WANTED: Climate Action (everywhere, by everyone, all at once)

Posted on September, 15 2023

By Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, WWF Global Climate and Energy Lead, COP20 President, Former Minister of Environment for Peru.
The past few weeks have offered a window into our future. From record temperatures being broken day-by-day to horrendous floods, storms, heatwaves, and fires violently devastating lives, economies, and ecosystems. No one can avoid the reality now that the climate crisis is here. No region or country is untouched by its impacts. 

And this is just the start. 

This should have been the final wake-up call for earth, but our leaders are seemingly barely stirring. This week we saw leaders at the G20 summit in India fail to show the ambition needed to confront this crisis, with a final communiqué that did not commit the world’s largest polluters to phase out fossil fuels.

The public are awake, though. Around the world this weekend, people are gathering in cities and towns to demand action and an end to the fossil fuel era. A global climate march, Fight To End Fossil Fuels, has already registered more than 650 marches in over 60 countries. As leaders gather next week in New York for the UN General Assembly and the Climate Ambition Summit, the voices of millions of ordinary people are resoundingly clear: we demand action now!

The pace of action is too slow

The UN’s Global Stocktake (GST) synthesis report published this month showed just how far off course we are. The GST process provides a "scorecard" of the Paris Agreement and will culminate in a pathway for course correction at COP28. The synthesis report revealed that although countries' efforts under the Paris Agreement are progressing, the pace of action is too slow and increases in ambition only partially offset emissions growth. 

The report’s message is unequivocal: broad and rapid changes are needed in order to achieve net-zero by 2050. Developed countries should have already (or should soon) peak emissions, allowing developing countries to follow a low-carbon development path that is both feasible and cost-effective. Further, a rapid reduction of the world’s reliance on fossil fuels towards more efficient, renewable energy is central to reaching global net-zero emissions. 

Africa calls for action

This month also saw the first ever Africa Climate Summit hosted in Nairobi, Kenya, where political leaders expressed their exasperation at the lack of climate finance for the continent. The summit declaration shows that Africa is ready to move and will bring the spirit of Nairobi to COP28. It was heartening to see that the outcome of the Summit includes not only a call to action for others but a package of commitments from African countries. It's also clear that the ambition demonstrated by Africa in the Declaration needs to be matched by technical and financial support, especially from developed countries. 

However, on the issue of fossil fuels, there seems to still be no consensus in Africa yet. The focus on renewable energy is positive, including commitments to expand just energy transitions and renewable energy generation for industrial activity and increasing Africa’s renewable generation capacity from 56 GW in 2022 to at least 300 GW by 2030. But the Declaration only calls for “phasing down coal, and abolishment of all fossil fuel subsidies" instead of calling for a complete fossil fuel phase-out - which is what scientists say we need to do.

Missed opportunity at the G20

Following the Africa Climate Summit, the Global Stocktake report and the summer of non-stop extreme weather and temperatures, it was hoped the G20 Summit would be an opportunity to respond to real world problems with real world actions. After all, this is the meeting of the Heads of State of the world’s most developed and post polluting economies. The action of these countries alone (as they represent 80% of global emissions) could get us back on track, but that is not what we saw in the Leader's Declaration from the Delhi summit.

Once again, the G20 committed to accelerating efforts towards the ‘phase down of unabated coal power according to national circumstances’. The commitment to phase out all fossil fuel subsidies was reaffirmed, but it was first committed to by leaders in 2009 - showing the limitations of words. On a more positive note, the Africa Union is now part of the group and  countries agreed for the first time to pursue and encourage efforts to triple renewable energy capacity globally, and there is also a voluntary plan to double the rate of energy efficiency improvement by 2030. However, this cannot be successful if we don’t also concurrently commit to phase out all fossil fuels, and provide plans and timelines to achieve that.

Time to course-correct

Leaders now have another opportunity to demonstrate they have woken-up to the realities of the climate crisis and the action that it necessitates. At the UN General Assembly and the Climate Ambition Summit, leaders must show they have the world’s interest at heart, and are willing to take the ambitious action necessary for a liveable and sustainable planet. This will be vital for creating the momentum needed ahead of COP28 in December, where the Global Stocktake process will also be concluded.

More than ever, expectations are high that the biggest economies (and also the biggest polluters) will lead an agreement on a just and equitable phasing-out of fossil fuels by 2050, in tandem with efforts to upscale cost-effective wind and solar energy. Governments need to support broad and rapid changes in order to achieve net-zero by 2050; and this means transforming the systems which support our economies and societies in this critical decade. 

The UN Secretary General rightly said our world requires climate action on all fronts — ‘everything, everywhere, all at once’. Now it is time for leaders to show they are willing to deliver this course correction. We cannot settle for anything less.
people climate march
Thousands march for climate action in New York, 2014.
© Rebecca Greenfield / WWF US