Even for those of us who work on climate change every day, last week was one of the most inspiring events in a long time. From the Pope’s messages to renewed business engagement to major countries throwing their support behind action, the sense of momentum was striking. With the Paris climate summit only two months away, leaders harnessed the opportunity to raise their voices and make it known that business, the public, governments, faith groups and civil society are taking climate action to catalyze the transformation to a low-emission economy.
At the climate summit in Paris, governments will gather to decide upon a universal climate agreement that should send clear signals the world is accelerating toward a future with less pollution and much more clean energy. The agreement must also detail how countries around the world are going to regularly ramp up their efforts. Many details remain to be resolved, but the events of the last week will add to the growing momentum.
Following are 7 major takeaways from the last week:
The UN Secretary General hosted a climate lunch for Heads of State from about 40 countries, with the aim to “reach a shared political understanding of the transformational, long-term implications of a new climate change agreement.” Leaders recognized that the “Paris agreement must be a turning point, and send a loud and clear signal to citizens and the private sector that the transformation of the global economy is inevitable, beneficial and already underway.” Furthermore, it must “articulate a comprehensive long-term vision of a world freed of poverty through the social and economic opportunities created by the transition to a low-emission and climate resilient future.” Discussion acknowledged the need for immediate actions, as well as the necessity for the Paris agreement to include a process to “progressively increase ambition over time. Many expressed that a five-year timeframe would be preferable to avoid locking in low levels of ambition.”
Pope Francis delivered an impassioned message to world leaders at the UN General Assembly. He called for “concrete steps and immediate measures to improve the environment,” and explained that “any harm to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity.” This speech came on the heels of his address to U.S. Congress only one day earlier, where he applauded U.S. action to address pollution and delivered a similar message calling for strong action to avoid serious impacts of environmental degradation.
China and the United States injected a jolt of momentum with a new announcement on climate. Both countries recognize the need for a successful agreement that ramps up ambition over time, pointing toward a low-carbon transformation of the global economy this century, and a transparent system that will instill confidence that countries will follow-through on their commitments. The announcement affirms China’s commitment at the highest level to a national emissions-trading program in 2017. Plus, the country committed $3.1 billion to help developing countries act on climate change, a watershed moment for climate finance. The U.S. administration also announced its next steps to implement the Clean Power Plan. These commitments demonstrate that both countries are serious about moving beyond targets and taking on-the-ground action to address their emissions.
Companies made new commitments to expand renewable energy, demonstrating that they are ready to take action even before the global deal is finalized. Many companies recognize the role they play in addressing climate change, but the main motivator is the economic benefits of taking climate action. More than 60 companies, including Coca Cola and General Mills, have committed to setting Science-Based Targets for their greenhouse gas emissions reductions. Another group of companies signed on to RE100, an initiative for companies to move to 100 percent renewable energy. Under the initiative, Goldman Sachs and Nike committed to moving to 100 percent renewable energy by 2020 and 2025, respectively. An additional set of companies, including Amazon and Microsoft, signed on to the Corporate Renewable Energy Buyers’ Principles, an initiative geared to make renewable energy easier to acquire at a large scale.
World leaders adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are expected to shape the international development agenda for the next 15 years. The 17 goals and 169 targets are the result of an unprecedented global conversation on sustainable development, and aim to improve the lives of all people around the world by eradicating extreme poverty. Acknowledging the intrinsic link between climate change and development, the 13th goal is to “take urgent action to combat climate change and its impact.” Successful implementation of the SDGs will help shift to an economic growth model that benefits people and the planet.
Many more countries announced their national climate plans, also known at their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC). Throughout 2015, countries have been announcing their INDCs, which together will form the core of the Paris agreement. The INDCs are the primary means for governments to communicate the steps they will take to address climate change in their own countries, reflecting each country’s ambition, domestic circumstances and capabilities. So far, more than 100 countries, which cover over 70 percent of global emissions, have announced their plans. Brazil, South Africa and Indonesia were among more than 45 countries that announced their commitments over the last week. India is expected submit its plan this week.
World leaders agreed to a shared vision on global climate action at the Climate Week signature event. Among the speakers was former President of Mexico Felipe Calderón, chair of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, who highlighted that momentum is building for a shift to an economy that can reduce emissions and promote economic growth.
“A Paris agreement must be a turning point that sends a clear signal to citizens and the private sector that the transformation of the global economy is inevitable, beneficial, and already underway.”—Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations
As we head into the final stretch to the Paris climate talks, it will be important for world leaders to follow-through on these commitments and actions. A successful agreement in Paris won’t solve everything but it will give the incentive to governments, the private sector and others to expedite the transformation to a climate-safe, low-emission world.