As world leaders gather for climate week, they are running out of time
It’s Climate Week in New York City — happening alongside the UN General Assembly — and it comes on the heels of a record-smashing hot summer in the northern hemisphere and ahead of what could be a dangerously under-heated winter in Europe. It’s a moment when China has seen its most severe heatwave on record, the war in Ukraine reinforced Western Europe’s over-dependence on natural gas and flooding in Pakistan was labeled a “climate catastrophe” requiring “massive support.” And all of this just months after the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) raised an alarm bell on the inadequacy of global action to date.
Taken together, it is another sign we’ve waited too long to get serious about building a global clean energy economy and embracing natural climate solutions. These challenges also mean the Climate Week conversations on climate-smart food systems, natural climate solutions, corporate climate action, and innovative policy tools take on new urgency as the world faces deepening scientific and political challenges.
In short, this is no normal year for this annual gathering of activists, academics, businesses and government officials.
But Climate Week also arrives at a time of great progress, as we see major steps forward by many of the world’s leading economies. With a focus on becoming carbon neutral before 2060, China continues to aggressively invest in clean energy to the tune of $381 billion last year, according to the International Energy Agency, with solar panels and wind turbines installed across China at a rapid pace in what many see as a new clean energy race with North America.
Meanwhile, India’s cabinet last month approved an updated climate plan to reduce its emissions intensity by 45 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels, and achieve about 50 percent cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel-based energy resources by 2030. These measures support India’s long-term goal of reaching net-zero by 2070.
In the U.S., President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law last month, committing $369 billion in climate and clean energy investments, the most ambitious climate package in U.S. history. This will bring the U.S. substantially closer to its goal of cutting climate pollution in half by 2030 and reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 — restoring global confidence that the 2015 Paris Agreement is being taken seriously in Washington.
In addition to accelerating clean energy innovation in the United States, Biden has also advanced his commitment to quadruple U.S. international climate finance compared to Obama-era levels, requesting $11.4 billion from Congress by 2024.
These steps forward should be cause for cautious optimism at this year’s Climate Week — tempered with a clear-eyed perspective on the work still to be done. A critical piece of the road ahead is building the trust among countries that’s needed for stronger international collaboration on climate action. Our focus now must be on holding governments and businesses accountable to their promises. Accountability begets progress, which fosters trust, which leads to cooperation — cooperation that’s crucial to helping the world achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement.
This focus on accountability is crucial in the run-up to and at COP27, the UN climate change conference to be held in Egypt this November. The upcoming summit can’t just be about making announcements and pledges. The Egyptian presidency has prioritized shifting the focus at COP27 from planning to implementation, with the spotlight on mobilizing collective action on adaptation, mitigation and enabling flows of finance to enable delivery of action at scale.
At COP27, we’ll be working to speed the transition to clean energy and to ensure healthy and safe livelihoods, particularly for communities most impacted by the changing climate. For example, the summit is a midway point for the “global stocktake” for the Paris Agreement. The stocktake will assess the world’s progress toward achieving the targets outlined in the landmark 2015 agreement, providing an opportunity to identify where and how the world needs to strengthen efforts.
Finance will also be front and center on the COP27 agenda. We must take action to mobilize adequate resources to enable vulnerable countries to prepare, plan and respond to the impacts of climate change — and secure sustainable economic development for their populations.
The path to COP27 runs directly through New York City this Climate Week. We can celebrate recent successes, while also seizing this opportunity to identify how to extend and strengthen efforts. Now’s the time to channel this momentum into further action to pave the way for success at COP27. We have no time to waste.
Angela Churie Kallhauge is the executive vice president for impact at the Environmental Defense Fund.