effects of climate change, so renewed ambition and accelerated implementation also mean doing more, and faster, in adaptation, to build climate-resilient societies. Adaptation is essential to dealing with the changes already underway or on the horizon.
From investing in climate-resilient infrastructure, adjusting the crops we grow and developing early warning systems for extreme weather, adaptation is as much a part of climate action as cutting emissions.
Climate action must work for everyone, with demonstrable long-term gains for all of society, even when there are short-term challenges and trade-offs.
It must be about a just transition to a stable climate that protects the most vulnerable and ensures that no one is left behind. We must remember that those who are suffering the most today, the most vulnerable, are those who have contributed the least to the climate crisis.
This transformation needs to mobilize funds on a huge but feasible scale. This means delivering on climate finance pledges already made, including the annual $100 billion from industrialized countries. We need to build on the historic decision at COP 27 and make the agreement on loss and damage a working reality. And there’s a need to build a global financial architecture that is fit for purpose, one that channels investment into renewable energy and sustainable living rather than subsidizing fossil fuels, aligns development banks with climate action, and incentivises private finance to invest in climate-friendly opportunities around the world. This transformation of the finance agenda is what will enable the climate course correction.
In the weeks remaining before the opening of COP 28, let’s take every opportunity to put ambitious and accelerated climate action front and centre on the agenda. Every government, every business, every civil society organization must make this their priority—to set the bar at a level to which others can aspire.
Every party to the Convention must come to COP 28 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to solve a global problem with a global mindset. Pushing for outcomes that can win support from others, not falling back on red lines. Developing ambitious proposals that can mobilize support from other constituencies. In a word: cooperation. The United Nations Climate Change secretariat is ready to play its part as an honest broker to help parties develop solutions that work for all.
We know what we have to do. Now we must mobilize the political will to do it, both ahead of COP 28, in Dubai and in the coming years. The Secretary-General’s Climate Ambition Summit (20 September) is our chance to prime COP 28 for action.
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