Business as usual is not an option!
By Klaus Milke and Stefan Schurig
Millions of people took streets globally prior and shortly after the UN Climate Action and SDG summit for what has been the biggest climate protest in history. The number and dedication of the protestors, especially of young people, is unprecedented. Two major aspects constitute this astonishing development:
- latest scientific climate scenarios literally suggest a state of emergency; the worsening of the global climate crisis is still outpacing any effort to solve it, mainly due to the continuous combustion of fossil fuels
- The business-as-usual attitude exhibited by many governments in New York revealed that despite generally acknowledging the global climate crisis as a fact, it’s still not been taken seriously.
As such, the loud and creative call from millions of people echoed by more and more private companies was vastly mismatched by the performance of many governments at the UN Climate Action and SDG summits – despite the commitments of many countries for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). When it comes to climate change and the implementation of the SDGs, it seems that the split between public awareness about the climate crisis and political action was never greater before. In fact, most governments failed to expose the level of commitment necessary to keep the climate related average temperature increase below the dangerous benchmark of 1.5°-2°C. UN Secretary General António Guterres rightly pointed out that the world’s decision makers are still off track to implement the Paris Agreement and the UN’s sustainable development goals.
Governments and politicians still rate short-term interests of private or state-owned coal, oil or gas companies higher than the public good of billions of people. It seems that they still think that climate action would mean a higher political risk than non-action – despite the obvious support for bold climate action by a vast majority of people in almost every country. This is presumably due to a lack of awareness on what bold climate actions would actually entail – what technical or infrastructural changes these actions would imply. Or due to the bad habit of the human mind to rather defending the past than envisaging the future.
In some cases, this reluctance of governments to decisively act on climate change may be also related to the fact that fossil energy resources are still a major factor for local economies, although a transition to renewable energy would actually stimulate the local economy even further, while creating multiple co-benefits for society. Whatever has hold back governments to embark on net-zero emission trajectory – it won’t for much longer. In the face of the global climate crisis, non-action is not an option and more and more people realise that taking bold and systemic steps towards decarbonizing our economies is the only way we have.
Some hints that change is coming were also highlighted in New York. For instance, India’s announcement to increase its generation of renewable energy to 450 GW – which is a remarkable target, since it means more than doubling existing targets. Also, the commitment of world’s largest investors responsible for directing more than 2.4 trillion U.S. dollars in investments to decarbonize the global economy and to establish the UN backed Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance was a very important sign. We firmly also believe that more and more countries will further develop systemic approaches that include
- deadlines and national laws for the phase out of coal, oil and gas
- social just carbon prizes with e.g. taxing of carbon emission
- clear priority for renewable energy investments
- plans to protect natural reserves from extinction and to regenerate earth capacity to absorb carbon emissions
- adaptation plans to unavoidable impacts.
The UN Secretary General’s attempt to only give the floor to Heads of State announcing ‚real’ climate commitments was actually an important step and several countries being quite surprised about the pro-active attitude of the Secretary General of the UN. And this part also belongs to the encouraging lessons from New York. The Secretary General has made climate change again his Nr.1 priority. He is actively helping with building a coalition of those willing to solve the climate crisis. This does not only include national governments but also private companies and the financial actors.
As for our own constituency, we also appreciate that more and more foundations take a clear stand as a foundation to be part of the solution. They do not only engage on bold climate, biodiversity or food programmes but also increasingly emphasize the interconnections between these areas and the financial markets. They can play a pioneering role in the sustainable finance sector and will be helping to “shift the trillions” with their investments.
The upcoming UN climate summits in Chile and the UK, as well as the important UN Convention on Biological Diversity Biodiversity summit next year in China will be key for maturing these coalitions. And we expect governments in front of the decisive year 2020 to ramp up their ambitions and agree on more binding actions for global climate and natural protection and the implementation of the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda.