We must rise from the Covid-19 ashes and win the climate battle

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Last year the highest documented economic losses associated with  climate change was recorded by the World Economic Forum. The WEF now rates climate change among the most significant risks facing humanity. Picture: iStock
Last year the highest documented economic losses associated with climate change was recorded by the World Economic Forum. The WEF now rates climate change among the most significant risks facing humanity. Picture: iStock

VOICES


When 197 countries adopted the Paris Agreement on Climate Change in 2015, I remember feeling an extraordinary surge of hope – for multilateralism, for science, for humanity.

Years of advocacy for small and vulnerable Commonwealth states had culminated in a binding pact to tackle the greatest threat to planet Earth, together.

No one expected that just five years later a deadly pandemic would throw everything we had worked for into dreadful disarray.

As countries grapple with the debilitating impact of the Covid-19 coronavirus, it can even seem like the focus on climate action has diminished, despite the reality that the world remains far off course to limit global warming to below 1.5°C.

Worrying trends

Keeping below this threshold to ensure the planet’s survival requires halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and achieving worldwide carbon neutrality by 2050.

Rising sea levels, warming oceans and more frequent and ferocious climate-related disasters, which have increased fivefold over the past 50 years, continue to eradicate ecosystems and generate untold social and economic losses.

However, national climate action plans towards this are lagging.

Countries had agreed to update and enhance their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) – which lie at the heart of the Paris Accord – every five years.

To date, only about 20 countries, seven of them Commonwealth, have submitted revised plans, which are due this year.

Meanwhile, available international financing remains woefully insufficient if we are to address the devastating impacts of climate change.

Rising sea levels, warming oceans and more frequent and ferocious climate-related disasters, which have increased fivefold over the past 50 years, continue to eradicate ecosystems and generate untold social and economic losses.

Developed countries continue to fall short on their decade-old pledge to raise $100 billion annually by 2020 to help poorer countries cope.

Read: Wealthy nations do little about harmful carbon emissions

The latest figures show that $78.9 billion was mobilised in 2018 from both the public and private sector – more than $20 billion off target.

Due to the pandemic, the hopes of meeting set goals this year are slim.

The postponement of the most critical climate event of the year – the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 – has further stalled crucial political momentum towards progress.

Hope on the horizon

Despite seemingly insurmountable odds, there are encouraging signals that the headway we so desperately need is within reach.

Although NDCs are still in progress, at least 110 countries have announced their intention to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

They include major emitters Japan, Canada and France, with China pledging to do so by 2060.

Several countries, including Commonwealth members UK and New Zealand, have gone further to pass national laws intended to curb emissions, with others such as Fiji currently in talks to follow suit.

Read: New climate report paints grim picture for health in South Africa

In the private sector, the shift to sustainable energy is gradually taking root. Solar and wind power are now cheaper than coal, while experts predict about $11 trillion of investment in green power over the coming decades.

Some small states are on track to achieve stunning milestones – Samoa, for instance, is set to be powered 100% by renewable energy by 2025.

Road to COP26

I remain convinced that the world can rise from the ashes of this pandemic and coalesce around an unparalleled ambition for a global “green recovery” from Covid-19.

As leaders, we must once again galvanise political will to ensure that the commitments we made in Paris five years ago become our post-Covid reality.

In a few days, the UK, France and the UN will host the Climate Ambition Summit, which could be a key platform for Commonwealth countries to drive global momentum towards transformational climate action.

The groundwork has already been laid for a pioneering Commonwealth Call to Action on Living Lands – which focuses on sustainable land use – to be discussed at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in June 2021.

But we need to go further than we have ever gone before in terms of rolling out viable plans to phase out coal and harmful fossil fuels, transition to renewables and low carbon, and restore forests while investing in nature.

So on the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement, I am counting down to COP26 with the same hope I felt five years ago.

Science, our shared values and the growing sea of voices across the globe, young people in particular, are merging around a common, unequivocal and tenacious call to action.

As leaders, we must once again galvanise political will to ensure that the commitments we made in Paris five years ago become our post-Covid reality.

Scotland is the Commonwealth secretary-general


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