Call for urgent action on climate crisis must not go unheeded
World leaders will gather at the UN’s headquarters in New York this week for the annual meeting of the UN General Assembly. In parallel to the high-level session, two other important summit meetings will take place. These are the 2023 Sustainable Development Goals summit convened by the president of the General Assembly and the Climate Ambition Summit convened by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
The purpose and objective of both these summits is to recharge political will at the highest level. The first will aim to put the SDGs back on track and the second to galvanize climate action by demonstrating, according to the UN, “collective global will to accelerate the pace and scale of a just transition to a more equitable renewable-energy based, climate-resilient global economy.”
Now at their midpoint, the SDGs — including SDG 13 on climate action — are behind the agreed timelines in terms of implementation. The SDG Progress Report of 2023 shows that progress toward the SDG targets has been rather slow, with only 12 percent of the goals on track to be realized by 2030.
The Paris Agreement climate accord was hailed as a landmark deal when it was adopted in 2015, setting concrete targets and an actionable roadmap for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
To control global warming, member countries agreed to work toward holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 C. Through the obligatory Nationally Determined Contributions, parties to the convention outlined their implementation strategies, challenges and opportunities.
In the seven years since its ratification, these commitments have been translated into action only partially. The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change points out that the world must act with urgency to control carbon emissions, which have risen to record levels.
The climate crisis is an issue of justice and intergenerational equity, particularly for the nations of the Global South that have contributed the least to global warming but are suffering its worst effects.
Last year’s massive floods in Pakistan and similar extreme weather events in other countries demonstrate the ferocious impact of environmental disasters. Far worse for poor nations are the long-term effects and costs of climate change, which are impeding all efforts toward development, threatening peace and infringing on people’s basic human rights. The global water crisis is linked to climate change. Heat waves and prolonged, river-stifling droughts have reduced water flows in rivers to the point where some waterways die before reaching the sea. Consequently, water-stressed countries are already facing problems of crop failures and food insecurity. About 4 billion people, almost half of the global population, are currently experiencing water scarcity at least one month a year.
The climate crisis is an issue of justice and intergenerational equity, particularly for the nations of the Global South.
To defuse what he describes as “a climate change time bomb” and to mobilize meaningful action, Guterres has urged the international community to “speed up efforts to deliver climate justice to those on the front lines of many crises — none of them they caused.”
Wealthy industrialized nations are responsible for 80 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. To curtail further harm to nature and societies, a rapid reduction in carbon emissions and an increase in financial support for adaptation to assist developing countries are urgently required.
The 2021 UN Climate Change Conference, known as COP26, in Glasgow decided to double funding for adaptation. COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh decided to establish the loss and damage fund. Once operationalized, these measures will assuage, to some degree, the suffering of the poor countries that are on the front lines of the impact of climate change.
The Climate Ambition Summit aims to deliberate on all these aspects. It will consider three acceleration tracks: ambition, credibility and implementation, with indicative targets for governments, businesses, financial institutions, cities and others.
In the ambition track, governments will be expected to present plans for accelerated action by updating their NDCs, upwardly revising net-zero targets, realizing the funding pledged for developing countries and the Green Climate Fund, putting in place energy transition plans and phasing out fossil fuels.
In the credibility track, businesses, cities, regions and financial institutions will present transition plans, commit to a just transition and make actual emission cuts, not merely use carbon offsets.
And in the implementation track, leaders of governments, international and regional organizations, financial institutions, the private sector and civil society will present existing or emerging implementation partnerships to accelerate the decarbonization of high-emitting sectors, including steel, cement, agriculture, energy, shipping and aviation. In this track, all stakeholders will also be expected to commit themselves to plans to deliver climate justice through installing early warning systems for all by 2027, by increasing climate finance for adaptation to 50 percent and by activating the loss and damage fund.
The pledges and commitments that come out of the summit will augment and support the formal process under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and its COP28 convention in Dubai later this year. The UN Environment Programme and other UN agencies are backing these endeavors through partnerships with governments and others. The UNEP’s Emissions Gap and Adaptation Gap reports ahead of the COP meetings provide helpful data to policymakers. This year, two new reports will be released in the run-up to Dubai.
The growing population of young people around the world hope for good and secure work opportunities and a decent life. The climate crisis is risking the realization of young people’s hopes and aspirations for a better future.
The current socioeconomic challenges could further compound the crisis if the clarion call for urgent, effective and sustained climate action goes unheeded. It must not.
• Jamil Ahmad is director of intergovernmental affairs at the United Nations Environment Programme.