Guest blog: Time to Bridge the Gap Between Awareness and Action

Guest blog by Nigel Topping: High Level Champion for Climate Action at COP26. Originally published here.

At COP26, our national and global self interests aligned in a way that drove cooperation and resulted in the Glasgow Climate Pact, COP26 President Alok Sharma said in a recent speech at Chatham House.

That pact is a success. It recognizes the science and calls on countries to phase down unabated coal-fired power and phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies. It asks countries to revisit and strengthen their 2030 emission reduction targets by the end of this year. And it commits countries to scale up climate finance and double finance for adaptation by 2025.

“Yet, at the moment they are just words on a page,” Sharma said. “And unless we honour the promises made, to turn the commitments in the Glasgow Climate Pact into action, they will wither on the vine.”

And the world is still far off the path to stabilizing global warming at 1.5°C, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa said at Project Syndicate’s Green Growth event. “It’s why COP26 was not the end of anything. It was an important step forward, but our work and the work of Parties continues towards COP27.”

This transformation from commitment to reality involves the entire global economy, and it won’t reach the necessary speed and scale without leadership from businesses, investors, cities, regions and civil society encouraging their governments to keep raising ambitions.

Private sector and local government leaders understand the cost of doing nothing and benefits of acting now better than ever before, as new research shows.

Among business executives surveyed late last year, 97% said their companies had already been negatively impacted by climate change, of which half saw impacts on their operations, according to Deloitte’s 2022 CxO Sustainability Report. The number of executives who see the world at a tipping point for responding to the climate crisis jumped to 79% in late 2021, from 59% eight months earlier.

Similarly, “climate action failure” was the number one risk cited by leaders in business, government and civil society in the World Economic Forum’s 2022 Global Risks Perception Survey. That was followed by concerns about extreme weather due to climate change, and biodiversity loss.

However, there is still a disconnect between the perceived risks leaders see and the action they take, Deloitte found. Only two-thirds of executives said their organizations had shifted to more sustainable materials and increased energy efficiency.

This is our year to bridge that disconnect. In his speech, Sharma set out the COP26 Presidency’s four priorities for 2022:

  1. Keep the temperature limit of 1.5°C within reach by setting plans to reach net zero emissions before 2050 and strengthening emission reduction targets for 2030.
  2. Double finance for adaptation and advance talks on loss and damage.
  3. Set plans to deliver the developed world’s commitment of US$100 billion per year in climate finance and discuss a new goal for 2025.
  4. Push action across key sectors, including energy, cars and deforestation.

The transition comes with costs, but if managed well, they will be outweighed by benefits.

Reaching net zero by 2050 requires around US$9.2 trillion per year of capital spending on physical assets for energy and land use from 2021, according to McKinsey’s Net Zero Transition report. But it could lead to 15 million net new jobs.

In Asia Pacific, acting on climate change would add US$47 trillion to the region’s economies by 2070 - whereas failure to act would wipe US$96 trillion by 2070, according to Deloitte. In Europe, reaching net zero emissions by 2050 would add €730 billion (US$825 billion) to the economies by 2070, whereas inaction would cost €6 trillion (US$6.7 trillion). In the United States, action would lead to a US$3 trillion gain by 2070, inaction to a US$14.5 trillion loss.

Resilient Green Shipping

The shipping industry accounts for about 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Its emissions already rose by 4.9% in 2021 from 2020, surpassing pre-pandemic levels, according to a report by shipbroker Simpson Spence Young.

If left unchecked, shipping emissions could grow by 50% from 2008 levels by 2050, making net zero emissions by 2050 all but unattainable. 

We saw significant progress in commitment in Glasgow, with initiatives announced to establish zero-emission shipping routes, accelerate the sector’s decarbonization and ensure a just and people-centred transition. The Climate Vulnerable Forum of 55 countries called at COP26 for a mandatory levy on international shipping emissions in line with limiting warming to 1.5°C, and for the revenues to be used for urgent climate action. The cities and the private sector are already moving in that direction. In January, the ports of Los Angeles and Shanghai, along with C40 Cities agreed to create the world’s first green shipping corridor, between the US and China. AP Moller-Maersk also moved its net zero target up to 2040, from 2050, in response to growing customer demand for clean transport and technological advances. It aims to reduce absolute emissions by 35-50% between 2020 and 2030. 

But cutting emissions is not enough. To be robust and sustainable, the shipping industry’s race to zero emissions must support a just and equitable transition for people, account for the impact of a changing climate, and build the resilience of coastal and port communities and infrastructures already suffering from these impacts. 

Coastal urban areas could face more than US$1 trillion per year in costs by 2050 from the effects of rising sea levels and extreme weather events. Small island developing states and least developed countries would bear the brunt of these costs, exacerbating today’s inequalities. 

So the sector that’s responsible for 90% of our trade needs to race to zero emissions and greater resilience at the same time - and with speed. 

Investing in the resilience of ports and surrounding communities is important to both challenges. Ports can become hubs for clean shore power systems and shipping fuels, which can be connected to domestic power grids. This will help to decarbonize cities and create jobs. Work to restore and protect the nature around ports can further buffer coastal zones against rising sea levels, extreme storms and heat, and support jobs and livelihoods. 

Turning the COP26 Clydebank Declaration for Green Shipping Corridors into reality will be especially important to the sector’s race to zero emissions and resilience. In it, 22 countries committed to establish at least six zero-emission shipping routes by 2025, saying they can catalyze and accelerate the maritime sector’s decarbonization and unlock new business opportunities and socioeconomic benefits. 

The UN’s One Ocean Summit, in France on 9-11 February, offers an opportunity for governments, multilateral institutions, business leaders and civil society to accelerate the roll-out of operational green corridors, which will showcase zero-emission ships and resilient ports and communities.




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