Between COP26 and COP27: Some insights from London Climate Action Week

Anna Triponel

July 5, 2022
I leave London Climate Action Week both terrified and re-energised, in equal measure. We have so much work to do, in such a short period of time. Buzzwords were: “We need to move from word to action”; “We are rapidly running out of time”; “A liveable future is at stake” :“We have the answers, but we need to change our system to use these answers.” We had in-depth discussions, and finished the week with an uplifting and moving performance by Angélique Kidjo that you can watch here. (The person dancing in the back may or may not be me). Some sessions that may be of particular interest to you are ‘Can Fashion Be Sustainable’, ‘Is ESG a Distraction from Climate Action’ and ‘Halfway to COP27: What’s New and What’s Next’ (all here). 

Here are a few highlights for you from all the incredible speakers.

Where are we?

  • Today, we collectively emit 50 billion tonnes of GHG each year. (This is more than 40% higher than emissions in 1990, which were around 35 billion tonnes.) This is an average of 6.5 or 7 tonnes for every person on the planet (with some emitting significantly higher numbers than others).
  • Carbon dioxide levels have hit a landmark at 415 parts per million (ppm). This is the highest in human history, and a very dangerous number. 
  • We are at 1.2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This carbon dioxide level and corresponding temperatures keeps rising, with a 50-50 chance of us reaching 1.5 degrees Celsius in the next five years.
  • We are coming a lot closer to our tipping points: the Greenland ice sheet, the West Antarctic ice shelf, the Amazon rainforest, etc.
  • We already knew that the climate crisis was driving heating across the Arctic three times faster than the global average. We now know that the situation is even more extreme: global heating in the Arctic is up to seven times faster than the global average. These fast rising temperatures are suspected to trigger increases in extreme weather in North America, Europe and Asia.

What needs to happen?

  • We need to drastically reduce the tonnes of greenhouse gases (GHG) we emit into the atmosphere every year
  • We need to reduce the number from 50 tonnes of GHG per year to 25 by the end of this decade (2030). This is the equivalent of a 7% reduction globally per year to reach a 50% reduction by 2030
  • This number then has to go down from 25 to 12 by 2040
  • This number then has to go down to 0 – net zero - by 2050. 
  • In short, we need to halve our emissions every decade to get to 0 by 2050. This is the only way we can stay within 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2010
  • As a reminder from Johan Rockström, “The window to really secure the Paris Agreement is rapidly shutting. The scientific evidence is very strong for the Earth’s pulse to be very weak. 1.5 degrees is a planetary boundary: it is not a goal, but a limit. Even with 1.5 degrees of warming, we are in danger. This will already have a lot of damage. Plus we will most likely have to overshoot (go over) so we do need investment in adaptation, but mitigation (emission reduction) is the most important.” 

How do we get there?

  • The Conduit and SYSTEMIQ highlighted the following solutions during the week: 
  • Creating and implementing systemic solutions to net zero
  • Financing sustainability solutions, including technological advancements that can be scaled globally and applied across sectors in the coming years
  • Curbing plastic emissions
  • Changing the way proteins is created and consumed
  • Harnessing the potential of the ocean to drive carbon capture and sequestration
  • Harnessing the power of the forest to reduce – and sometimes reverse – emissions, restore tropical forests and enhance livelihoods for communities around the world
  • Placing Africa as climate vanguard, not climate victim

In the spirit of our weekly updates, here are three updates for you that we heard a lot about during the week:

MSCI Net-Zero Tracker

MSCI has found that publicly listed companies will burn through their 1.5°C emissions budget within five years of COP26 – in 2026. This MSCI net-zero tracker (2021) which looks at 9,300 public companies finds that company emissions are set to rise by 6.7% this year. This report underscores the significant role of investors in public companies and the role they should play in pushing companies to meet the Paris Agreement.

Banking on Climate Chaos

A range of organisations (Rainforest Action Network, BankTrack, Indigenous Environmental Network, Oil Change International, Reclaim Finance, Sierra Club, and Urgewald) found in its report ‘Banking on Climate Chaos’ (March 2022) that in the six years since the Paris Agreement was adopted, the world’s 60 largest private banks financed fossil fuels with USD $4.6 trillion, with $742 billion in 2021 alone. 2021 fossil fuel financing numbers remained above 2016 levels, when the Paris Agreement was signed. The 60 banks profiled in the report funneled $185.5 billion just last year into the 100 companies doing the most to expand the fossil fuel sector.

The Supreme Court and the EPA

On 30 June, the US Supreme Court took a significant decision for the climate in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency (No. 20-1530). The Supreme Court decided to limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to regulate carbon emissions from power plants. The judges decided that the US Congress had not clearly given the EPA sweeping authority to regulate the energy industry under the Clean Air Act. So the EPA can take some measures, such as emission controls at individual power plants, but cannot take more ambitious actions, such as a cap-and-trade system. This decision that will significantly limit President Biden’s ability to meet the United States’ goal of cutting GHG emissions in half by the end of the decade.

We will revert to our weekly update format this coming week. Have a good week, and Happy 4th July for those of you in the U.S.

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