Since 50 Years, Government Officials Have Failed to Take an Action On Climate Change. No More Excuses, say members of UNFCCC

A statement was signed by the world’s governments at the end of February. It was remarkable in its clarity and strength. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report states that the collective scientific evidence is unambiguous: Change in the climate is an imminent threat to well being of humans, and the overall health of the earth. Any further postponement on concerted global anticipatory action on mitigation and adaptation will miss a short and swiftly closing window to secure a sustainable, livable future for everyone.

Perhaps you think that the highest priority for political leaders is securing a future that is liveable and sustainable Aren’t those the things that all citizens, regardless of their country, want? There are other concerns that are troubling many societies. For example, governments around the globe are dealing with poverty, hunger, wars, civil conflict, rising energy and food costs, crippling health systems, and economic problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

We can be sure that the three former UN climate chiefs are clear about one thing: the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment was the world’s first major summit on the environment. It recognized the connection between security, development, and the environment. They are adding stress to the already stressed-out world, especially in the conflict-prone and fragile regions. We have seen a lot of extreme weather in 2022.

As there is a rise in climate change, we are leveling ourselves up for ruined crops and food insecurity. There will also be other challenges such as rising sea levels, increased water security, drought, desertification, and threats to our water supply. The governments must take action against climate change and deal with other pressing crises. We recall Mia Mottley (Barbados Prime Minister) stating at Cop26 that “The leaders must make this choice today, not 2030, nor 2050.”

30 years ago, was the adoption of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. As the secretariat leader, we witnessed many promises and commitments that were not kept. The convention’s principle that equity was accepted by developed countries and their responsibility to lead climate actions, but their performance has been disappointing in many areas, including in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mobilizing financial support for the developing countries who are most in need.

All countries signed the 2015 Paris Agreement agreeing to “pursue attempts” to limit global temperature rise to 1.5C (2.7F). We have the right to now ask them where their efforts have led, where they are going, and how genuine. Science has shown that action is needed to reduce all greenhouse gasses in the coming decade. However, the totality of policies that are in place today will make us a world warmer by 2.7C or even 3.6C more than pre-industrial levels.

Science may not have persuaded all governments to act but perhaps economics has. The IPCC shows clearly that the success rate of the societies will be more in a world with climate change constrained than in one with too much carbon. Evidence of a zero-carbon transition can be seen all around us in the energy sector. Solar and wind generation show a compound growth rate of around 20% per annum and are cheaper than any other alternatives. The number of electric cars sold doubled between 2020-2021.

If one has not already invested in fossil fuels, there is no reason to continue on the clean energy path. Various key players in the corporate world, realize the need to take action quickly on this front. Governments still need to encourage this transition. Just Energy Transition Packages are currently being developed and may offer an investment route that could accelerate deployment in developing and emerging nations. It is important to encourage corporate action toward other targets, like reducing methane emissions.

The history of the world should provide hope that economics can help us take action faster despite all the other threats we face. The international community faced similar challenges fifty years ago: depletion of natural resources, desertification as well as the legacy of the atom bomb test, mercury contamination, and proxy conflicts. Geopolitics is dividing the world. Leaders agreed to collaborate on common threats at the 1972 Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm.

With geopolitics stifled by disagreements between superpowers and countries suffering from conflict and Covid, the world needs its leaders to get back together. Recognizing that they are losing the chance to stop dangerous climate change, governments have acknowledged the risks that failure could bring. The rapidly changing economic environment means that a climate-safe world is also one of greater prosperity. It is clear that the public wants climate change to be controlled, particularly among young people.

National leaders need to recall what the Stockholm conference showed about cooperation in times of crisis. In the interests of everyone, prosperity, and the planet, we need leaders who deliver on climate change promises.

Christiana Figueres was UNFCCC executive secretary between 2010 and 2016, Yvo de Boer was UNFCCC executive secretary between 2006 and 2010, and Michael Zammit Cutajar, UNFCCC executive secretary, was UNFCCC executive secretary between 1991 to 2002.


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