/ 15 September 2023

Taking stock of world’s bid to limit the climate crisis

Climate Activists Protest Against Fossil Fuel Use In New York
Avoid catastrophe: Climate activists demonstrate in front of the New York headquarters of Black Rock, a leading fossil fuel company. A new report notes that carbon emissions must stop within two years. Photo: Fatih Aktas/Getty Images

A United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change report released last Friday is the basis for the first “global stocktake” or inventory that tracks countries’ progress in addressing climate change since the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement and based on submissions from parties to the agreement.

According to the UN, the stocktake identifies “key areas for further action to bridge gaps and addressing challenges and barriers in the implementation of the Paris Agreement”.Although the UN report report warns of the consequences of failing to cut greenhouse gas emissions, it is brief on details about which countries are lagging.  

It will inform discussions at the 2023 Convention of Parties or COP28, which will take place in Dubai in December. 

But the UN report calls for the phasing out of fossil fuels, which may cause controversy with oil producing countries such as the United Arab Emirates which is hosting COP28.

In 2015, at COP21 in Paris, countries signed agreements to contain global warming to 1.5°C. 

It was seen as a landmark climate change convention because countries made real, concrete plans and promises to lower carbon emissions. These are called nationally determined contributions and the UN describes them as “efforts by each country to reduce national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change”.

In a nutshell the stocktake is a progress report on how far we’ve come in limiting global warming to 1.5°C. 

Simon Stiell, the UN climate change executive secretary, was under no illusions about how important it is to take the stocktake seriously. 

“The global stocktake will end up being just another report unless governments and those that they represent can look at it and ultimately understand what it means for them and what they can and must do next. It’s the same for businesses, communities and other key stakeholders,” he said.  

The report set out how we’re doing, paving the way for the official stocktake at the end of the year. 

It paints a dark picture. 

The report noted that there has been action to fight climate change. This action has been universal. But more needs to be done. 

Governments need support to move to climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development but it must take into context poverty and sustainable development. Without that, inequality will be high and the vulnerable will suffer more. 

The report highlighted that it is absolutely critical to rapidly decarbonise but it also states that “rapid change can be disruptive”. It called for a focus on inclusion and equity.

We are off-track to limit the world to the goal of 1.5°C. The window to achieve this is closing. 

To get greenhouse gas emissions down to zero there must be transformation across all sectors and industries. 

This means renewable energy globally must be scaled up, there must be an urgent phasing out of the unabated use of fossil fuels and deforestation must come to an end. 

Just transitions can help the fight to lower emissions. The report notes that “just transitions can support more robust and equitable mitigation outcomes, with tailored approaches addressing different contexts”. 

The ability to adapt to harsh climate change is crucial and countries need to be empowered to do so. 

The report addresses the controversial issue of finance. It found that there must be support for “adaptation and funding arrangements for averting, minimising and addressing loss and damage”. These must be ramped up and finance made available. 

It calls for developed nations to play their part and mobilise funding for developing countries. It must be done so in a way that “mitigates financial risks, lowers investment costs, enhances access to finance and addresses debt sustainability”.

The report’s last key finding was that clean technologies must be made available for developing countries which need them in the move to decarbonising.

This year has already seen some of the hottest months ever recorded. June, July and August were the hottest globally. Countries have been reeling from extreme weather. There have been floods, heatwaves and wildfires.  

The necessity for these changes are urgent.  

There is a delicate balancing act that developing nations must face of dealing with energy needs but in a climate-safe way. This can only be funded by countries who landed us in this mess. 

At the Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi, Kenya, last week, the Nairobi Declaration was released. In it, there were calls for big polluters and global financial institutions to provide resources and come up with financial solutions for developing countries. 

In essence, these countries must fund energy transitions in a way that doesn’t add to developing countries’ debt burden.