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To combat climate change and nature loss, multilateralism is key: Nordic countries

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The 2020 consultations between the five Nordic countries – Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden – and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) generated substantial and frank discussions on issues like climate change, nature and sustainable development, say participants.

“We’ve had excellent discussions with our Nordic partners on the importance of multilateralism in an increasingly complex world, and the global role of UNEP in tackling unsustainable consumption and production to address the three planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP.

During the late-October talks, participants also discussed the opportunities presented by UN Development System reforms for strengthening the environmental dimension of sustainable development and UNEP’s role in it, including in supporting its Member States to achieve their environmental commitments. The sustainability of food systems was also on the agenda, as was the relationship between UNEP and various multilateral environmental agreements. Looking ahead towards 2022, the discussion included how to make the best use of the Stockholm+50 Conference, the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of UNEP, also known as UNEP@50, and the upcoming fifth UN Environment Assembly.

In the Nordic countries, the environment and climate are prioritized at the highest political level. Last year, the prime ministers of the Nordic countries committed to working towards carbon neutrality with the Declaration on Nordic Carbon Neutrality. The Nordic Council of Ministers also signed up to a new vision to become the world’s most sustainable and integrated region by 2030, working together to promote a green, competitive and socially sustainable Nordic region. When it comes to the health of our oceans, the Nordic countries have been strong supporters of ensuring a solid global response to marine litter and microplastics under the auspices of UNEP.

The Nordic countries share UNEP’s concern on the critical state of the environment, especially as it relates to biodiversity loss, climate change and pollution, including waste and the unsafe handling of chemicals. While these are all important challenges in themselves, they are also interrelated, posing a serious threat to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including the elimination of poverty and inequalities.

They agreed that UNEP and multilateral environmental agreements play a key role in this context and they supported the approach taken by UNEP in its proposed Medium-Term Strategy (2022-2025). That strategy is underpinned by the foundational work UNEP is doing in providing solid science for evidence-based policy-making, and in supporting the development and uptake of environmental governance.  

Henrik Studsgaard, the Danish Permanent Secretary from the Ministry of Environment and Food, said, “UNEP and the Nordic countries are close and longstanding partners, and together we can give a push on action on a number of important environment-related issues that will be on the international agenda for the coming years.”

The discussions emphasized the linkages between Sustainable Development Goal 12 (SDG 12), which covers sustainable consumption and production, and environmental challenges. As worldwide consumption and production — driving forces of the global economy — currently rest on increasing the use of the natural environment and resources, they continue to have a destructive impact on the planet. Should the global population reach 9.6 billion by 2050, without a transformation of the global economy, the equivalent of almost three planets could be required to provide the natural resources needed to sustain current lifestyles. A thorough shared focus on approaches to reduce material footprint and enhance circularity in the economy was welcomed.

“Our consultations here today take place in a time when COVID-19 is still very present in our societies,” said Studsgaard. “One thing we have experienced is that we are able to adjust our societies very quickly when we need to. We must use this experience as an opportunity to rethink the way we do things and build back better and greener.”

The Nordic countries and UNEP share the view that the pandemic offers countries an opportunity to decide on recovery plans that will reverse current trends and change our consumption and production patterns towards a more sustainable future where green investments and climate-smart solutions are at the centre.

Eva Svedling, the Swedish State Secretary to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Environment and Climate, underlined that. “As Nordic countries, we are supportive of UNEP’s role as custodian of the SDG 12 on sustainable consumption and production and welcome that this issue is integrated into the coming Medium-Term Strategy for UNEP. We see close connections to the conference in Stockholm in 2022.”

The Stockholm+50 Conference is planned to mark a milestone: it has been 50 years since the first United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, which took place in Stockholm in 1972. It was the first world conference to make the environment a major issue, and it also initiated the establishment of UNEP later that year.

Sweden has offered to host the conference and the other Nordic countries see it as an opportunity to increase the focus on the environment, accelerate action and strengthen efforts for the UN Decade of Action to deliver on the SDGs.  The connection to the UN75 declaration, which underlines the interconnected nature of our challenges – and the importance of multilateralism in building back better and greener, is also important. The conference would seek to have a strong focus on sustainable consumption and production. The Nordic countries said they continue to count on UNEP’s active support on the path towards Stockholm+50 and beyond.

The Nordic countries welcomed the efforts undertaken by UNEP to play an active role in UN Development System reform and supported the Executive Director’s approach to mainstream and integrate environmental awareness across other UN agencies. They encouraged UNEP to continue to draw on the established presence of other UN agencies on the ground, including the United Nations Development Programme, and work in close collaboration with UN resident coordinators. UNEP@50 is seen as a good opportunity to further strengthen these efforts, according to the Nordic states. Andersen welcomed the support from the Nordic countries for UNEP, including in its role to “be the green thread that weaves through the UN system.

“I would like to thank the Nordic countries for their stalwart leadership on the environment, and for their firm commitments to UNEP – both in good times and in more challenging times. Your support has been very valuable to us through these nearly 50 years of our existence.”

The next step for moving the global environmental agenda is the fifth UN Environment Assembly (UNEA), which is likely to be held in two parts in 2021 and 2022 under the presidency of Norway. The first part will be virtual while the second part is planned as a full and substantial UNEA.

Juhani Damski, Permanent Secretary from the Ministry of Environment of Finland, highlighted the central role of UNEP and UNEA in coordinating the global environmental agenda. “During these difficult times of the COVID-19 pandemic, Finland has appreciated how UNEP has been able to keep up their active work and demonstrate the importance of the environment and biodiversity as key solution providers for a healthy and sustainable future,” said Damski.

Echoing his Finnish colleague, the Norwegian State Secretary for International Development, Aksel Jakobsen, underlined the important role of UNEP in tackling threats to the planet. “We need urgent and meaningful change. International cooperation is a prerequisite to solving complex transboundary and interconnected environmental challenges,” said Jakobsen. 

Studsgaard also stressed the role of UNEP in relation to the UN 2021 Food Systems Summit. “Food systems are key to societies, including to fight hunger, but as they function today, they have many negative side effects on the environment. UNEP has a key role in raising awareness of the need for sustainable food systems – systems that are resource-efficient and which minimize negative effects on the environment,” said Studsgaard.

Andersen, the Executive Director of UNEP, has been appointed by the UN Secretary-General as the chair of a system-wide UN task force, which will ensure that the entire UN system can deliver on this agenda beyond the summit. UNEP further pointed out that under-consumption and over-consumption of food demonstrate the interconnected nature of different challenges.  

In addition to being champions for action on climate, nature and pollution themselves, and providing political support to UNEP, the Nordic countries are also important financial supporters of UNEP. They all believe in providing unrestricted funding to the Environment Fund, UNEP’s core source of flexible funds that supports the bedrock of its work worldwide, rather than specifying to which projects funding should go. While only constituting five countries (or 2.6 per cent) out of UNEP’s 193 Member States, the Nordic countries together provided over 18 per cent of the funding to the Environment Fund from 2015 to 2020, amounting to US$ 77.5 million. In addition, they contributed over US$ 205 million in earmarked funding for thematic areas during the same period.

UN Environment

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More Than 2.5 Billion Trees to be Conserved, Restored, and Grown by 2030

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Companies from across sectors are working to support healthy and resilient forests through the World Economic Forum’s 1t.org trillion tree platform. With the launch of 1t.org’s global pledge process this September, over 20 companies have pledged to conserve, restore and grow more than 2.5 billion trees in over 50 countries by 2030.

The trillion trees goal does not replace net-zero emission programmes – business and industries still need to decarbonize to meet our climate targets. 1t.org was launched to support the growing momentum around nature-based solutions, to mobilize the global restoration community and to empower anyone who wants to play a part. The community shares best practices, promotes responsible forestry practices, and scales solutions to have global impact.

Nicole Schwab, Co-Director, Platform to Accelerate Nature-Based Solutions, World Economic Forum said: “We are at a tipping point. It is our collective responsibility to leave behind a planet that is habitable for future generations. The private sector has a key role to play in bringing their expertise to the table and investing in natural climate solutions, such as restoration. It is encouraging to see more and more companies embracing this needed transition towards net-zero, nature-positive business models.”

The initial wave of companies making global pledges to 1t.org include: Amazon, APRIL Group, AstraZeneca, Brambles, Capgemini, Clif Bar, Daterra Coffee, Eni, HP Inc., Iberdrola, Mastercard, Nestle, PepsiCo, Salesforce, SAP, Shell, Suzano, Teck Resources Ltd., tentree, Travelers, Unilever, UPS, VMware, and Zurich Insurance Group. Their pledges can be viewed here as of Thursday 23 September at 16:15 CEST.

“Pledging to 1t.org was a natural fit for UPS,” said Nikki Clifton, president of social impact and The UPS Foundation. “UPS’s commitment to plant more than 50 million trees by 2030, in alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, is promoting global equity and well-being for underserved communities in cities and developing countries worldwide. It’s another example of UPS’s 543,000 employees moving our world forward by delivering what matters.”

Companies also work collaboratively through the 1t.org Corporate Alliance to drive impact by committing to leadership, action, integrity, transparency and learning. The alliance allows companies to jointly tackle common challenges and connects companies with 1t.org’s community of innovators, partners and regional chapters.

“1t.org Corporate Alliance discussions have given us valuable insights into how other companies are devising and managing their own restoration and conservation projects. The platform provides a great space for mutual learning and ideas,” said Craig Tribolet, Head of Sustainability Operations, APRIL Group. “1t.org also allows us to share updates on our own journey to champion thriving landscapes, as part of our production-protection approach, and on the progress we have made against our long-term sustainability commitments,” he said.

How Trees Can Play Their Part

Healthy and resilient trees and forests are one part of the efforts needed to combat climate change. Studies have shown trees can reduce urban heat island effects by up to 5°C and energy costs by $7.8 billion a year. Globally, sustainable management of forests could create $230 billion in business opportunities and 16 million jobs worldwide by 2030. From a health perspective, trees absorb 17.4 million tons of air pollutants a year, helping to prevent 670,000 cases of asthma and other acute respiratory symptoms annually. The chance of extreme wildfires occurring also decreases dramatically when forests are managed properly by, for example, growing specially-selected tree species in burned areas and using novel planting techniques for resilience to future wildfires. 

1t.org encourages all corporations that have set a Paris Agreement-aligned emissions reduction target to get in touch and submit a pledge.

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Paris climate deal could go up in smoke without action

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Unless wealthy nations commit to tackling emissions now, the world is on a “catastrophic pathway” to 2.7-degrees of heating by the end of the century, UN Secretary General António Guterres warned on Friday.

This is far beyond the one to 1.5 degree Celsius threshold, agreed by the international community as part of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

The UN chief’s remarks came after the UN’s climate agency (UNFCCC) published an update on national climate action plans (officially known as Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs) submitted by the 191 countries which signed Agreement.

The report indicates that while there is a clear trend that greenhouse gas emissions are being reduced over time, nations must urgently redouble their climate efforts if they are to prevent disastrous global heating in the future.

Not enough

The document includes updates to the NDCs of 113 countries that represent around 49% of global emissions, including the nations of the European Union and the United States.

Those countries overall expect their greenhouse gas emissions to decrease by 12% in 2030 compared to 2010. “This is an important step,” the report points out, but insufficient, as highlighted by Mr. Guterres at Friday’s Forum of Major Economies on Energy and Climate, hosted by the President of the United States, Joe Biden

“We need a 45 per cent cut in emissions by 2030, to reach carbon neutrality by mid-century…It is clear that everyone must assume their responsibilities”, he emphasized.

70 countries indicated their embrace of carbon neutrality goals by around the middle of the century. If this materializes, it could lead to even greater emissions reductions, of about 26% by 2030, compared to 2010, the report explains.

Code Red

However, with national plans staying the way they are right now for all 191 countries, average global emissions in 2030 compared to 2010, instead of decreasing, will increase by around 16%.

According to the latest IPCC findings, that would mean that unless climate action is taken immediately, it may lead to a temperature rise of about 2.7C, by the end of this century.

“The recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was a code red for humanity. But it also made clear that it is not too late to meet the Paris Agreement 1.5-degree target. We have the tools to achieve this target. But we are rapidly running out of time”, the UN chief highlighted.

The challenge

The Secretary General highlighted a particular challenge: energy still obtained from coal. “If all planned coal power plants become operational, we will not only be clearly above 1.5 degrees – we will be well above 2 degrees. The Paris targets would go up in smoke”.

Mr. Guterres urged the creation of “coalitions of solidarity” between countries that still depend heavily on coal, and countries that have the financial and technical resources to support transitions to cleaner energy sources.

Without pledges and financial commitments from industrialised nations to make this happen, “there is a high risk of failure of COP26”, Mr. Guterres continued, referring to the pivotal UN Climate summit in Glasgow in six weeks’ time.

“G20 nations account for 80% of global emissions. Their leadership is needed more than ever. The decisions they take now will determine whether the promise made at Paris is kept or broken”, he warned.

There’s still time

Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change, clarified during a press conference that countries can submit or update their national plans “at any time”, including in the run-up to COP26.

The agency highlighted some good news. The new or updated plans included in the report, show a marked improvement in the quality of information presented, for both mitigation and adaptation, and tend to be aligned with broader long-term, low-emission development goals, the achievement of carbon neutrality, national legislative/regulatory/planning processes, and other international frameworks such as Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The UN chief was clear that by COP26, all nations should submit more ambitions plans that help to place the world on a 1.5-degree pathway.

“We also need developed nations to finally deliver on the US100 billion commitment promised over a decade ago in support to developing countries. The Climate Finance report published today by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows that this goal has not been reached either”.

A sizeable number of national climate plans from developing countries, which define targets and actions to reduce emissions, contain conditional commitments which can only be implemented with access to enhanced financial resources and other support.

Stop ignoring science

For Mr. Guterres, the fight against climate change will only succeed if everyone comes together to promote more ambition, more cooperation and more credibility.

No more ignoring science. No more ignoring the demands of people everywhere. It is time for leaders to stand and deliver, or people in all countries will pay a tragic price”.

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Act now to slow climate change and protect the planet

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The ozone layer – a fragile shield of gas that protects the Earth from the harmful rays of the sun – is “on the road to recovery”, the UN chief said on Thursday in his message for the World Ozone Day.

Crediting the Montreal Protocol, which “began life as a mechanism to protect and heal the ozone layer”, Secretary-General António Guterres said that over the course of three decades, “it has done its job well”.

The multilateral treaty to phase out ozone-depleting substances has, by healing the hole in the ozone layer, protected human health, economies and ecosystems.

“The cooperation we have seen under the Montreal Protocol is exactly what is needed now to take on climate change, an equally existential threat to our societies”, he said.

Until the protocol, old equipment such as building insulation foam, fridge-freezers and other cooling systems, were manufactured using ozone-destroying chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, which leaked the damaging gas into the atmosphere as equipment deteriorated.

Other critical services

This year’s World Ozone Day highlights that the landmark environmental agreement also slows down climate change and helps to boost energy efficiency for cooling products such as freezers, which then also contributes to food security.

“The Montreal Protocol is more than just an example of how multilateralism can and should work, it is an active tool to help meet our global vision for sustainable development”, said the UN chief.

And under the Kigali Amendment to the Protocol, nations have committed to phase down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), powerful greenhouse gases used as coolants, which are less harmful than CFCs as they contain hydrogen, but are nonetheless still an ozone risk.

When fully implemented, the Kigali Amendment could prevent 0.4 degrees Celsius of global warming this century.

“Furthermore, as we prepare for the Food Systems Summit this month, we are reminded that the Kigali Amendment can also help us to increase food security”, flagged Mr. Guterres, explaining that by reducing HFCs, increasing energy efficiency and creating more ozone and climate-friendly technologies, “the Kigali Amendment can bring sustainable access to vital cooling services to millions of people”.

These services would reduce food loss in developing countries, where it often spoils before reaching markets.

Getting produce from farmers to where it is needed would, in turn, help reduce hunger, poverty and the environmental impact of the agricultural sector.

Another important benefit of expanding access to safe cooling systems, is to store medicines and vaccines, including those needed to end the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Montreal Protocol and the Kigali Amendment show us that by acting together, anything is possible”, said the UN chief. “So let us act now to slow climate change, feed the world’s hungry and protect the planet that we all depend on”.

Work continues

Although the Montreal Protocol marked “a critical turning point”, it was not a one-time fix, according to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

The work continues, with scientists still providing the first line of defence.

UNEP leads a joint effort of over 100 governments, businesses and development organizations that supports countries and industry in tackling growing cooling demand, while contributing to the Paris Agreement, Montreal Protocol and Agenda 2030 called the Cool Coalition.

Together with its partners, the Coalition fosters advocacy, knowledge and action to accelerate the global transition to efficient and climate-friendly cooling. 

In 1994, through resolution 49/114, the General Assembly proclaimed 16 September as the International Day, commemorating the signing of the Montreal Protocol in 1987.

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