Climate action cannot be a tradeable priority in 2020 | WWF
Climate action cannot be a tradeable priority in 2020

Posted on 27 April 2020

2020 is a key year for countries to update their climate action plans and reassess their actions in the wake of COVID-19.
The COVID-19 pandemic is one of the biggest global challenges of all time and tackling the health crisis and its effects is rightly the immediate priority. Yet, as people, especially in vulnerable communities, continue to bear the brunt of climate impacts, it is clear that climate cannot and must not be an either/or global priority.

2020 is a particularly important year as it marks the kick-off of the Paris Agreement ‘ratchet’ mechanism. Countries are expected to submit new or enhanced national climate plans (Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs) for the post 2020 period. They should reflect increased ambition on mitigation and adaptation. Countries must also submit long-term emission reduction strategies aimed at reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.

Climate impacts highlight the urgent need for action

The political importance of 2020 in the climate regime is underscored by what happened in 2019: it was the second warmest year in the instrumental record; millions of young people and citizens took it to the streets demanding climate action; COP25 did not deliver on ambition; and the devastating scenes of fires in the Amazon and Australia, heatwaves, floods and record ice melting in Greenland highlights the urgency for climate action and the dire need to protect people and species across the globe.

Climate action and the economic recovery can go hand in hand

2020 is also the year when COVID-19 showed us just how fragile countries and global systems are to major shocks. Climate change is a massive and very foreseeable crisis that is already unfolding at a (scientific) pace unprecedented in human history. So, when focusing on recovery and stimulus, governments must take climate considerations into account.

There are clear opportunities to build social safety nets and increase employment in ramping-up non-hydro renewable energy, building residential insulation or investing in nature-based solutions. New and enhanced NDCs can go hand in hand with recovery packages.

How climate action is shaping up in 2020

So far, eight countries have submitted national climate plans to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and those offer a mixed bag. Two interesting and diverse examples of the most recently submitted NDCs signal the challenge ahead.

Thumbs up!

Chile sent a strong signal to the world that it is possible to reaffirm a country’s commitment to the Paris Agreement even after a social crisis and amidst the current situation. They submitted a new and enhanced NDC on April 9th.

The new Chilean NDC has established 2025 as a peaking year; a carbon budget of 1.100 MtCO2 eq for the period 2021-2030 and a commitment to carbon neutrality by 2050. It includes a pillar on a fair / equitable transition away from fossil fuels and sustainable development connected with the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Nature also plays a big role in the Chilean NDC: it highlights the importance of marine protected areas and of ocean science. There is also some improvement on forests (that could have been stronger). In summary, although its enhanced NDC is not fully aligned with 1.5˚C, Chile must be congratulated on its leadership and an acknowledgement of the positive aspects that improved its NDC. We also trust the country will pursue further enhancement of their climate ambition.

Thumbs down!

In late March, Japan, the world’s third largest economy and the world’s fifth largest emitter of greenhouse gases, presented a “new” NDC without any changes from its previous one, and no enhanced ambition. In fact, Japan has just resubmitted it.

Besides not complying with the Paris Agreement ratchet mechanism, Japan has demonstrated a lack of commitment to its fair share in the fight against the climate crisis. We need the biggest emitters, who hold both the historical responsibility and the strongest capacity, to lead by example. Japan’s government did not even hear the positive voices represented in the Japan Climate Initiative (JCI) statement, which was signed by 248 organizations including business companies, local governments and other organizations who urged the government to enhance its NDC.

Japan’s move was in the opposite direction and did not contribute to the process of enhancing overall ambition we need to see.

What now?

While we respond to this COVID-19 crisis, we urge countries to follow the example of Chile and to do even more to keep global warming to 1.5˚C. We also call on Japan to reconsider its submission.

2020 is a critical moment to reassess our actions and behavior and craft measures that will protect and offer more resilient livelihoods to our societies now and in the future. We must each assess our part. Countries must ensure they step up their ambition to tackle the climate crisis through submitting enhanced NDCs that include decarbonizing their energy systems, enhancing the scope and finance for nature-based solutions and addressing unsustainable food production systems and deforestation, among other impactful measures.

We have the 2008 crisis as an example: economic recovery packages with stimulus to the wrong sectors resulted in a bounce-back of emissions to the levels seen before with no resulting structural changes. Addressing socio-economic issues with a sustainability lens and aligning NDCs with recovery and stimulus packages is more important than ever and provides an opportunity to make a difference for the climate.

Fernanda de Carvalho is the global policy manager for WWF’s climate and energy practice.
WWF France and its volunteers demonstrate alongside over 15,000 people to demand climate action in Paris, 2018.
© Gaëlle Mathieu / WWF-France