Climate change: a disappointing 2018 requires greater commitment for the future

January 10, 2019

Climate change: a disappointing 2018 requires greater commitment for the future

In Katowice, the COP24 ended with few concrete commitments and with some of the main countries, including the USA, ready to withdraw their commitments to limit climate change. In future, however, new impulse could come from society.

2018 was supposed to be a key year for the fight against climate change. In January, the World Economic Forum, via the Global Risks Perception Survey, showed that the risks to the environment caused by climate change are increasing: our planet’s biodiversity was (and is) at risk, agricultural systems are in difficulty, sea and air pollution levels are increasingly worrying for human health. In spring, also the International Money Fund and the World Bank were at the center of important debates on low environment impact solutions during the annual summit in Washington DC, while clean energy was among the main points on the agenda of the G7 held in Canada in June. With these premises, the COP24, the 24th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change held in Katowice in December, was supposed to be the peak of 2018 and a turning point: an objective that was not achieved, not even in relation to the most banal but symbolic details, as experts of the sector noted with disappointment.

Sustainable food? Not on the COP24 menu.

Based on the latest reports on climate change, limiting the consumption of meat-based foods and promoting sustainable food is essential. However, funnily enough, there was plenty of meat on the menu at the COP24. Three non-profit organizations immediately pointed out the incongruence: the analysis made by the Center for Biological diversity, Farm Forward and Brighter Green, shows that if during the 12-day conference everyone had chosen meat dishes, the COP24 menu would have emitted the equivalent of burning 500.000 gallons of gasoline, i.e. almost 20 m3. "The menu appears to completely ignore climate change issues", said Fabrice DeClerck, Science Director at EAT, in a statement to Bloomberg. Choosing sustainable food and reducing meat consumption, he added, is "the single biggest food system change that can be made in support of climate". "We need bold policy-makers who are unafraid of sanctioning industries that don’t meet climate objectives" said Ursula Hudson, chair of Slow Food Germany and member of Slow Food International, pointing out that two thirds of agricultural emissions come from livestock.

Falling short of expectations

While the UN celebrates the success of Katowice’s COP24, with President Michał Kurtyka talking of historic achievement and Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), of excellent result, many were expecting more: at least shared regulations and guidelines on how to implement the Paris Agreement to reduce emissions and global warming and help contain climate change. 

However, after two weeks of negotiations, the conference closed without an essential agreement on greater national contributions to reduce emissions, but with the promise that the topic will be discussed next year. A step back in terms of political commitment after USA, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait rejected the results of the latest report from IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which paints a very clear picture of climate change and quantifies the different impact between a 1.5°C and a 2°C increase in the global average temperature). The delay is also due to the amendments requested by Brazil and Turkey, hardly promising for our planet now that, after years of stability, emissions are once again on the rise. Despite the fact that today renewable sources are cheaper than in the past, they still are not sufficiently widely available, and petroleum and coal remain the fuel of the world’s economy. 

The future of the Earth depends on half a degree, said the IPCC: if gas emissions continue at the current rate, by 2040 global temperature will be 1.5°C higher than the pre-industrial era (currently it is +1°C) and after 2050 it will reach +2°C and the consequences will be catastrophic: more than 400 million people will be affected by drought, many animal species will become extinct, coral reefs will disappear and sea levels will rise by 56 cm, flooding coastal areas.

Reaching an agreement on limiting climate change requires compromise. And the COP24’s 133-page report mentions exactly this: if on the one hand the 196 participating governments agreed on the rulebook to implement the 2015 Paris Agreement, not everyone agrees on the fairness of the requests made to vulnerable nations and those made to rich nations. However, simply signing the agreement cannot protect the Planet: national administrations must commit to implementing cuts and be aware of the significant political and economic effects (the recent news of the Gilets Jaunes protesting against fossil fuel tax in France are a perfect example). 

After COP24: next steps

The practical implementation of the principles mentioned will have to wait until the COP25, which will be held in Chile in November 2019, when the definition of the final details of the plan to intervene on climate change, especially from a juridical point of view, will be essential. After that, 2020 will be decisive: the countries that subscribed to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change will have to present the national commitment plans to be implemented from 2030 onwards. 

The United Kingdom and Italy both announced their candidacy to host the COP26. Outside the formal negotiations, many are working hard to reach the climate change containment targets: the World Bank has increased its five-year investments by approximately 200 billion dollars, and will align the rest of its investments with the goals of the Paris Agreement. 

Maersk, a Danish group leader in the transport sector, especially maritime, is aiming for carbon neutrality by 2050.

Almost 400 investors have encouraged governments to gradually eliminate coal and stop financing fossil fuels, and dozens of leading fashion companies (including Adidas, Burberry, H&M Group, Target and many more) have signed the UN Charter for Sustainable Fashion. IKEA, the world's biggest furniture group, pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions from its production by 80 percent in absolute terms by 2030 from their levels in 2016. Hopefully, where governments lack in courage, society will step up and push in the right direction.