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Analyzing Outcomes from the UN Climate Summit

Today’s UN Climate Summit brought together more than 125 heads of state and government officials—the largest-ever climate meeting of world leaders. Leaders clearly demonstrated their understanding that the impacts of climate change are real and costly, and that they no longer have to choose between economic growth and climate action—they go hand-in-hand.

Momentum for action took a massive leap forward in the last three days – with cities, companies from many sectors, and national governments announcing new actions to shift away from fossil fuels to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy. Marches around the world provided a clear mandate for leaders to stay engaged all the way to the Paris Summit in December 2015.

WRI’s experts were in New York for all the action. While the outcomes from the Summit are still evolving, here’s our first look at progress made and next steps.

International Climate Action

A wide number of countries, the private sector, and civil society groups voiced support for a clear, long-term goal to shift from fossil to clean energy, potentially by phasing out greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by mid-century.

Many countries reaffirmed their commitment to make their post-2020 emissions-reduction offers by the first quarter of 2015, a critical milestone in securing a global climate agreement by the end of 2015. There was also growing support amongst countries, companies, and civil society for a long-term transformational goal. This is captured in the Secretary General's Chairman's Summary. Key global leaders like U.S. President Barack Obama and China’s Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli signaled their clear intent to take ambitious action, showing that even the biggest economies are ready to shift to a low-carbon growth path. Developing countries like Colombia, the Philippines, and Vietnam stated their readiness to act now, independent of what others do, due to the severe impacts their countries are experiencing. These countries could achieve even more with support from the international community. And with 700,000 people around the world participating in climate marches ahead of the Summit, it was clear that a new public voice can hold leaders accountable.

Forests

Governments, companies, and civil society groups issued the New York Declaration on Forests, the clearest statement to date by world leaders that forests can be a major force in tackling the climate challenge. Among the highlights, the Declaration proposes cutting the rate of natural forest loss in half by 2020 and eliminating it altogether by 2030; restoring 150 million hectares of degraded landscapes by 2020 and an additional 200 million hectares by 2030; and strengthening forest governance, transparency, and local and indigenous rights. Following through on this commitment has the potential to create massive benefits—recent analysis shows that restoring 150 million hectares of degraded land into productivity could feed 200 million people by 2030, raise $35-40 billion annually in farm incomes, strengthen climate resilience, and reduce emissions.

A few game-changing announcements already signal seriousness in meeting the Declaration’s targets:

  • A suite of country commitments on forest landscape restoration, including from Ethiopia, Colombia, Uganda, Niger, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. These new announcements make progress in meeting the Bonn Challenge, a global call for 150 million hectares in forest landscape restoration commitments by 2020. With the new pledges in New York, well over 50 million hectares have been pledged.
  • Norway, Germany, and Peru launched a new partnership to improve forest management in Peru, with Norway committing $300 million.
  • Norway and Liberia partnered to improve forest management in Liberia, with Norway committing $150 million.
  • Norway also committed $100 million to help ensure indigenous peoples’ rights to lands and resources are fully respected, recognizing the vital role these communities play in managing forests and curbing climate change.
  • A new pledge from major palm oil companies Wilmar, Cargill, Asian Agri, and Golden Agri Resources, facilitated by the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce. Companies committed to help protect Indonesia’s remaining forests and peatlands, ensure community rights are better respected, and advocate for other companies and legal reforms to support and expand such commitments.

Business

Business leaders showed up in large numbers—with more than 100 CEOs at the UN today—but it was a handful of companies that made the greatest impact. The World Bank announced Monday that 1,042 companies signaled their support for putting a price on carbon pollution. Today, we saw 25 of those companies—including Nestlé, Unilever, and Philips—commit to take that message three steps further. They will price carbon internally to accelerate investments that reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions. They will advocate publicly for policies that price carbon in their markets around the world. Finally, and importantly, they will be reporting back on progress towards meeting those commitments.

The We Mean Business coalition, a coalition of organizations working with thousands of the world’s most influential businesses and investors, called for “establishing a clear, long-term global goal that provides the necessary direction to decision makers, such as (net) zero emissions well before the end of the century.”

These and other business actions will create important market shifts only if the leaders can convince others to follow. IKEA and a dozen other companies, for example, made the ambitious pledge to source 100 percent of their power from clean energy. The effort, though, is designed to recruit a total of 100 companies to make similar commitments by 2020. Similarly, Google ended their affiliation with the American Legislative Exchange Council—following a similar decision by Microsoft this year—after recognizing that the group’s lobbying positions on climate policy were inconsistent with the company’s own views. If these pledges catalyze similar actions from other companies and drive governments to greater ambition, then this Summit will have been truly momentous.

Cities

Today's events reinforced what we at WRI firmly understand—that the fight against climate change cannot be won without addressing our urbanizing world.

To this end, the newly launched Compact of Mayors initiative aims to consolidate and amplify cities' commitments to reduce emissions. The strong presence of Mayors today in New York shows city leaders’ commitment to the cause. Their action is backed by new analysis showing that more than 200 cities with existing voluntary emissions-reduction commitments are already on track to reduce emissions by 454 megatons by 2020. This is encouraging progress, given that cities currently emit 70 percent of global greenhouse gases. There’s still more work to do, however—particularly in helping cities avoid future urban sprawl.

There are also new efforts to unlock the finance necessary to make low-carbon urban development a reality. Today’s launch of the City Climate Finance Leadership Alliance aims to enable stronger private and public investment in climate-smart infrastructure around the world. So far, signatories include the World Bank, UN-Habitat, Citibank, Bank of America, Bank of West Africa, Japan International Cooperation Agency, the United States Government, and the Agence Française de Développement.

Finance

The community of investors – public and private, developing and developed – communicated support for scaling up climate finance. A few major takeaways include:

  • Countries big and small are acting, not waiting. Dozens of developing countries announced ambitious actions they will finance themselves, from renewable energy deployment to disaster risk reduction. For example, Bangladesh highlighted the nearly $400 million it has already spent to adapt to climate change.

  • Governments made major commitments to the Green Climate Fund. Joining Germany, France pledged $1 billion to the Fund, which is expected to become the main vehicle for securing and disbursing climate finance. Leading developing countries, including South Korea and Mexico, pledged, too. Other countries now need to step up by the end of the year to reach a target of at least $10 billion in order to make progress toward an ambitious international climate agreement in Paris in 2015.

  • Commitments from today’s Summit will impact more than $200 billion by the end of 2015. The Global Divest-Invest coalition, including foundations like the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, underscored the need to shift from activities driving climate change to those that can help solve it by pledging to take $50 billion of investment out of fossil fuels.

The Summit represents a shift from millions of dollars in finance for climate solutions only a few years ago to billions of dollars today. However, much more needs to be done to reach the trillions of dollars needed to truly address climate change. To help close this gap, it’s crucial that financial commitments made today are honored and steadily scaled up.

Transport

Four global alliances launched or advanced initiatives to scale up sustainable transport solutions like mass public transit, walking and biking, and electric vehicles. For the first time, these initiatives span the public transport, rail, aviation, and maritime industries, joining them to build a strong case for climate action. Two stood out by involving the private sector from the rail and the public transport sector:

  • The International Union of Railways (UIC) launched the Low-Carbon Sustainable Rail Transport Challenge to increase rail use for freight transport, meet efficiency targets, and reduce emissions by 75 percent by 2050.
  • More than 110 public transport groups made commitments leading up the Summit under the International Association of Public Transport (UITP) Declaration on Climate Leadership. UITP’s objective is to double the market share of public transport around the world by 2025.

On top of saving one gigaton of carbon by 2050, estimates reveal that the shift to low-carbon mobility catalyzed today could save governments, companies, and individuals US$70 trillion. Faced with these compelling numbers, local and national governments now have a mandate to act for a more sustainable transport sector.

Building Upon the New Momentum

It is clear that climate is back on the global agenda. Announcements of important new partnerships, financial pledges and commitments by leaders set the foundation for greater ambition for climate action at all levels of society.

Of course these commitments are only the beginning—the next step is for governments and business actors to follow through and implement the actions announced. Governments must now harness this momentum to advance efforts at home and internationally ahead of COP 20 in Lima and COP 21 in Paris--including putting forward their national offers next year. With the support of business, investors, local government and civil society, they have a strong mandate to act decisively and agree to a new, ambitious global agreement in 2015.

  • LEARN MORE: For a recap of the day's events, please visit WRI's LiveBlog.

Comments

The suggestion that "Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli signalled [China's] clear intent to take ambitious action, showing that even the biggest economies are ready to shift to a low-carbon growth path" is, I suggest, both ingenuous and poorly informed.

It's ingenuous because all Zhang said was that China would "try" to reach an emissions peak "as early as possible". Think about it: it's an almost completely meaningless statement. And it's not in the least ambitious. Moreover, as Andrew Revkin pointed out in a recent NYT article, a "peak" is not a cut.**

That it's poorly informed is clear from a current article in the Asian magazine "The Diplomat".*** Citing an op-ed in the influential Chinese publication "Xinhua", it said:

"Ever since China passed the U.S. to become the largest emitter of greenhouses gases in 2007, analysts have argued that China should take on more responsibilities in the fight against climate change. Xinhua shot this argument down as “untenable” given “both historical facts and present reality.” The article holds fast to the old argument that China has every right to place emissions cuts on the back burner while it focuses on economic development. “It is extremely unreasonable and selfish for those developed countries, which have emitted their historical share of greenhouse gases and are relocating their current share, to pass the buck to developing nations and infringe their very right of development.”" ****

And how many of those "700,000 people around the world" who participated in climate marches were doing so in Tiananmen Square? Er ... none. There's no "new public voice" holding China accountable.

** http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/07/15/china-clarifies-its-plans-o...

*** http://thediplomat.com/2014/09/what-did-china-have-to-offer-at-un-climat...

**** http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/indepth/2014-09/23/c_133664221.htm

On September 24, I posted a comment here about this article’s claim that "Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli had signalled [China's] clear intent to take ambitious action, showing that even the biggest economies are ready to shift to a low-carbon growth path". I suggested, with supporting evidence, that the claim was ingenuous and poorly informed. Unfortunately, my comment has not yet been published. A comment on much the same lines has been published on Bloomberg Businessweek; it can be found here:
http://www.businessweek.com/news/2014-09-23/vice-premier-zhang-says-chin...

I believe this is a matter of the greatest significance. If my interpretation is accurate, it means there is little prospect of emission reduction in even the medium term. This would have huge impact on global climate policy – affecting for example your “ACT 2015” project. That is especially so when China’s position is coupled with India’s – as reflected in this current NYT report: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/25/world/asia/25climate.html?_r=0

WRI has a specialist interest in both China and India, including contributors with specific expertise re China. You also have an impressive team in your “Global Climate Program”. WRI thinking on this matter could be most important and interesting.

Norman Borlaug Nobel Prize Winner -Peace 1970 told me "I agree with you one hundred percent that overpopulation is the root of hunger, crime, drugs, joblessness, family disintegration and adverse impact on the environment...I have tried to call the world ’s attention to the "population monster," as I call it. I did so also I accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970"

It is laudable to see efforts to curb climate change are taking. However, this must be done hand in hand with education about family planning. Unless we stop the exponential population growth, humanity will succumb due to growing demands to our finite world.

We are really inspired.

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