Category Archives: Global Climate Action Agenda

2019 UN Climate Action Summit: World leaders’ inaction incurs wrath of growing climate movement

On 23 September, the Secretary General of the United Nations António Guterres, convened the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit, where government leaders and representatives from youth, business, cities, and finance focused on increasing ambitions to lower greenhouse gas emissions and build climate resilience. In advance of the Summit a whole slew of reports was released; each showing the growing urgency of climate change, a widening gap between climate targets and commitments to action, and the growing impacts of already occurring climate change. Gathered world leaders, however, are not impressed, as few raise their ambition.

Leading climate science organizations published the “United in Science” synthesis report with the worrying headline message that climate change impacts are “hitting harder and sooner” than previously forecasted. The IPCC Report on land-use highlighted worrying trends that both aggravate climate change and put sustainable development at risk. Deteriorating soil fertility threatens food security and affects capacity to store carbon, further exacerbating global warming. A leaked IPCC report on oceans and the cryosphere further warned that more than a quarter billion people could be displaced when global warming hits 2°C.

Despite mounting evidence, and worse than expected trends, the world’s response has been far from adequate. According to the Global Climate Adaptation report, by 2030 the world may see a 100 million more poor; severe water shortages; and unprecedented mass migrations. Trillion-dollar investments are inevitable, but inaction will prove much costlier. Although, climate change calls for the tripling of ‘nationally determined contributions’, according to a joint report by UNDP and UNFCCC, most governments – particularly industrial countries – have not yet adjusted their ambitions.

Against the backdrop of worsening climate change and dwindling governmental climate targets, the Climate Action Summit is the latest in a series of international efforts to mobilize large-scale initiatives to combat climate change and to abate its negative impacts. In 2014, then Secretary General Ban Ki-moon convened the first UN Climate Summit. Last year, Governor Jerry Brown of California hosted the Global Climate Action Summit. In the context of the UNFCCC, the main UN climate process, continuous efforts are made to showcase and encourage a multitude of actions by a broad range of actors. Contrary to previous efforts, which emphasized the role of non-state and local actors, such as businesses, cities and regions and civil society organizations, the Climate Action Summit also provided a platform for governments to announce plans to reduce emissions and to help people to respond to the climate crisis.

The Summit saw the launch of 28 collaborative initiatives across nine thematic areas, including climate finance, Industry transition, mitigation, resilience and adaptation and nature-based solutions. Some of the more eye-catching initiatives include a new coalition of pension funds and insurance providers, managing US$2.3 trillion, which aims to shift investments away from carbon intensive industries with the goal to limit the increase in average temperatures to 1.5°C. Members of the coalition engage with high-carbon companies to help them adopt more sustainable business practices, while divestment from highly polluting industries is on the table as an ultimate measure. To catalyze its impact, the coalition calls on other large asset owners and sovereign wealth funds to join and also align their investment portfolios. In another large initiative, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, along with the World Bank, the European Commission, Sweden, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Germany, made a US$790 million commitment to support research and innovations that help assist smallholder farmers to improve their livelihoods and increase their resilience to climate change impacts.

Despite these striking initiatives by businesses, finance, cities, regions, and other stakeholders, governments have not adequately stepped up. Although the Summit tried to establish stronger links between ambitious actions between non-state and local actions and governments, it yielded few new governmental commitments. A few countries (South Korea, the UK, Germany and France) have pledged to double their contributions to the Green Climate Fund and other climate financing programs, but none of the major economies have acted on the call to raise their climate targets or presented concrete plans. Sadly, the Summit does not seem to have significantly rallied higher government ambitions.

Given the disappointing yield of new governmental commitments, the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit may be most remembered for the powerful speech delivered by sixteen-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. In her impassioned speech, she blasted world leaders’ inaction and accused them of failing young people and betraying future generations.

“you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. (…) You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you.”

Governments will get another chance to raise their pledges at the UN Climate Change Conference in Santiago, Chile, later this year. But time for credible climate commitments by governments is running out, and their inaction is increasingly incurring the wrath of a growing movement of concerned youth, as well as older generations.

Has transnational climate adaptation action effectively been prioritized and mobilized internationally?

Climate change adaptation is increasingly seen as a question that involves globally con- nected vulnerabilities and impacts which necessitate transboundary action by non-state and subnational (transnational) actors. Traditional actors such as governments and inter- national organizations leave deficits in norm development, enforcement, capacity building, and financing. Orchestration has been suggested under the functionalist assumption that transnational actors can make up for these deficits, through optimizing complementarity between the realms of international and transnational governance and through eliciting more action toward the achievement of globally agreed climate goals.

In the context of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), orchestration has taken the form of an evolving Global Climate Action Agenda (GCAA). Few studies have examined the role of orchestration in bolstering transnational adaptation. In our new article we therefore ask: Has the GCAA effectively mobilized and prioritized transnational adaptation action? Further, has it effectively addressed functional, participatory, and geographic deficits?

Analyzing a unique dataset of a hundred cooperative climate actions, we find that current patterns are incongruent with some functionalist expectations. GCAA orchestration has featured a political prioritization of both adaptation and mitigation and a focus on building a positive narrative of climate action. This combination of priorities has led to neglect of underperforming actions—many of them adaptation actions in developing countries. Subsequent iterations of the GCAA failed to recognize these actions and did not identify support needed for them. This has strengthened the bias toward mitigation aspects of climate change and exacerbated imbalances in the geography of transnational action under the GCAA.

Read the full text here:

New: Exploring National & Regional Orchestration of Nonstate Action for a <1.5 World

International UNFCCC mobilization of nonstate ClimateAction has inspired similar initiatives across LatinAmerica, Europe & Asia. How can regional/local ‘orchestrators’ help build a climate just 1.5°C world? Read about it in our new publication (open access). To read, follow this link:

The G20 as an additional forum to bolster a climate safe future

[This post has been previously featured on the T20 blog]

Image: Solar Panels

Sander Chan & Wanja Amling

On Tuesday 28 March, President Trump unravelled his predecessor’s climate policy by signing an executive order that, amongst other things, undoes restrictions on emissions by coal-fired power plants. Obama’s climate measures would have resulted in an estimated 26-28 percent reduction of US emissions by 2025. Many now ask about the global consequences of US withdrawal from climate protection; will this be the end of the world’s quest for a low-carbon and climate resilient future.

After more than 20 years of often fruitless negotiations,  governments finally agreed to a new international climate agreement in Paris in December 2015. In the run-up to this new agreement, thousands of companies and investors committed to taking climate actions, and to investing billions into a cleaner economy. In addition, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets around the world demanding a climate-safe future. While the 45th President undeniably spells bad news for the US and for our Planet, we see important silver linings. First, climate Action is happening largely independently of national politics. Second, the multilateral climate process around the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is not the only place to reaffirm low-carbon development. The G20 as a forum beyond the multilateral climate process may be well placed to encourage climate action, and reassure businesses and investors that the world remains determined to realize a low-carbon economy.

A cabinet of climate horrors

As the world finally seemed to break its addiction to fossil fuels, the oil and coal industry gained unprecedented power over the world’s largest economy. Trump appointed former Exxon executive Rex Tillerson as State Secretary, and climate deniers, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, and former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, respectively as Energy Secretary, and head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Observing this cabinet of climate horrors, nobody should be surprised at Trump’s executive order. With the stroke of a pen, Trump seeks to take down the centre piece of the Obama’s climate policy; the Clean Power Plan. Moreover, the order promises to open federal lands and waters for onshore and offshore leasing, allowing drilling and fracking in vulnerable ecosystems, and it releases government agencies from considering the social costs of carbon.

In contrast to what some have expected, the US is not (yet) withdrawing itself from the Paris Climate Agreement or the UNFCCC altogether. One could argue that a complete withdrawal would be better; now the rest of the world finds an unwilling and even obstructive US at the negotiation table. Moreover, as the US cuts its contributions to international climate finance and the UN, the international effects of Trump’s climate policy will extend far beyond negotiations. For instance, developing countries that are especially suffering from the impacts of already occurring climate change can no longer expect assistance and support from the US.

Climate action makes business sense

While international climate change cooperation undoubtedly suffers a heavy blow under Trump, some of important drivers of climate action remain. Renewable technologies have become strong competitors to older fossil fuel based technologies. The green economy is posting greater job growth than the fossil fuel based economy. A rapidly growing number of businesses, investors, cities and regions are stepping up efforts to reduce greenhouse gasses and to adapt to climate change.

This surge in climate investments happens largely independently of politics. The private sector and local governments act less out of charitable intentions, or under popular or political pressure; rather, they realize that low-carbon and climate resilient solutions make business sense. Even the head of the largest private US coal company, Robert Murray, admitted that Trump cannot bring back lost jobs. The coal industry is declining, not because of regulations imposed, but because renewable energy and gas have become cheaper and more efficient. An executive order is not likely to withstand these new market forces.

Outside the direct control of Washington, more and more companies, investors, and cities are investing in the reduction of greenhouse gasses and adapting to climate change. The case for smart climate adaptation measures is particularly strong for cities. The city of Miami, for example, has invested more than one hundred million dollars in storm-water drainage. Measures to mitigate and to adapt to climate change are taking place all over the US, independently of federal policies, and not out of charitable intentions either.

Reaffirming a low-carbon economic future

It is difficult to remain optimistic amid the gloom. However, the US has previously shown considerable resilience against environmentally hostile administrations. For instance, robust participatory environmental arrangements in the 1980s mitigated some of the anti-environmental policies under President Reagan. More importantly, as a reaction to the Reagan administration, the environmental movement bloomed and consolidated into a force to reckon with. Ironically, Trump’s proneness to stoke civil and economic unrest may help the world to move away from the incrementalism that has thus far insufficiently triggered the more radical transitions needed to secure a climate safe future. Trump may have unwittingly released the forces that will bring about a more radical transformation towards a low-carbon economy, and a more sustainable future.

The international community will also need to find new strategies to accelerate climate actions. Multilateral institutions such as the UNFCCC strictly act on consensus, and are particularly vulnerable to non-action or disruption by even one country, let alone the US.

However, forums beyond the UNFCCC, with more open ended processes, do not need to reach consensus beyond political declarations. The G20, in particular, as the most important ‘minilateral’ forum, could stimulate joint-up thinking on climate change and economic development at the highest level; and, as a country led process, it could encourage individual countries. In particular, presiding G20 presidents – currently Germany, Argentina in 2018, and India in 2019, could demonstrate individual leadership by reaffirming their commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement, and by putting low-carbon development at the top of the agenda. Even if this leads to a showdown between the US and the other 19 governments on climate change; the world would still witness a more distributed leadership on climate change, giving a strong political signal to businesses and investors that the world is still heading to a low-carbon economic future.

New publication: Effective and geographically balanced? An output-based assessment of non-state climate actions

cp_effective-and-geographically-balancedAt COP21 in Paris, governments reiterated the importance of  ‘non-Party’ contributions, placing big bets that the efforts of cities, regions, investors, companies, and other social groups will help keep average global warming limited to well under 2°C. However, there is little systematic knowledge concerning the performance of non-state and subnational efforts. We established a database of 52 climate actions launched at the 2014 UN Climate Summit in New York to assess output performance – that is, the production of relevant outputs – to understand whether they are likely to deliver social and environmental impacts. Moreover, we assess to which extent climate actions are implemented across developed and developing countries. We find that climate actions are starting to deliver, and output performance after one year is higher than one might expect from previous experiences with similar actions. However, differences exist between action areas: resilience actions have yet to produce specific outputs, whereas energy and industry actions perform above average. Furthermore, imbalances between developing and developed countries persist. While many actions target low-income and lower-middle-income economies, the implementation gap in these countries remains greater. More efforts are necessary to mobilize and implement actions that benefit the world’s most vulnerable people.

Link to full-text (open access):

Transnational Climate Action: Seizing the Opportunity in the Global South

Climate change is no longer a matter of governments alone, as local authorities, investors, businesses and other social groups increasingly act on, and to adapt to climate change. Transnational actions could further narrow the emissions gap, demonstrate to governments what is possible, and – in so doing – they create pressure for higher ambitions. However, to become effective complements to the international climate regime, climate actions also need to be taken on a global scale. This raises the question about the geographic distribution of transnational action – climate-action1and more broadly whether the transnational dimension of the post-Paris climate governance architecture will deliver in an equitable manner. In contrast to ‘traditional’ international climate politics, the gap between developing and developed countries is much less questioned when it comes to the transnational dimension of global climate change. This is remarkable, given the great potential of transnational climate actions questions such as ‘where will the benefits of these actions accrue’ and ‘who are the beneficiaries’ should loom large. Imbalances in the transnational governance realm may soon undermine the legitimacy of transnational engagement in the UNFCCC process. This would not only be a political problem; it would possibly lead to a less effective global climate regime.

Continue reading Transnational Climate Action: Seizing the Opportunity in the Global South

High-level Champions: Global Climate Action grounded in sustainable development

High-Level Climate Action Champions Minister Hakima El Haité and Ambassador Laurence Tubiana, in their recently released reflection note, emphasize the importance of Global Climate Action by businesses, investors, cities and regions, and other stakeholders, to simultaneously deliver on the objectives of the Paris Climate Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.

The note further points out the important role the Office of the United Nations Secretary-General plays in mobilizing the UN system, convening all sectors of society, while ensuring linkages with the 2030 Agenda Sustainable Development.

Although not explicitly mentioned, the strong emphasis on sustainable development is good news for developing countries. The Champions intend to broaden Global Climate Action beyond initiatives with high mitigation potential, but also initiatives that deliver climate resilience and sustainable development. In a next step, more details should be given on how the Global Climate Action Agenda would support and encourage action in developing countries.

For priorities to ensure effective and inclusive Global Climate Action, see previous post:

3 Priorities to ensure an effective and inclusive Global Climate Action Agenda



3 Priorities to ensure an effective and inclusive Global Climate Action Agenda

The Galvanizing the Groundswell of Climate Actions network has been discussing how the Global Climate Action Agenda should look like; how it could contribute to closing the global emissions gap; and how it can safeguard credibility and effectiveness of non-Party actions.

I would like to point out three things to ensure an effective and inclusive Global Climate Action Agenda.

Continue reading 3 Priorities to ensure an effective and inclusive Global Climate Action Agenda