2017 was a dramatic year for climate news, wasn’t it?
Trump promised to yank the US out of the Paris Agreement and scrap the Clean Power Plan. Yet this only seemed to make other countries (and US cities, states and companies) more determined. Brutal hurricanes caused record-breaking damage to the US and Puerto Rico. China opened the world’s largest carbon cap and trade market. France banned new licenses for oil and gas exploration.
While my new year optimism is still just about holding out, here’s 5 key turning points for global climate action in 2018. How the world handles these pivotal moments will determine what kind of future we create.
1. Upping the EU renewable energy target
The European Union is the third biggest emitter of carbon emissions after China and the USA. It is also seen as a leader in climate action and clean energy. So, will they step up their game on renewable energy this year?
There’s a pretty good chance. This could be an early win for the climate movement in 2018.
At the end of last year, the EU Energy Council – energy ministers from each of the 28 member states – agreed to push for a 27% renewables by 2030 target, which the European Commission also support. This is relatively unambitious, and a large group of environmental groups along with energy and tech companies (including big names like Google, Facebook, Microsoft) lobbied for a bolder 35% target.
Now, the European Parliament have voted for the 35% target, but it has to be negotiated with the member states over the coming weeks.
This is part of the wider negotiations on the EU Clean Energy Package which will include the 2030 renewables target as well as policies on energy efficiency, energy markets and energy governance. The aim is to boost the proportion of clean energy while making it easier and smoother to share energy between EU countries and for citizens to generate their own power.
If the EU agrees a higher renewable energy target like 35%, this will be a major boost to the global renewables market and the transition to the post-carbon economy. The extra demand will boost production globally and help bring costs down even quicker, leading to even more uptake.
2. Assessing the state of climate finance
Because of the stark inequalities of climate change, there’s a general consensus that rich countries should give the poor countries money to help them cut their emissions and adapt to climate risks. Back in 2010 a pledge was made to mobilise $100bn per year in climate finance for developing countries by 2020. This promise was reaffirmed in the Paris Agreement.
So, it’s only two years to go until the deadline, how are we doing?
Well it’s hard to say but apparently not great.
The global climate governance system is very complicated, and the global finance system is very complicated, so it’s not that surprising that trying to get to grips with the state of global climate finance is a bit like trying to learn theoretical physics while drunk.
And it’s not just me. During negotiations for the Paris Agreement, there was intense disagreement over how much climate finance had already been allocated. Richer countries claimed almost $60bn had already been mobilised, but many developing countries argued there was a lack of transparency on the whole thing, and that some funds had been double-counted. I.e. existing development aid or loans had been relabelled as climate finance, rather than adding new funds.
Back in 2016 the UK and Australian governments published this roadmap, based on analysis from the OECD (the club of rich countries). That was two years ago. To move forward on climate action, the world needs a clear update on where we are with climate finance.
And that’s exactly what the UNFCCC (the part of the UN that deals with climate change) are scheduled to do this year. In 2014 and 2016 they published assessments of global climate finance flows, with the next due some time in 2018. This will allow us to take stock of the situation. And if it shows a poor result it should kick the global community into further action.
The Climate Policy Initiative also says to expect progress on climate disclosure (corporations and investment funds needing to be transparent about their climate impact) and the growing role of cities and states – which can aid collaboration between governments and the private sector.
3. The California climate action summit
One of the biggest moments of 2018 – for the climate movement anyway – is sure to be the California Climate Action Summit in September.
The first time a state has hosted an international climate summit, it’s being led by California’s governor Jerry Brown. Positioning himself as America’s de facto climate leader in direct comparison to Trump, the summit will bring together leading lights from cities, states, businesses, civil society and other nations.
While it’s not part of the official series of UN climate conferences (there will be one of those this year too) the point of this summit is to boost momentum for climate action and show the world that the US is still in the game, that their government does not speak for them on this issue.
It’s bound to be a watershed moment with a slew of climate related announcements pinned on it while climate action temporarily dominates the news agenda.
4. The 2018 UN climate summit
Towards the end of the year we’ll have COP24 – the 2018 UN climate summit in Katowice, Poland. Ironically, home of the largest coal company in the EU.
This will include the “Talanoa dialogue” or facilitative dialogue (talk about climate work jargon, right?), which means a stocktake where everyone sees how we’re doing against the actual goal of the Paris Agreement.
Before the summit takes place in December, countries have a chance to update their national climate action plans (NDCs in climate policy speak) and make them more ambitious. This is key because the action plans we have are not actually strong enough to keep us below 2 degrees (so helpful, right).
While cities and companies can pick up the slack to some extent, upgrading the national plans is still crucial. If enough major countries ramp up their goals, this will provide the momentum to get us on track.
Here’s a great video from Carbon Brief, showing climate movers and shakers talking about what they think needs to happen at COP24.
5. Can we make global emissions dip?
This is the big one. It’s what everything else is working towards.
In 2017 global carbon emissions went slightly up again (by 2%), after three years of staying flat. (See this illustrated with a clear graph on the NYT) This is entirely the wrong direction and we need to make sure that was an unfortunate blip and not the start of a disastrous trajectory.
But as global carbon emissions held steady between 2014 and 2016, getting them to go down (slightly) this year is within the realms of possibility. This is urgent because to meet the Paris Agreement goal of staying well below 2 degrees (trying to keep to 1.5 degrees) we realistically need to peak global emissions by 2020.
Some people thought that may have already happened, until the unwelcome uptick last year. Here’s another helpful graph to explain this, from Real Climate – a climate science blog by climate scientists. Last year they said:
“It is still possible therefore to meet the Paris temperature goals if emissions peak by 2020 at the latest, and there are signs to show we are moving in that direction as global CO2 emissions have not increased for the past three years. We will need an enormous amount of action and scaled up ambition to harness the current momentum in order to travel down the decarbonisation curve at the necessary pace; the window to do that is still open.”
World Resources Institute show which countries have already peaked their emissions and which ones are expected to by 2020, given current targets.
The world is not on track to meet this goal yet, but there is till time to hit it if we move fast. With crunch time upon us, one thing is for certain: 2018 is going to be a pivotal year for our world’s future.
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