We Need Ambitious 2030 Targets at COP26
I have been following the progress of the United Nations (UN) Conference of the Parties (COP) over the years, hoping that the world would work together to decisively respond to the threat of global warming. They first met in Germany in 1995, when I was only 14 years old. Since then, we’ve had some progress, but not nearly enough. Some notable accomplishments were the signing of the Kyoto Protocol at COP3 in 1997, and the more recent signing of the Paris Agreement at COP21 in 2015. The Kyoto Protocol was important because it was an agreement to operationalize the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which was about officially recognizing that there is a problem, and a commitment to track both the problem along with the world’s progress to address it. The Paris Agreement was important because it finally set the goal of limiting global warming to well below 2° — preferably to 1.5° — compared to pre-industrial levels. Yet, despite these agreements, most countries are still lagging behind in actually addressing the problem. And 26 years after the first COP, I’m now 40 years old, and am anxiously awaiting to find out if the world is going to significantly increase their ambition at COP26 in Glasgow.
Below are some messages from the Climate Reality Project: Australia & Pacific about why COP26 is so important and what needs to happen to make it a success.
What is COP26 and why is it so critical?
The 26th UN Conference of the Parties (COP26) is crucial if climate change is to be brought under control. Leaders from 196 countries will unite in Glasgow to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UNFCCC.
COP26 may be the world’s last best chance to get runaway climate change under control. World leaders will discuss whether enough has been achieved since 2015’s landmark Paris climate agreement to limit global warming to 1.5°C.
Crucially, the latest IPCC report has delivered a “code red for humanity,” demonstrating that the world is currently not on track. Current commitments would result in warming well above 3 degrees by 2100 compared to pre-industrial levels. The science shows that much more must be done to keep 1.5°C in reach.
Climate change is the greatest risk facing us all
Around the world storms, droughts, floods and wildfires are intensifying at an unprecedented rate. Air pollution affects the health of tens of millions and unpredictable weather causes untold damage. However, advances in tackling climate change are leading to cleaner air, creating good jobs, restoring nature and at the same time unleashing economic growth. Despite the opportunities we are not acting fast enough. To avert this crisis, countries need to join forces urgently.
Countries are being asked for “ambitious” targets to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere by 2030. And they will be asked how they will achieve “net zero” — no more going into the atmosphere than is removed — by 2050.
What would success at COP26 look like?
1 Redoubled ambition. The time for ambitious climate action is now. All countries must put forward ambitious targets and plans at the crucial Glasgow COP to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.
Climate change is a reality. If we fail to act urgently, there will be catastrophic consequences for the Pacific, Australia and New Zealand. Every fraction of a degree matters and it’s now in our hands. We have the solutions and this is the moment we must take action as one. Ambition needs to turn into reality. This moment, while action can still make a difference, is the one that matters.
2 Ambitious 2030 targets. Now is the time for ambitious climate action. At a minimum, developed nations including Australia and New Zealand need to join the US in halving emissions by 2030. Further, by providing substantial financial assistance to impacted countries and laying out plans for net zero no later than 2050.
There are credible calls for even stronger 2030 targets and earlier achievement of net zero than 2050.
3 Climate finance and climate justice. Developed countries must make good on their promise to mobilize at least US$100 billion per annum in climate finance. Developing countries need support to build low-carbon economies and adapt to the impacts of climate change.
We must raise awareness of the rights and wellbeing of those who are disproportionately impacted by climate change, and learn from the resilience that First Nations peoples have developed over millennia.
4 Mobilise your networks. Our region is already seeing some of the first and worst impacts of climate change. We have the solutions and the time for action is now. Organize with friends and colleagues to call for ambitious climate commitments by leaders of governments and businesses at COP26.
Every tonne of carbon is important. Every fraction of a degree matters.
“There is no viable pathway to net zero emissions that does not involve protecting and restoring nature on an unprecedented scale. COP26 needs to be decisive. Whether future generations look back at this time with admiration or despair, depends entirely on our ability to seize this moment. Let’s seize it together.”
– Alok Sharma, COP President Designate, ex-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, UK.
What does net zero emissions mean and why are 2030 and 2050 important?
Atmospheric pollution from burning fossil fuels, methane leaks, deforestation and agriculture has driven up the thermometer 1.1°C on average. This is not only impacting on lives and livelihoods, but the very planetary systems we rely on. Currently we are not on track for 1.5°C but more than twice that. Decisive action is needed at the COP26 in Glasgow.
Every fraction of a degree matters to secure a livable climate. Greenhouse gas emissions must decline 50% by 2030 and 100% by 2050 if we are to keep temperature increases in range of 1.5°C. For developed nations such as Australia, the date may need to be earlier.
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions alone is not sufficient either. ‘Net zero’ means firstly dramatically reducing emissions to as close to zero as possible and then absorbing emissions from the atmosphere, for example through planting trees.
Net zero is the only way to stop runaway climate change.
Who is moving to net zero?
A number of countries have committed to net zero by 2050 or earlier. They include the UK, US, Germany, France, Spain, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Hungary, Portugal, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Chile, Costa Rica, Sweden, Iceland, Austria and Finland. The micro-economies of Bhutan and Suriname are already carbon-negative, and the European Union recently enshrined the commitment in European Climate Law.
The Pacific Island Countries have made commitments and proposed legislation for net zero. However, all developed nations have an obligation to lead the way.
Where is the ‘Race to Zero’ up to?
- 61% of global greenhouse gas emissions are covered by countries’ net zero commitments.
- 68% of global GDP is covered by commitments.
- 56% of the world’s population is covered by commitments.
While this coverage is encouraging, less than a fifth of targets meet key quality criteria set by the UN’s ‘Race to Zero’ campaign which follow the four principles of Pledge, Plan, Proceed and Publish. Only 5% of countries have a robust plan to meet their net zero.
Australia’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) currently falls short of aligning with net zero or the 1.5°C target, representing an opportunity for Australia to take ambitious steps to increase its ambition going into COP26.
Why should 2030 targets be aligned with 1.5°C?
Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, nearly 200 countries said they would act to limit the rise in global average temperatures to “well below” 2°C above pre-industrial times and strive to keep to a ceiling of 1.5°C. This represents the level at which the adverse effects of climate change become so severe that the scientific consensus is to avoid it.
Every tonne of CO2 emissions adds to global warming, and every fraction of a degree matters to secure a livable climate. But the world has already heated up by about 1.1°C and is currently on track for warming of about 3.9°C this century unless countries ramp up their commitments substantially.
The 2030 target is crucial because the IPCC tells us urgent and ambitious action is required before 2030 to avoid missing the 1.5°C target. Ambitious action now will unlock opportunities for clean and prosperous economies, and support the wellbeing of people and communities.
Current commitments fall precariously short.
While net zero is a critical longer-term goal, steep emissions cuts are imperative to safeguard a livable climate, especially by the largest greenhouse gas emitters. Emissions must decline 50% by 2030 and 100% by 2050 if we are to stay within any reach of 1.5°C.
Increasing ambition is crucial
The time for ambitious climate action is now. All countries must put forward ambitious targets and plans at the crucial Glasgow COP to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.
Climate change is a reality. If we fail to act urgently, there will be catastrophic consequences for the Pacific, Australia & New Zealand. Every fraction of a degree matters and it’s now in our hands. We have the solutions and this is the moment we must take action as one. Ambition needs to turn into reality. This moment, while action can still make a difference, is the one that matters.
Now is the time for ambitious climate action. At minimum, developed nations including Australia and New Zealand need to join the US in halving emissions by 2030. Further, by providing substantial financial assistance to impacted countries and laying out plans for net zero no later than 2050. There are credible calls for even stronger 2030 targets and earlier achievement of net zero than 2050.
Which countries are halving their emissions by 2030?
The G7 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, UK, and the US) have joined Bhutan, Suriname, Switzerland, and Uruguay in committing to halve emissions by 2030. The UK has set a 2030 emissions reduction target of 68%. Meanwhile, the EU and USA’s 2030 commitments are to cut emissions by 55% and 50–52% respectively.
A successful COP26 will set us on track to halve all global emissions by 2030. It will signal to major industry that it’s time to massively decarbonise operations for a thriving, net zero world. And critically, that it’s time to bring this transformation to developing countries where most emissions growth is predicted.
The UN-backed Race to Zero is the world’s largest net zero alliance. It mobilises a united coalition of net zero initiatives representing 31 regions, 733 cities, 3,067 companies, 624 educational institutions, 173 investors and over 3,000 hospitals from 37 healthcare institutions.
All members of Race to Zero are united by a commitment to a united goal of “reducing emissions across all scopes swiftly and fairly in line with the Paris Agreement, with transparent action plans and robust near-term targets.”
China is the world’s largest emitter, accounting for an estimated 27% of all global emissions.
What is climate justice?
Climate justice is about taking an ethical perspective on the causes as well as social and environmental impacts of human-induced climate change. It examines the historical responsibilities, compelling us to understand and act on the challenges faced by those people, communities and ecologies most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The global average temperature has already heated to 1.1°C and is set to reach 1.5°C by 2030 — negatively impacting communities, ecosystems and economies everywhere. Often, countries that have contributed the least to the causes of climate change are the same countries that are already experiencing its worst effects including sea-level rise, coastal erosion and extreme weather events.
In the Pacific region, island communities that depend on the ocean for their livelihoods and culture are facing some of the most severe climate impacts anywhere on earth. Despite producing only 0.23% of global emissions Pacific Island Countries are already bearing the brunt of harm caused by global heating. The world’s main emitters like Australia need to move quickly to rectify the inherent injustice in this situation. As the IPCC’s landmark research has demonstrated, global heating of even 1.5°C would be catastrophic for Pacific Island Countries.
Looking ahead towards COP26
The delivery of a full range of measures is now essential and urgent. Ambitious action is needed on climate finance, humanitarian aid, measures to adapt to climate impacts, and achieving net zero as rapidly as possible. The equity principle that governments first agreed to in 1992 demands that developed nations move faster than other countries. The divide between justice and reality is best highlighted by the growing global count of legal actions around climate change which now number in the thousands each year. Climate justice demands a collective response at COP26 that acknowledges the specific needs of the most vulnerable nations and the specific responsibility of more advanced nations to lead.
“This crisis is ours to own and ours to solve. By the time leaders come to Glasgow at COP26, it has to be with immediate and transformative actions that are implementable and that make climate commitments achievable. Come with commitments for serious cuts in emissions by 2030–50% or more. Come with commitments to become net zero before 2050. Do not come with excuses. That time is past.”
– Hon. Josaia V. Bainimara, Chair, Pacific Islands Forum & Prime Minister of Fiji.
Climate finance: What needs to happen?
Climate finance commitments are a crucial outcome of COP26 to support climate change projects that reduce emissions and help countries adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change.
“Climate finance refers to local, national, or transnational funding, which may be drawn from public, private and alternative sources of financing. Climate finance is critical to addressing climate change because large-scale investments are required to significantly reduce emissions, notably in sectors that emit large quantities of greenhouse gases. Climate finance is equally important for adaptation, for which significant financial resources will be similarly required to allow societies and economies to adapt to the adverse effects and reduce the impacts of climate change.”
With these goals in mind, the Copenhagen Accord in 2009 set a target of mobilising US$100 billion a year by 2020 by developed countries for developing countries. In the Paris Agreement in 2015 this target was further reinforced, with a goal to raise the target after 2025 and that this funding would come from a “wide variety of sources, public and private, bilateral and multilateral, including alternative sources of finance.”
What’s at stake?
The WWF’s Living Planet Report 2018 observes that nature underpins all economic activity, with “ecosystem services” such as clean air to breathe, healthy water to drink, habitat for biodiversity worth an estimated US$125 trillion annually. For example, the Great Barrier Reef makes a contribution of US$5.7 billion a year to the Australian economy and supports 69,000 jobs.
If we don’t change course, up to one million known plant and animal species could disappear by mid-century. At the same time, sea levels are rising — increasing the risk of flooding and tropical storms in coastal regions across the globe.
All our national leaders are aware of the extraordinary economic losses that will result from inaction versus the economic gains of action. What’s needed now is action.
More than 100 developing countries have set out their key negotiating demands ahead of the COP26 climate meeting in Glasgow, and say that without progress on these points, COP26 will be worthless and end in failure. The issue has become “a matter of trust” and rich nations “must deliver now,” said Alok Sharma, the president of COP26. The scale and speed of the changes needed will require all forms of finance. Every company, every financial institution, insurer and investor will need to change in order to achieve our climate goals.
Which countries are committed to action?
18 donor states committed US$100 billion for climate finance in 2015: Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States, and the European Commission.
These have been augmented by commitments from: Austria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Slovenia, Spain and United States.
We have a long way to go
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) calculated that just US$79.6 billion of annual funding had been mobilized by 2019. However, about three-quarters of the money was in the form of loans that need to be paid back, rather than grants that do not. This is a problem for poorer countries, many of which are already in debt.
What needs to happen at COP26?
Developed countries must make good on their promise to mobilise at least US$100 billion per annum in climate finance. Developing countries need support to build low-carbon economies and adapt to the impacts of climate change.
Climate change impacts and solutions
The Pacific region, encompassing 165 million square kilometres and covering one-third of the Earth’s surface, is facing some of the most severe climate impacts anywhere on earth. With over 25,000 islands, many of which are low-lying, Pacific communities are facing an existential threat from the impacts of climate change. These include more frequent and intense cyclones, rising sea levels, reduced crop yields and supplies of freshwater.
Climate change trends across Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific
- Globally, temperatures have risen by 1.1°C between ~1910 and 2020, and in Australia by 1.4°C.
- Heat extremes are increasing and cold extremes are decreasing.
- Marine heatwaves and ocean acidity are increasing.
- Sea levels are rising faster here than in other parts of the world.
- Frequency, intensity and duration of extreme weather is increasing,
causing more floods, storms, fires and droughts.
Changes in climatic impact drivers and biodiversity loss will be amplified by every fraction of a degree. And as the IPCC’s landmark research has demonstrated, global heating of even 1.5°C would be especially catastrophic for Pacific Island Countries. Rapidly warming oceans have already resulted in more intense tropical hurricanes, devastating low-lying communities most severely.
Despite this, our story is one of resilience amid crisis. New Zealand and Pacific Island Countries have strongly committed to reducing emissions and moving to renewable energy as part of their Paris commitments, and this goes a long way towards a unified regional contribution to urgent climate action. Pacific Island communities are also paving the way for a secure future by creating just and equitable climate solutions centered in traditional and indigenous knowledge.
Australia’s commitments currently fall within the UN’s ‘Insuffcient’ category, which means that its level of ambition would lock in between 2 and 3 degrees of heating when extrapolated across all nations. As a nation with significant interests across the region, Australia has a particular responsibility. Ambitious emissions reduction targets for 2030 and 2050 should be accompanied by clear policies on how they will be met, including an enhanced commitment to the Green Climate Fund.
It is not too late for the Pacific, Australia and New Zealand to avoid the worst effects of climate change, especially if strong commitments for action are made by countries like Australia that sit in the top 15 list of global emitters.
It’s not too late. We can still meet the overarching goals of the Paris Agreement if every country puts forward their own ambitious targets and plans at the crucial Glasgow COP in November 2021.
The time for action is now.
“High emitting countries hold the levers for change. They have outsized control over our collective fate. They must take responsibility or live with the consequences of inaction. I call on all Forum members to work as a collective and use every possible avenue to demand global action. This is not the time for polite Pacific diplomacy. We should not quietly sit by and watch our islands lost to the seas. We should not meekly accept the loss of our livelihoods and the lives of our loved ones. This is not the time for speeches or green-washed commitments. We need action — real action with reliable measures of accountability. This cannot be a moment of concern, it much become a transformative movement.”
– Hon. Josaia V. Bainimarama, Chair, Pacific Islands Forum & Prime Minister of Fiji.
Pledge to make yourself heard during the Climate Reality Project’s 24 Hours of Reality on 29 October by demanding real action from world leaders at COP26 who can make a meaningful difference for us all: 24hoursofreality.org