The COVID pandemic has challenged but not defeated our collective progress on commitments to ambitious climate action. This year we need to move from ambition to action, write the UK’s COP26 Envoy John Murton and Finland’s Ambassador for Climate Change Jan Wahlberg
The COVID pandemic has taken a terrible human toll. But, with the help of science and international cooperation, we can hope to be on the way to resolving it. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has aptly called the pandemic a dress rehearsal for future global challenges. The links between climate, biodiversity and people have certainly never been clearer.
As a consequence of the pandemic, the Conference of Parties (COP26) was postponed by a year to November 2021. The pandemic has forced the world of climate diplomacy world to adapt. However, 2020 was not a lost year for climate action, with many countries announcing their nationally determined contributions (NDCs).
The UK has announced its legally binding net zero target in June 2019. Finland has pledged to reach climate neutrality by 2035. The EU declared its goal of climate neutrality by 2050 during Finland’s presidency in December 2019 and is working on the legislation to give effect to that pledge. Major actors like China, Japan and the Republic of Korea followed suit, joined by the US this year. The transition to a zero-carbon economy is accelerating. Countries with a net zero commitment now represent around 65 per cent of global CO2 emissions and 70 per cent of the global economy. The Paris Agreement – the compass of international climate action – is beginning to work. But we need to go further and faster.
Ahead of COP26 in Glasgow, the major challenge for 2021 is to build back greener in four key ways:
First, we need increased efforts to put us on track to 1.5 degrees. That means aiming to reduce global emissions by half by 2030. The EU and UK are the only large emitters that have presented updated nationally determined contributions (NDCs) in 2020. Our respective commitments to reduce emissions by at least 55 per cent and at least 68 per cent by 2030 have set the bar high. Now we need others to follow suit if we are to reach the goals set in Paris. Leading by example is, as always, key.
Secondly, we need to collectively increase our climate finance commitments. Back in Paris, donor countries promised to mobilise $100billion a year to help other nations both reduce their emissions and to adapt and become more resilient in the face of climate change that is already occurring. Internationally, the UK has committed to double its climate finance contribution to £11.6billion over the next five years. Finland’s climate funding totaled €149million in 2019, with the goal of a 50-50 split between mitigation and adaptation. Jointly with the Nordics it was announced in September 2020 that an additional €350million for climate action in developing countries will be spent through the Nordic Development Fund from 2021-2025. The Fund will allocate at least 60 per cent of its financing to Sub-Saharan Africa in the 2021-25 period.
More widely, all financial flows must support the Paris agenda. The Coalition of Finance Ministers for Climate Action, of which Finland is a co-chair, has decided to use 2021 to focus on carbon pricing as an effective tool to cut emissions. Achieving net zero requires a whole-economy transition – every company, every bank, every insurer and investor will have to adjust their business models, develop credible plans for the transition and implement them.
Thirdly, we need to support vulnerable communities around the world as they adapt to a changing climate and build resilience to future climate shocks. Finland is able to offer practical help through its expertise in meteorological services, covering technology, precautionary measures and assistance to victims of natural disasters. The UK is hosting the Climate Development Ministerial on the 31st March. This event will bring together countries and partners to focus on driving forward action on key issues, such as mitigating the impacts of climate change, debt relief and access to finance.
Finally, to support all the above, we need increased international collaboration. When we work together, we can help each other overcome practical problems on the road to zero emissions. For example, Finland is working on ending the use of oil in heating by 2030 and moving quickly to clean power generation (now 85 per cent fossil-free). This requires sector-by-sector low-carbon roadmaps for industry, transport and agriculture and support for those working in carbon-intensive sectors as their industries evolve. In the UK, we are working to be the first G7 country to decarbonise road transport, banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030. We need to share our experiences – the successes and failures – of such transitions to help others along the road.
The UK and Finland will need to work together – and with many other nations – to deliver on this agenda through 2021. Finland plays an active role in Nordic and EU climate diplomacy and is a key member of the Powering Past Coal Alliance – a UK-Canada coalition of countries, cities, regions and organisations aiming to accelerate the fossil-fuel phase out of coal-fired power stations.
This year, the UK will not only host COP26, but we will also host the G7. The Cornwall G7 meeting in June — to which Australia, India and Republic of Korea are also invited — is a crucial step on the ‘net zero’ agenda. Italy faces a similar task in chairing the G20. We need to work through such fora throughout the year and aim to have all the major emitters on board for net zero by the COP26 conference in November.
The UK and EU’s combined emissions are less than 10 per cent of global total – so we cannot solve the climate crisis on our own. Whilst we are making progress to reduce emissions, there is much more to be done. Countries must go further and faster. Thankfully, the rapidly falling costs of renewables, zero-emission vehicles and other low-carbon technologies means we all have the opportunity to reduce emissions in a way that creates growth and jobs.
Our recovery from the pandemic needs to be green. We will work together for a successful COP26 and beyond for the benefit of future generations.