Lessons From the New U.N. Climate Report on How to Course Correct
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Seven months ago, when I took up my role at the helm of United Nations Climate Change, I said that we would need to do things differently if we are to meet the challenge of the climate emergency.
The report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) today underscores that need in dramatic terms. This synthesis of the most up-to-date science we have from a global community of experts adds yet more certainty, more data, and more detail to a simple truth: Unless we reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by at least 43% this decade, we are locking ourselves into a future of escalating climate extremes, food crises, and nature loss.
While there has been significant progress on the climate agenda over the past years, today’s IPCC report is clear: It’s the pace at which we decarbonize our societies that will determine our success. Unless we supercharge climate action this decade, the Paris Agreement goals will be lost.
As the head of the U.N. organization tasked with addressing the climate emergency, I see three priorities for this year to get us on course.
First: chart a clear path towards 2030
If we are to halve emissions by the end of the decade, we need to get specific now. This year’s so-called Global Stocktake—a U.N.-led consultation process to assess progress towards the Paris goals—is a unique opportunity to establish where the world stands on climate action and identify the gaps that remain.
This year will see the culmination of this two-year long process, which includes inputs from countries, businesses, cities, civil society, and others. As a key pillar of the 2015 Paris Agreement, it is designed to help countries build ambitious national climate plans and see what they have achieved so far.
But the Stocktake has to be more than yet another synthesis report. Countries must use this moment to agree on the concrete milestones that will take us to our 2030 targets.
This roadmap cannot be limited to our emission reductions alone. It must include detailed steps for all work areas including on climate adaptation, loss and damage, finance, technology, and capacity building.
For the Stocktake to deliver that pathway, the G20 countries, who are responsible for more than 80% of global emissions, must lead the way. The Indian G20 presidency’s leadership, in particular, is essential to inject the necessary political momentum into the Stocktake process ahead of COP28.
Second: align global finance flows with our climate goals
The emission reductions described by the IPCC today are simply not achievable under our current financial architecture, which is stuck in the last century.
The upcoming Spring Meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund are a moment to push ahead with reforms to multilateral development banks (MDBs) and move away from a system that continues to treat development and climate goals as separate challenges.
MDBs and their vast lending powers have the ability to fuel the green transition we must achieve this decade. But we can only harness this potential if MDBs update their operating models to provide more concessional lending at better terms for climate projects.
Whether it’s a reform of the MDBs, reducing support for high-emission industries and projects, or scaling up private finance for the green transition, we must see progress this year to pave the way in unlocking funds for countries on the frontlines of the climate emergency.
Third: launch an accountability revolution
Today’s IPCC report shows how every bit of additional warming translates into more suffering for people, especially the most vulnerable.
Taking this science seriously means putting an end to vague commitments and broken promises. The time for greenwashing, delay, and deception is over.
As U.N. Climate Change, we will sit at the heart of a renewed focus on accountability. Last year, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres provided a first set of principles to guide the development of credible climate targets for businesses and other non-state actors. In the coming months, we will publish a plan to show how we can build on these recommendations to close accountability gaps.
As the intergovernmental climate process shifts from negotiation to implementation, countries will face stronger scrutiny. Many of the climate plans submitted to date amount to nothing less than a broken promise. Unless they are backed up with policy and plans for delivery, these plans are meaningless. Supporting countries to push commitments off the paper and into action will be a priority for U.N. Climate Change ahead of COP28 and beyond.
If we are to truly do things differently, all these elements—a 2030 roadmap, finance reform, and improved accountability mechanisms—must come together at COP28, the next major U.N. climate conference, to be held in Dubai this December.
It is my conviction that by giving us not only a plan, but also a renewed sense of political and corporate accountability on climate change, COP28 can be the moment in which we double-down on the future we can still create.