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Guterres: The green economy is the future

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Winning the race against climate change to keep our planet livable and on a healthy trajectory requires action rooted in sustainable solutions aligned with the Paris Agreement and the UN-driven 2030 Agenda for sustainable development, Secretary-General António Guterres said on Saturday.

“To put it simply, we need green development.  We need sustainable development.  And we need it now,” the UN chief told world leaders in Beijing, discussing ways to boost green development as part of a conference on China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Painting a sobering picture of the challenges ahead – for the planet and the broader effort to secure improved human well-being while reducing environmental risks – Mr. Guterres recalled that the last four years were the hottest on record and that natural disasters have wreaked havoc in nearly every region of the globe.

“No country or community is immune. And, as we know, the poor and vulnerable are the first to suffer, and the worst hit,” said Mr. Guterres, warning that the climate crisis threatens decades of progress and jeopardizes all our plans for inclusive, sustainable development.

“And the clock is ticking.  Science has clearly told us that we have only 12 years for this transformation, if we want to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius and avoid the worst impacts of climate change.”

Yet the race to head off a climate catastrophe and ensure a safe and secure planet for all can be won, he said, with global action rooted in solutions that are sustainable and aligned with the landmark Paris accord and the UN 2030 Agenda.

To help generate ambition and to showcase practical, feasible and ambitious solutions to meet globally agreed goals, Mr. Guterres is convening a Climate Action Summit in New York on 23 September.

“I am calling on leaders to come with concrete, realistic plans to enhance their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) by 2020,” he said, referring to efforts by each country under the Paris Agreement to reduce national emissions and adapt faster to the impacts of climate change.

The Secretary-General said these plans must show how greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced by 45 per cent over the next decade and how the world can get to net zero emissions globally by 2050 through strong mitigation and adaptation measures.

“It is why I have been asking leaders around the world to adopt carbon pricing that reflects the true cost of emissions, end subsidies on fossil fuels, and stop construction of new coal plants beyond 2020,” he explained, noting that he is also counting on leaders to make sure their plans include women as key decision-makers and address the disproportionate impacts many women experience from climate change.

In all this, Chinese leadership will continue to be crucial, said Mr. Guterres, stressing that new renewable energy jobs in China now outnumber those created in the oil and gas industries.  China also played a pivotal role in building bridges and securing an agreement at last December’s UN Climate Conference in Katowice – and will host next year’s second Global Sustainable Transport Conference.

The Belt and Road Initiative, with its huge volume of investment, said, Mr. Guterres, is an opportunity to propel the world into a green future and help countries transition to low-carbon, clean-energy pathways with new infrastructure that is sustainable and equitable.

“The momentum for transformational change is growing,” said the Secretary-General, stressing that the “green economy is the future,” and more governments, cities and businesses than ever understand that climate solutions strengthen economies and protect the environment at the same time.

New technologies are delivering energy at a lower cost than the fossil-fuel-driven economy, he continued, and solar and onshore wind are now the cheapest sources of new power, in virtually all major economies.

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More Companies and Government Ambition Required to Meet the “Net Zero” Challenge

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Four years after the Paris Climate Agreement, tangible action from governments is falling short of trajectories needed to restrict global warming to 1.5° Celsius. This is well documented in the recently released UN Environment Closing the Gap report. To date, however, a minority of businesses are taking the necessary steps to reduce emissions and of those who are, much more ambition will be required based on the findings of a new report, The Net Zero Challenge, published today by the World Economic Forum.

The report is released as negotiators gather in Madrid at COP25 to discuss the finer details of the Paris Agreement which called for emissions reductions of 3-5% per year. This is a long way off the annual increase in emissions of 1.5% that we are seeing today.

“2020 is a crucial year for delivering on climate action ambition and it is vital that governments and businesses now work together. For both the public and private sector, collaborative action on climate can spur rapid innovation, growth and jobs in a sluggish economic outlook; what the world needs is a combination of public ambition, policy certainty and company leadership to create a tipping point,” said Dominic Waughray, Managing Director at the World Economic Forum.

Governments: from a slow start, climate action ambitions are growing to address the challenge

67 countries have to date stated an ambition to reach net zero emissions by 2050. These countries account for c.15% of global GHG emissions. Of these countries, sixteen (accounting for less than 6% of emissions) have developed roadmaps and intermediate targets; and even fewer – seven – countries have instituted policy frameworks that could realistically support reaching a net zero emission goal. These countries – Bhutan, Costa Rica, Denmark, Iceland, The Netherlands, Suriname, Sweden, – account for just 2% of global GHG emissions.

The report does, however, find signs of progress that some governments are beginning to set ambitious climate targets. For example, Morocco has developed the world’s largest concentrated solar farm with a goal of sourcing 50% of its electricity from renewable sources in just 10 years. India is currently implementing the largest renewable power programme in the world, targeting 175 GW of installed capacity by 2022.

The report, done in collaboration with Boston Consulting Group (BCG), also finds signs of action at the sub-national level. For example, the state of South Australia is targeting 50% renewable power by 2025. In the United States, meanwhile, seven states are targeting zero-carbon energy systems by 2050.

Overall, the report adds to the evidence that there is much political work to be done to raise ambition levels for climate action ahead of when the Paris Agreement is due to begin in November 2020.

Companies and Climate Action: A New Impetus is Required

When it comes to companies and emissions, the report highlights the gap in corporate ambition that must be closed. While 7,000 businesses disclose their emissions to CDP, a non-profit organization that monitors global emissions, the report finds that only a third provide full disclosure, only a quarter set a specific emissions reduction target and only one in eight are so far reducing their emissions year-on-year.

The report also finds that, on average, both short-term and long-term targets are about half of what are needed for a 1.5°C world; on average, short-term targets currently aim for minus 15% instead of minus 30% reductions; while longer-term targets on average currently aim for 50% reductions instead of net zero by mid-century.

There is, however, some variation across industries. Financial and energy companies, are the most advanced when it comes to disclosing, setting targets and reducing emissions; and emissions reductions in the power sector provide a good case on how other sectors might respond to a mixture of smart policies and demand signals. In each sector there are examples of corporations acting decisively to build a first-mover competitive advantage through higher efficiency, lower risks and new green revenues.

The report identifies two major reasons why corporate climate action has so far not reached a tipping point. One is that chief executive officers still find themselves under greater pressure to deliver short-term returns than to demonstrate progress against climate goals. A plethora of ESG (environmental, societal and corporate governance) guidelines is not helping to create clarity or a clear benchmark to judge performance, leading – in the words of one banking CEO – to “real confusion and little action” in the investment world. The other is the lack of reliable policy frameworks at national and international level. All 25 CEOs interviewed as part of the project confirmed, for example, that without a meaningful price on carbon the transition cannot be accelerated at the speed and scale needed.

A call to action from the World Economic Forum

Whilst diplomatic and multilateral political efforts during 2020 will focus on raising ambition levels among governments, the World Economic Forum will use its platforms to promote a complimentary call to action for higher ambition levels among companies and the finance community and for more partnerships. This call for action, which will start in Davos 2020, includes:

An updated Davos Manifesto for 2020 on the universal purpose of a company, which notes that a company is more than an economic unit generating wealth, will be presented to all CEOs to consider. The Manifesto calls for performance to be measured not only on the return to shareholders but also on how it achieves it environmental, social and good governance objectives.

An initiative underway with the Forum’s International Business Council to develop a definitive methodology for standard ESG principles that companies can adopt as a complement to standard financial metrics with support from the “Big Four” accounting firms, which will include common approaches on climate emissions target setting and tracking

The release of a catalogue of “Lighthouse Projects” that show concrete examples of how many leading companies are setting and implementing bold emissions reduction strategies in line with net zero by mid-century, and how other companies can join or replicate these efforts. Such Lighthouse Projects include the Mission Possible Platform, RE100, the UN-convened Net Zero Asset Owners Alliance, the CDSB and over 50 other specific examples of company actions and public-private collaborations in the climate and wider environmental agenda.

To support these efforts, the Forum has also convened a community of CEO Climate Leaders; these are leaders of some of the world’s largest businesses that are committed to support assertive climate action.

“Climate change is the single greatest threat that humanity faces. Businesses that don’t take climate action will be punished by their stakeholders as well as by the planet,” said Alan Jope, CEO, Unilever.

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Colombia to host 2020 World Environment Day on biodiversity

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On the eve of a critical year for environmental decision-making, Colombia, Germany and UN Environment Programme (UNEP) today announced that Colombia will host World Environment Day 2020 in partnership with Germany and that it will focus on biodiversity.

World Environment Day takes place every year on 5 June. It is the United Nations’ flagship day for promoting worldwide awareness and action for the environment. Over the years, it has grown to be the largest global platform for environmental public outreach and is celebrated by millions of people in more than 100 countries.

Making the announcement on the margins of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP25) in Madrid, Spain, Ricardo Lozano, Colombia’s Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development, Jochen Flasbarth, Germany’s State Secretary for Environment, and Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, stressed that with one million plant and animal species facing extinction, there has never been a more important time to focus on the issue of biodiversity.

“2020 is a year for urgency, ambition and action to address the crisis facing nature; it is also an opportunity to more fully incorporate nature-based solutions into global climate action,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UNEP. “Each year, World Environment Day is a powerful platform to accelerate, amplify and engage people, communities and governments around the world to take action on critical environmental challenges facing the planet. We are grateful to Colombia and Germany for demonstrating leadership in this effort.”

2020 is a critical year for nations’ commitments to preserving and restoring biodiversity, with China hosting the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in Kunming. Next year also provides an opportunity to ramp up to the start of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030), intended to massively scale up the restoration of degraded and destroyed ecosystems to fight the climate crisis and enhance food security, water supply and biodiversity.

“In Colombia we will face an important challenge in 2020, and it is to host the 3rd and last OEWG [open-ended working group] meeting of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework before the COP in China. In Colombia, we are willing to work together to reach an agreement that allows us to move forward positively towards ambitious results in the COP that will meet us in China; we welcome Germany’s gesture of support in this global effort and look forward to a successful collaboration,” said Ricardo Lozano, Colombia’s Environment Minister.

Listed as one of the world’s “megadiverse” countries and sustaining close to 10 per cent of the planet’s biodiversity, Colombia ranks first in bird and orchid species diversity and second in plants, butterflies, freshwater fish and amphibians. The country has several areas of high biological diversity in Andean ecosystems, with a significant variety of endemic species. It also has part of the Amazon rainforest and the humid ecosystems of the Chocó biogeographical area.

 “There is no better time to come together for the planet than now,” said Jochen Flasbarth, Germany’s State Secretary for the Environment. “Climate action and biodiversity conservation are two sides of the same coin. We need to develop policies that stop the extinction of plant and animal species. Germany is pleased to support Colombia and other member states in making 2020 a year that kicks off action for biodiversity.”

According to a landmark report this year by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), current negative trends in biodiversity and ecosystems are projected to undermine progress towards 80 per cent of the assessed targets of the Sustainable Development Goals related to poverty, hunger, health, sustainable consumption and production, water, cities, climate, oceans and land.

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Are Nature Based Solutions the key to Africa’s climate response?

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While the UN climate talks are celebrating their 25th year, carbon emissions around the world have continued to climb. For many, that is where natural solutions could play a key role in managing a dramatic climate transition.

Nature-based solutions or the process of working with and around natural ecosystems to deliver real-world benefits for climate resilience and sustainable development, took center stage on day 4 of COP25 in Madrid).

The African Development Bank has three main approaches to nature-based solutions; namely, restoring damaged ecosystems (land, forests and water bodies), conserving biodiversity, and integrated natural resources management.

Vanessa Ushie, Manager of the Policy Analysis Division at the Bank’s African Natural Resource Centre, briefed delegates at COP 25 about the Centre’s work during a panel discussion on Tuesday.

“Nature-based solutions are easy to use, and very effective in improving community livelihoods and resilience to climate change. The AfDB is scaling up the use of nature-based solutions to address climate impacts on critical ecosystems and biodiversity in Africa,” Ushie said.

UN biodiversity expert Valerie Kapos described a range of natural solutions being implemented across Africa, and around the world. These included protecting rivers, forests, and marine solutions, to benefit local economies.

“We need to be applying that argument to whichever solutions we are choosing,” said Kapos, Head of Climate Change and Biodiversity at the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC).

This is definitely true for the Seychelles, which has been appointed by the African Union to be the champion of the blue or ocean economy across the continent. While the continent is known for its deserts and jungles, a blue economic transition will be essential for the 48 coastal states that collectively make up the world’s longest coastline.

“We have protected 47% of our land, and are moving toward 50%. But our ocean territory is 3,000 times bigger than our land territory, and we are on track to protect 30% of that area,” said Ronald Jumeau, Permanent Representative of the Seychelles at the UN.

This was made possible by one of the world’s biggest debt-swap programs. The debt-for-nature deal was made possible through The Nature Conservancy, which bought the island nation’s $400 million sovereign debt at a discount. That money will be re-invested in nature conservation programmes.

“Through this program we have funded mangrove restoration and climate education programmes,” said Angelique Pouponneau, who runs a Seychelles-based trust fund focusing on climate adaptation and conservation.

Ushie from the African Development Bank pointed out that “one thing we are looking at is changing the way in which lending is being channeled to Africa, and how nature can be integrated in the measurement of national wealth and sovereign credit ratings for African countries.”

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