Over the past few years, we have experienced record-breaking weather in all parts of the world. As the UN Secretary General, Antionio Guterres, has said, ‘we are now facing a dramatic climate emergency’.
The last decade was the warmest on record and the level of CO2 in the atmosphere is the highest in human history.
Greenland, the second largest ice cap, experienced unprecedented melting during July 2019. Simultaneously there was a spike in fires in Siberia, Alaska, Canada, Greenland in the Arctic Circle. The Amazon region saw a dramatic surge in fires in the tropical dry-season, with more than 80 000 fires across Brazil alone recorded by the end of August 2019, a 77% increase compared to the same period the previous year.
If you look around you — really look — you’ll see that our world is, unequivocally, on fire.
In December 2015, 196 countries agreed to the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change, pledging to fight the climate crisis and intensify the actions and investments needed to save our world. Its goal is to keep this century’s temperature increase well below 2°C – and further, to limit the increase to 1.5°C.
However, the pace of implementation of this Agreement by key countries has been far from what is needed to change the situation. The climate catastrophe we are facing has been set into motion.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), with 1.5°C of global warming Arctic summers are projected to be ice-free once per century, and with a 2°C increase, once every 10 years. An increase of 2°C also means a 170% increase in flood risk and three times as many people exposed to extreme heat waves across the globe.
The current pledges in the Paris Agreement will see us continue on our trajectory towards increases of 3°C – and hotter.
We need to do more
Short, mid and long-term solutions are needed to secure our future; significant cuts to greenhouse gas emissions are crucial and global carbon dioxide emissions need to be reduced by 50% by 2030 (and they need to reach net zero by 2050).
We have to invest in renewable energy sources, change the way we use land and the oceans and choose more sustainable lifestyles, or this climate emergency will continue. The clock is ticking…
Revised NDCs are expected to be submitted to the UN in 2020 and will have to be updated every five years to ensure that each country’s efforts towards limiting temperature increases will grow and become more ambitious (the so-called Paris Agreement 'ratchet mechanism').
What goes into an NDC?
Each country’s NDC has to outline their plan of action for lowering emissions in various spheres or sectors. Essentially, it explains exactly what actions the country will take to combat the climate crisis. Want to find out what a specific country’s NDC covers? Find out here.
What kind of things should NDCs cover?
Phasing out fossil fuels and fossil fuel subsidies
To ensure that we are on the road to a more sustainable planet, the use of fossil fuels and their subsidiaries need to be phased out. As these are limited resources that have caused immense damage to the planet, each country needs to highlight how they plan to move away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy sources.
NDCs must showcase a country’s plans to develop and invest in power sources that do not deplete when being used. Solar, wind and hydroelectric are the most common forms of renewable energy that also do not damage the environment. Brazil, for example, plans to have 45% of its energy supplied from renewable sources by 2030.
These are areas set up to protect natural resources. They maintain habitats, offer refuge, allow for migration and ensure that natural processes can continue across the country’s landscape. Not only that, but protected areas secure the well-being of humanity itself. NDCs need to include any plans for creating and maintaining protected areas.
Forests are an important resource for many species on earth — including humans – and a massive carbon store. They remove CO2 from the atmosphere, improve the quality of air and water, as well as reducing soil erosion. The math shows that mitigating climate change is impossible without forests. Ending forest conversion, preserving forest carbon sinks and restoring forests has the potential to avoid approximately 30% of global emissions. Consequently, forests bear a huge potential to ramp up climate ambition by including ambitious NDC, that are aligned to national policies, clear, quantifiable and based on sound science.
Conservation of marine eco-systems – including those such as mangroves and sea grass beds that store carbon – is of vital importance for humans. To do this, we have to create marine protected areas, coastal regulation zones and ensure that sustainable fishing practices are put into place.
Land and Agriculture
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, the population is set to reach nine billion by 2050 — and by that time, the demand for food will have doubled. The increased population will put more strain on land and agriculture, which can lead to over-cultivation and nutrient-stripped soil. NDCs need to include the policies that will be put in place to regulate agriculture and manage arable land.
Only 3% of the water on Earth is drinkable, fresh water — and it is vital to all life on Earth. This finite resource is threatened by overdevelopment, pollution and the climate crisis. Water management systems have to be put in place to ensure there is adequate water available for people and ecosystems alike. NDCs need to state the policies and procedures that will be put in place to ensure water security.
Radical Collaboration / Innovative Partnerships
The Paris Agreement has formalised a framework to ensure that all countries work together to achieve the long-term temperature goals. Without international cooperation, the 1.5°C goal will never be met.
It’s not only governments who have a role to play in NDCs — non-state actors like businesses, cities, investors and even citizens have important work to do. To achieve the Agreement’s long-term goals, non-state actors will need to collaborate with their governments to accelerate climate action.
The rapidly changing climate means that both people and ecosystems need to adapt to the changes. Each NDC needs to outline the country’s plans to adapt to the changing environment.
Cities are home to over half the world’s population, and are responsible for more than 70% of global CO2 emissions. This means that city-living needs to become more eco-friendly, and fast. NDCs need to include plans for sustainable city solutions.
Loss and Damage
While there is still a lot of work to do to slow the damage to our planet, significant damage has already been done and many species have been lost. Sea-levels are rising, glaciers are melting and more intense disasters like typhoons and flash floods are happening each and every day. Putting policies in place to deal with loss and damage caused by climate change is essential if we are to reach the Paris Agreement goals.
The Science Based Targets initiative encourages big businesses to use climate science to set their greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. To have a sustainable business, it is imperative to have goals and practices that are consistent with the way that the world is moving. Committing to science-based target gives corporations a strong call-to-action and encourage them to go beyond just having good intentions.
To really see a change in the world, innovative technologies need to be developed. Clean energy sources — like wind, solar and hydro power — often require expensive technology that many developing nations simply cannot afford. But to ensure that all nations can work towards a greener future, energy innovations are needed.
Who has submitted NDCs?
One-hundred and eighty-four countries or parties have already submitted the first draft of their NDCs, and some have already submitted their second draft. Wondering if your country’s NDC is in line with what is needed to tackle the climate crisis? Find out here.
Why are improved or 'enhanced' NDCs so important?
If every country fully implements the commitments set out in their NDCs, global temperatures are expected to rise between 2.7°C and 3.7°C this century alone. That’s nowhere near the 1.5°C goal set out in the Paris Agreement. 2020 is the date set for the ratchet mechanism to formally start, so countries have a chance to review their NDCs and submit stronger ones.
There is still much more we have to do, and it has to start now.