Everyone, Everywhere, All At Once (Again)
In September, the Global Stocktake under the Paris climate agreement showed that countries are doing too little, too slowly to combat climate change. When COP28 opens this week, they have to deliver.
Trust the United Nations to come up with a name like the Global Stocktake for an essential, high-stakes exercise to hold countries accountable for reducing their climate pollution under the 2015 Paris climate agreement.
The formal title made it sounds like a world-wide network of storekeepers, all closing up shop simultaneously to take inventory. But the Global Stocktake was pretty much infinitely more important than that. The report issued September 8, described by the New York Times as a “first official report card” on the Paris deal, looked at how well countries have kept their promises to address the impacts of climate change and drive down the greenhouse gas pollution that causes it.
The unsurprising answer: Eight years and countless climate disasters since the Paris agreement was finalized, there’s been some halting progress, but not nearly enough.
We’re updating and republishing this post from early September because the Global Stocktake will be at the centre of discussions at the UN’s COP28 climate summit, November 30-December 12 in Dubai. Since the Stocktake was released, we’ve seen an avalanche of reports and analysis (as we always do at this time of year, just before a COP) that mostly show a dire situation—plus some glimmers of hope and progress that it’s up to negotiators in Dubai to build on.
Here are just a few of the stories we’ve been following:
For better and for worse…now you’re ready for this year’s COP.
‘Significant’ Gains, But We’re Not On Track
The Global Stocktake covered much the same ground as the more recent reports.
“While action is proceeding, much more is needed now on all fronts,” the Stocktake’s two co-facilitators wrote, after a two-year slog that had them hosting 252 hours of dialogue and synthesizing more than 170,000 pages of technical input. “Against forecasts made prior to its adoption, the Paris Agreement has led to contributions that significantly reduce forecasts of future warming, yet the world is not on track to meet the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement.”
In a year of record heat, epic wildfires, and killer floods, you would be right to conclude that the UN was saying what we already know, what too many of us have been tasting in the back of our throats. But in the plodding, process-heavy world of international diplomacy, there’s still some value in an exercise meant to inform negotiations at this year’s UN climate conference and set the stage for countries to update and strengthen their Paris commitments, or Nationally Determined Contributions, in 2025.
If only because this is still the best process we have for getting 195 countries pointed in the same direction on a global emergency that affects them all—but where that urgency is expressed in square brackets and “smiley faces” that shape what everyone can actually agree on.
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The 46-page synthesis report of the Global Stocktake pointed to a “rapidly narrowing window to raise ambition and implement existing commitments in order to limit warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.”
It called for a “radical decarbonization of all sectors of the economy” that includes “scaling up renewable energy while phasing out all unabated fossil fuels, ending deforestation, reducing non-CO2 emissions, and implementing both supply- and demand-side measures.” In plainer language, that means “cutting with both arms of the scissors” and working to phase down fossil fuel extraction, at the same time that we reduce demand by massively increasing energy efficiency and deploying renewable energy and storage.
To get on track with the Paris commitments, the Global Stocktake report said countries need “much more ambition in action and support” to hit emission reduction targets of 43% by 2030 and 60% by 2035. “There are now sufficient cost-effective opportunities to address the 2030 emissions gap,” the report said. But “significant challenges, including access to and availability of support, remain in harnessing these opportunities at the required pace and scale.”
The synthesis stressed that whole societies, not just national governments, have to be a part of the solution.
It called for deep, rapid shifts in industry, transport, buildings, and other sectors to “rapidly reduce process and energy emissions.”
And it acknowledged that “rapid change can be disruptive”, reiterating past calls for “inclusion and equity” to prevent fossil-dependent communities from being left behind.
Bringing the Targets Home
Even if there was very little new in the Global Stocktake report, it will still be an important marker when countries gather in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) later this week for COP28.
For the rest of us, there’s a different takeaway. The more the focus shifts from the “what” to the “how”—from setting the targets and issuing the declarations to actually delivering on countries’ climate promises—the more the work across whole societies takes centre stage.
The Global Stocktake is about targets adopted by national governments. But targets only matter if they’re met. And countries’ ability make good on their pledges depends on countless decisions by businesses, institutions, cities and provinces, and individuals that are in a position to either drive down emissions and boost local resilience to climate impacts, or obstruct those goals at every turn.
The action we need will happen a lot sooner, and a lot more easily, when those influencers can see themselves in a picture of climate solutions.
When they conclude that action on climate change is about opportunity and gain, not loss and pain.
When they recognize that, even when there are trade-offs and tough choices, taking fast, effective action on global heating is vastly less painful than the unimaginable loss and suffering already crushing neighbourhoods, regions, countries, and continents. Or the accumulated losses of $2.3 quadrillion (what most of us would call 2,300 trillion dollars through the year 2100) coming soon to their own communities, businesses, or supply chains.
Influencers at Every Level
The Global Stocktake took place in the rarified air of the UN negotiating process. But it was the latest answer to the most commonly-asked questions we hear on the climate beat:
Is it already too late?
Is there anything we can still do to get climate change under control?
The answers to those questions are no, and hell, yes.
But only if everyone, everywhere embraces this challenge all at once. Particularly the influencers at every level of society, from neighbourhood associations to participants in UN negotiating sessions, who can have a disproportionate impact in driving faster, deeper emission cuts and an all-in response to climate impacts.
That would mean the rich countries of the G20 moving forcefully, not haltingly, to speed up the energy transition.
It would require the UAE to rethink its massive expansion plans for the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC)—or if it can’t or won’t, stop pretending that company CEO Sultan al Jaber can dodge what may be the world’s most flagrant, consequential conflict of interest by presiding over COP28 negotiations.
It means calling out and appealing to regulators against the continuing, ludicrous claim that the gas industry can be a bridge to a net-zero energy future when the main component of its product, methane, packs 84 times more global warming punch than carbon dioxide over a 20-year span.
It should mean shunning and pulling investment dollars out of fossil companies like Suncor, Shell, and BP that are now loudly and proudly abandoning their half-hearted, underfunded promises to embrace the energy transition. With a special circle of hell reserved for ExxonMobil, the colossal fossil that has been funding climate denial and delay since the mid-1980s and has since blithely accepted that global warming will inevitably exceed a devastating 2.0°C average.
Anyone Can Play
But the response isn’t limited to the world’s biggest companies and institutions. Once we get down to the granular, complicated details of implementing the transition, pretty much anyone can help turn the urgency of the moment into decisions and action.
Anyone involved with cities that have a hand on more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions can work to shift practices and scale up effective solutions—as policy-makers, managers, or developers and other advocates working from the outside to influence decisions.
Anyone working with electrical or gas utilities can help drive the shift to a smart, low-carbon system that puts the most cost-effective energy options first, while helping communities and neighbourhoods build resilience before the next severe storm crashes a local grid.
Anyone with a job in finance or investment can pay more attention and divert more funding to small and medium innovations that may not cut very much carbon on their own, but could make all the difference if they were scaled up and adapted across hundreds or thousands of projects.
Anyone who sits on a corporate board can think through how severe weather, disrupted supply chains, fouled travel plans, and so much more will affect the bottom line that it’s their duty to protect. “The need for climate competent directors is no longer around the corner,” writes the Toronto-based Institute of Corporate Directors. “It is an urgent reality.”
Anyone who manages one of those soon-to-be-disrupted supply chains can adjust the rated criteria for future competitions to credit bidders that can show they’re serious about climate and penalize those that aren’t.
Anyone who teaches at any level, from kindergarten to post-secondary, can help mainstream climate education and literacy across the curriculum. Unless they’re unfortunate enough to work in Texas or Florida.
If we can really get all hands on deck, the next Global Stocktake in five years might have more encouraging results to report.
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Mitchell Beer traces his background in renewable energy and energy efficiency back to 1977, in climate change to 1997. Now he and the rest of the Energy Mix team scan 1,200 news headlines a week to pull together The Energy Mix, The Energy Mix Weekender, and our newest weekly e-digest, Cities & Communities.
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Graphic of the Week
Carbon capture tax credit open to projects that extract more oil, climate experts warn (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)
Feds set aside $7B from Canada Growth Fund for carbon-price contract guarantees (The Canadian Press)
Canadians want to see carbon price paused on all home heating fuel, poll suggests (The Canadian Press)
Methane emissions escaping from Alberta underestimated by 50%, study finds (The Canadian Press)
Are freeloading premiers undermining Canada’s climate strategy? (The Conversation)
Who wants what at the COP28 climate change summit (Carbon Brief)
Here’s how many fossil fuel lobbyists have attended UN climate talks (Washington Post)
Frequent marine heatwaves hidden below the surface of the global ocean (Nature Geoscience)