The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) tells us that to rein in climate change and keep global warming under 2°C, we will have to start reducing emissions now and get to near net zero emissions within this century.
That won’t happen without healthy forests and soil storing carbon, and it won’t happen without climate-smart land-use practices that can keep carbon in the ground.
Together, agriculture, forestry and other land use changes account for about a quarter of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. The sector can be a powerful source of emissions, but it is also a powerful carbon sink that can absorb carbon dioxide, providing a pathway to negative emissions. The IPCC authors estimate that with both supply-side and demand-side mitigation efforts – including reducing deforestation, protecting natural forests, restoring and planting forests, improving rice-growing techniques and other climate-smart agriculture methods, changing diets, and reducing the immense amount of global food waste – we can effectively reduce a large percentage of emissions from the sector and increase carbon storage to move the needle toward net zero.
Over the next few months, governments worldwide will be preparing their national contributions to our collective need to combat climate change. These plans will form the foundation of a new international climate agreement to be agreed in Paris in one year’s time. Collective ambition matters now more than ever. We all have a responsibility to make the choices that will lower the risks created by decades of greenhouse gas emissions and usher in an era of job-rich, more-inclusive, cleaner economic development.
Scientists have provided us with a remarkable consensus. We believe that with this evidence, we have the strong foundation for action. That’s good news, because climate action has to scale up now.
This week and next at the UN climate negotiations in Lima (COP20), there is a sense that gridlock may be easing. The U.S. and China – the world's two largest emitters – set a strong pace last month when Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping stood together and jointly announced their top-line commitments for cutting emissions. Their pledges, along with commitments from the European Union and donor support for the Green Climate Fund, auger well for the Lima talks. But this was always billed as the finance COP, and how we finance the transition to deep decarbonization and lasting resilience requires a coming together that has eluded us to date.
Sitting on the train heading back from New York to Washington D.C., gazing out of the window at stressed watersheds, I had some time to reflect on a very special Climate Week. What does it all add up to? Where does it leave us as a global community needing speed and scale in our climate action?
Much is being written. Let me add a perspective. Here are three thoughts amid my swirl of memories, moments and impressions.
Climate osmosis – the street reaches the hallowed halls
It was difficult to stand in the canyon that is 6th Avenue, with a sea of people stretching in both directions – environmental activists, nurses, pensioners, business people, every possible faith community, moms, a sprinkling of celebrity and a dash of statesmen – and not be moved. On the Sunday before the Summit, more than half a million people took to the streets in People’s Climate Marches in New York and more than 160 countries across the globe. The marchers demanded climate action from their leaders, suggesting that the politics of climate action, once considered too hard to handle, might no longer be as difficult as leaders think.
The reverberations continued for 48 hours and became a point of reference in almost every speech at the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Leadership Summit. More than 120 heads of state and government came to hint and in some cases pledge action on climate change. New coalitions of governments, businesses, investors, multilateral development banks and civil society groups announced plans to mobilize over $200 billion for low-carbon, climate-resilient development. Forests and cities were big winners, landing pledges of around $450 million for forests and bringing together more than 2,000 cities in a new Compact of Mayors to help improve accounting of urban greenhouse gas emissions and the actions cities are taking to reduce them.
The People's Climate March drew people from all over the world to New York City today, and you could feel the energy in the air. Across town, government ministers are beginning to feel the sense of urgency, too.
The rising level of anticipation around the UN Secretary-General’s call for climate leadership has been palpable over the past few weeks, and especially so here in New York at the People's Climate March today, with Climate Week about to start and the UN Climate Leadership Summit just two days away.
At the World Bank Group, we have been fielding calls from our clients – companies and countries – who are asking for support and wanting to know how they can engage on the different climate initiatives that are coming together across all sectors of the economy.
Standing in my daughter’s school yard talking to other parents last week, we discovered that many of us would be joining the march. In our family’s religious community, buses were organized and rooms offered to those headed to New York to add their voices to the call for action. New York is just one location – the march organizers are talking about more than 150 other climate action events around the world.
Before stepping off, let me try to lay out how I believe this Summit can help spur action and achieve the speed and scale of action we need.
In the weeks running up to the 3rd International Conference on Small Island Developing States, out of frustration and a sense that they must look after themselves, a new alliance was born: the Coalition of Atoll Nations on Climate Change. Or, as President Tong of Kiribati called it, the "alliance of the sinking". The coalition comprising Tuvalu, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Maldives, Cook Islands, and Tokelau, with Micronesia associated as part of their territory, is atoll territory.
These nations have tried everything to bring their situations to the climate negotiators' and development organizations' attention and have their special situation recognized. With just 15 months until the Paris climate negotiations, they seek in a group to be able to support each other and to make themselves heard.
On Sunday in Apia, the capital of Samoa, I saw the results of the World Bank Group’s work with coastal communities that were devastated by the 2009 tsunami and by Cyclone Evan in 2012. Working with the Samoan government and partners, we built coastal roads and a new system of access roads that leads into the hills away from the seashore. Many families rebuilt their homes in the hills, and the new road system helps bind those new households together as well as providing safe escape routes should a tsunami or major storm hit the coast again.
The hard infrastructure construction is interesting; the community conversations about next steps for protecting the coastlines are even more so. The government is launching a series of community consultations that will bring together village mayors, women leaders, government agencies, and NGOs to decide how best to climate-proof their coastlines. The communities are set to decide if sea walls or mangrove plantations will best protect their land and livelihood.
I’m in Apia with a team from across the IFC and the World Bank to represent the World Bank Group at the 3rd UN Conference for Small Island Developing States and took the opportunity to learn more about climate and disaster risk management at the community level.
For island nations, the small size of their land and their economies comes with a set of unique vulnerabilities that makes climate change a major determinant of their ability to thrive and in some cases even survive.
I am standing on the shore of Bến Tre Province in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam. One of the first questions is, would I be able to stand here in a few months’ time?
If you look just a few hundred meters out to sea, that was cultivable land up to three years ago. In the last three years this village has lost half of its land. Sea incursion is just one of the complex challenges that the authorities and the people who live in the Mekong Delta have to juggle at the same time. So the Mekong Delta, the decisions that are made here are affected by the upstream decisions of hydroelectric planning, irrigation, and other freshwater use. By the time the water gets here, some of that freshwater which is needed is no longer available.
In the rarified atmosphere of Aspen, Colorado, last week, I attended the 11th American Renewable Energy Day Summit. Over the years, the event has grown into a fascinating brainstorming and networking event bringing U.S. domestic and international figures in the renewable energy business together – financiers, technology entrepreneurs, government officials, activists, and scientists from across the energy challenges and opportunities.
We talked about international climate negotiations and renewable energy progress in China and India, but the strongest focus was on the challenges and great potential for U.S. innovation and how to bring climate change and energy policy back from partisanship.