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5 Big Outcomes from Climate Week and the UN General Assembly

Last week brought significant progress on the climate action and sustainable development agendas as government, business leaders and civil society gathered in New York for the UN General Assembly and Climate Week. Barely a day went by without a significant new launch or diplomatic breakthrough to advance these two agendas, which was especially heartening to see on the first anniversary of the Sustainable Development Goals. Here are some highlights:

1. Paris Agreement: One threshold crossed, one to go

On Wednesday, 31 countries formally joined the Paris Agreement on climate change, bringing the total number that have joined to 61, representing nearly 48 percent of emissions. Their joining during the UN General Assembly speaks volumes about the spirit of cooperation that has brought the Agreement so far so fast. We’ve now crossed one of the key thresholds necessary for the Agreement to “enter in force,” which will happen once Parties representing at least 55 percent of global emissions join. Considering the countries that have committed to join the Agreement this year, it is highly likely the second threshold will be crossed in the next few months. (Read our related blog post for more information.)

2. New U.S. directive on climate and security

On Wednesday, President Obama signed a Presidential Memorandum creating a 90-day process to make climate change assessments central to all national security decisions. The directive affects the U.S. government’s science, intelligence and policy communities. This initiative could improve the ability of the United States to assist other governments in responding to climate-related extreme weather events, as well as to forecast security risks from a rapidly changing climate.

3. New partnership to increase resilience

Climate change is accelerating the intensity and frequency of extreme weather across the globe, with local communities and businesses bearing the brunt of these impacts. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, WRI, U.S. Global Change Research Program and partners launched the Partnership for Resilience and Preparedness (PREP) to help. PREP will enable communities, companies and investors to access the best data available to improve climate resilience planning. (Find out more here.)

4. More than 100 countries call for phase-out of HFCs

On Thursday, more than 100 countries signed a declaration in support of amending the Montreal Protocol this year to address the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), including an early freeze date on their use. HFCs are one of the most potent greenhouse gases, used primarily in cooling and refrigeration, and are, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry put it, “a critical piece of the climate puzzle.”

Countries and philanthropies also announced an additional $80 million for the Montreal Protocol Multilateral Fund to help developing countries transition away from HFCs. They were joined by more than 500 national and international companies and organizations and hundreds of sub-national governments calling for an ambitious amendment to the Montreal Protocol.

5. Businesses step up to bring emissions down

Many businesses took the opportunity to meet in New York to advance the Science Based Targets (SBT) project to advance science-based emissions-reduction targets. To date, 184 companies have committed to setting climate targets aligned with limiting global temperatures to well below 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F), and 21 companies including Coca Cola, Kellogg Company, NRG Energy, Pfizer and Sony have already done so. Profitable corporations setting this type of target demonstrates that sustainable and climate-compatible growth can and will happen. Independently of the SBT project, H&M Foundation committed $6.5 million to textile recycling technologies, and Keurig announced its transition to a recyclable K-Cup coffee product.

What’s Next?

Last week’s events gave a turbo-charged boost to the climate action and sustainable development agendas, and are all worth celebrating.

But here is the rub: If we are to achieve the long-term goals set for both of these agendas, it is critical that each becomes fully integrated with the other. They are mutually reinforcing. If we act on them in silos, we may make short-term gains, but we will miss out on the comprehensive co-benefits that will ultimately make both agendas a reality in the long term.

Another critical factor in both these agendas’ success is governance. Last week, the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a global multi-stakeholder initiative that aims to advance more open, inclusive and accountable government, celebrated its fifth anniversary. This moment was an opportunity to convey how important transparency and accountability are to progress on climate and development. After all, at the heart of these two agreements are crucial provisions on transparency accountability and good governance.

There are a handful of opportunities between now and the end of the year that can contribute significantly to achieving both agendas:

  •  International Civil Aviation Organization General Assembly (Sept 27-Oct 9): This year the world could come together to approve a global market-based approach for addressing greenhouse gas emissions from international aviation. Aviation accounts for roughly 2 percent of global emissions. Absent new policies, these emissions are projected to triple by 2050.
     
  • Montreal Protocol Summit, Kigali, Rwanda (Oct 10-14): Here, countries could adopt the amendment to the Montreal Protocol on HFCs, setting an early freeze date on their use. This is arguably the biggest short-term opportunity to limit global warming.
     
  • Habitat III, Quito, Ecuador (Oct 17-21):World leaders will meet to review the global urban agenda and address both the challenges of urbanization and the opportunities it offers for implementing SDGs and countries’ national climate plans. With cities accounting for 75 percent of global energy-related emissions and 85 percent of global GDP, action at the city-level is imperative.
     
  • COP22, Marrakech, Morocco (November 7-18): Climate negotiators will need to advance the multiple tracks of the Paris Agreement at this year’s COP, as well as set an agenda for the 2018 Facilitative Dialogue that should increase ambition in  countries’ climate plans. Increasing ambition is the only way to meet the Agreement’s stated goal to limit temperature rise to well below 2 or 1.5 degrees Celsius in order to prevent the worst effects of climate change.

The scale of the work ahead, and the speed with which it must be done, are enormous, but so are the opportunities. The achievements of last week signal a sincere willingness by countries to get to work on implementing these agendas.

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