The urgent task at hand is speeding up the process

Helen Clarkson, CEO, The Climate Group
Reading time: 3 minutes
18 January 2019
Helen Clarkson, The Climate Group

It looks like the message is properly out there, then. Climate change is real. Plant based diets are going mainstream and vegan sausage rolls are going viral. We seem to have woken up to the real scale of the waste we produce, the true damage of ubiquitous single-use plastic, and of the pollution we’re inhaling with every breath in our cities. We are collectively becoming more environmentally conscious in our everyday choices. Businesses who are leading the charge on climate action are shouting ever louder about it, helping to encourage sustainable behaviours from their peers while seeing better financial returns.

The challenge no longer lies in convincing people of the reality of the toll climate change is taking on our planet. (On the whole – there are of course some high-profile exceptions). The urgent task at hand is speeding up the process – making the changes needed for a zero-carbon future and pumping them with the adrenaline to match the urgency required. 

A defining moment of last year was the starkest warning yet on the impacts of global warming delivered by the global body of the world’s leading climate scientists, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The IPCC Special Report demonstrated that catastrophic consequences of climate change happen at lower level of temperature rise than previously understood. It made the case for aiming for 1.5°C as the maximum rise in temperature, lower than the 2°C enshrined in the Paris agreement. This means action is urgent.

This news tallies up with the worrying changes to our climate we’ve witnessed in recent years. 2018 was marked by extreme weather conditions across the globe – fatal heatwaves, flooding, wildfires, drought, typhoons and tsunamis. Since 2000, the world has experienced 17 of the 18 hottest years ever recorded, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). If that isn’t a compelling enough statistic I’m not sure what is.

In 2018 state and regional governments, businesses, and cities continued calling upon national governments to stop and listen. Industry leaders demonstrated that sustainability makes business sense; forward-thinking cities, states and regions led the way on air pollution and zero emission zones; ambitious states and regions decarbonized at double the rate of G20 governments. All of these areas are clear examples of forward-thinking, future-proofing leadership which will be built upon further in 2019.  

However, when national governments convened at COP24, the annual UN climate conference at the end of last year, though they agreed upon the ‘rulebook’ for implementing the Paris Agreement, a real sense of urgency and ambition for action was lacking.

The graph of the emissions curve needs to bend by 2020 – which means that global carbon emissions need to start dropping steeply (far from reaching an all-time high, as they did in 2018). We have less than twelve months to achieve this. As carbon emissions are cumulative, delays in reaching this goal would become increasingly dangerous year by year. The sooner we can save carbon and cut emissions the better – not just for our future, but for our present too. 

So what will we be doing?

The Climate Group wants to rise to this challenge and will be taking on new areas of work this year to increase our reach and impact. As well as continuing to grow our corporate renewable energy, electric vehicle and energy efficiency programmes, and working with the governments that comprise the Under2 Coalition on their ambitious emissions reduction plans:

  • We’re developing a new focus on heavy industry – typically heavily emitting companies – to reduce their CO2 output and their environmental impact;
  • We’re starting new Under2 projects with a focus on land and forest economies, particularly in South America, funded by the Norwegian and German governments;
  • The UN Secretary General’s Climate Change Summit in September this year will be a critical moment for action and held during our annual Climate Week NYC. We plan to support with our biggest Climate Week yet and will be announcing events in the coming months.

For businesses, states, regions, cities and investors, 2019 is undoubtedly a critical year for action. Over the coming 12 months, all will need to double down on their public and private efforts to demonstrate the benefits of strong climate action.

Of course, this is happening already – but action which ensures we don’t damage our planet beyond repair needs to happen at a monumentally greater pace and scale. The Climate Group is here, in its fifteenth year, to drive that essential shift forward.

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