With the UN COP27 Climate Conference opening in the Egyptian city of Sharm El-Sheikh this week, Inger Andersen, executive director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly about the action needed to avoid runaway global warming.
How can the COP27 be a springboard for realising the dreams and hopes of the world in responding to climate-change adaptation and mitigation?
As the UN secretary-general has said recently, the ‘COP27 must provide a clear and time-bound roadmap on closing the finance gap for addressing loss and damage. This will be a central litmus test for success at the COP27.’
UNEP’s Emissions Gap is clear on just how far off track we are. At the Glasgow Climate Summit last year, countries committed to update their climate pledges to deliver far greater emissions cuts. The Gap report documents that, collectively, the limited number of updated pledges shave less than one per cent off projected greenhouse gas emissions in 2030. This is completely insufficient. We need to cut 45 per cent off emissions by 2030, over and above what current policies will deliver, to get on track to limiting global warming to 1.5 °C.
The COP27 needs to be about implementation, about action, and about putting finance on the table so we can protect the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.
We are already seeing responses from countries on adaptation and mitigation, but when do we move from gradual change to comprehensive transformative change?
UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report 2022 sends us a very clear message. If we are serious about climate change, we need to kick start a system-wide transformation now. We need a root-and-branch redesign of the electricity sector, of the transport sector, of the building sector and of food systems. And we need to reform financial systems, so that they can bankroll the transformations we cannot escape.
It is critical that we step up our efforts on adapting to a climate-changing world. And this will require us to fill the yawning gap that remains in adaptation financing of around five to 10 times the size of the adaptation finance that arrived in 2020. Yes, the war in Ukraine, global supply shortages, and the Covid-19 pandemic have contributed to an energy and food security crisis. Costs of living are going through the roof. Climate change might not seem like a priority right now, but it is.
Even if all commitments are implemented immediately, the reality is that climate change is going to be with us decades into the future. And the poorest keep paying the price for our inaction. It is therefore imperative that we put time, effort, resources and planning into adaptation action.
We are at a crossroads. The decisions we make now can secure a liveable future. When will we have the courage to do so?
We all know about the impacts of climate change. We all feel them. We all know they are going to get worse. And still, as UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report 2022 shows, we aren’t doing anywhere near enough to cut greenhouse-gas emissions.
A multiyear drought in the Horn of Africa has put millions on the brink of starvation. The floods in Pakistan caused over $30 billion in damages and economic losses. Severe summer heat across the northern hemisphere brought destructive and deadly wildfires. These events are inextricably linked to climate change. They are what we are seeing at only 1.1 °C above pre-industrial temperatures. And we aren’t going to stay at 1.1 °C for long. Policies currently in place put us on the path for a 2.8 °C rise by the end of the century, as UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report 2022 shows.
The science from UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report 2022, and indeed science presented by our friends at the UN recently, is resounding: we are sliding from climate crisis to climate disaster. The time for courage is now.
Human activities in the industrialised countries caused us to fall into this quagmire. How can they provide the solution?
UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report 2022 tells us in cold scientific terms what nature has been telling us all this year through deadly floods, storms, and raging fires: we have to stop filling our atmosphere with greenhouse gases and stop doing it fast. We had our chance to make incremental changes, but that time is over. Only a root-and-branch transformation of our economies and societies can save us from accelerating climate disaster.
In this transformation, we must see solidarity from, and indeed leadership from, the G20 group of countries which account for 75 per cent of global greenhouse-gas emissions. Solidarity not through words, but through actions — through financing, through capacity support, and through technology transfers.
Carbon neutrality is one of the most important challenges facing climate change. How can a strategy be developed to achieve the goal of carbon neutrality and its implementation?
It is a tall, and some would say impossible, order to reform the global economy and almost halve greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030, but we must try because quite frankly the future of humanity is hanging by a thread. And we are already seeing enough positives that we need to build on — the price of renewables is declining, the electric vehicles market is growing in almost every part of the world, and people everywhere are beginning to demand action.
What is required to avoid climate catastrophe?
Words are no longer enough. We need to see strong and urgent action. This is not the task for any one country, but for every country, business, civil society group and people. Climate change is landing blow after blow upon humanity. Now more than ever we need courageous leaders in countries, in businesses, in civil society, in youth groups and faith-based groups — everyone must come together today because we must solve this together or not at all.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 10 November, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.