By Dr. Samantha Mudie, Head of Technical Development
This week is Climate Week NYC, an annual event hosted in association with the United Nations and the City of New York, bringing together international leaders from business, government and civil society to showcase global climate action. In the recent challenging months, planned action across the globe has been halted or postponed until 2021. As such, Climate Week NYC is the biggest climate summit taking place this year and has taken on the theme of exploring the lessons we can learn in the pursuit of net-zero futures through building back better.
Opened by keynote speaker HRH Prince Charles on Monday, he issued a grim warning that the climate crisis is a “comprehensive catastrophe” that is set to “dwarf the coronavirus pandemic”. The showcase of environmental best practice at the summit then went on to feature talks on subjects including smart technologies, sustainability in the fashion industry, heat decarbonisation, deforestation avoidance and electrical vehicles from the likes of the NYC Mayors office, Walmart, AstraZeneca and many more.
A sustainable recovery from recent/on-going events is certainly necessary. The aim of halving global emissions by the end of this decade in order to limit global mean warming to 2°C (previously seen by many as too unfathomable or imperceptible), started to give way to cautious optimism in the first half of this year. Along came Covid and slashed emissions by 25% in China and 20% in the UK over the first 2 months of their lockdowns. The furlough scheme, shift to home working, drops in travel for business and leisure, resulted in car and public transport journeys plummeting by around 50% and 80% respectively, according to research by Sia Partners . Now we KNOW it can be done; societal changes can be achieved quickly and that businesses have a significant role to play alongside individuals and governments.
I don’t want to rain on this parade, I want to celebrate the art of the possible. But the reality is that while emissions are set to reduce by around 5.5% globally in 2020 compared against 2019 , this falls short of the 7.6% reduction per year required to stay on track and avoid exceeding the 1.5 °C temperature rise. This decrease in emissions is also not the same as greenhouse gas removal; it takes either thousands of years, or carbon capture and storage technologies, to remove what we already put into the atmosphere. The bounce-back – the increase in manufacturing as companies strive to make up for lost time – will be realised in the coming months. The last few months have seen Chinese emissions rise between 4-5% per month and emissions from transport here in the UK have also risen above pre-pandemic baselines as people enjoy newfound freedoms. Economic recovery will likely be prioritised over environmental preservation, but I like to think that the two aren’t mutually exclusive.
Back to the positive, new analysis this week confirms the number of regional governments setting net zero targets has grown 9-fold in the past year. Companies making net-zero pledges tripled from around 500 cities recording net-zero pledges in 2010 to 1,500 recorded in 2020 . Of course, the biggest news to come out of this year’s climate-week has been China setting a Net Zero Carbon target for 2060 in a surprising yet welcome move . One of the significant calls during this week has been for each of the major sectors to publish “publicly accessible roadmaps that identify the steps to net zero from 2020 and 2030”. I support this wholeheartedly. I am constantly encouraging bold organisations to share what has and hasn’t worked for the good of the planet. While I love breaking down something into measurable targets, I prefer to see action and results. We must start somewhere (and I am impatient!), but I must say I’m itching to move away from “who sets targets” to “who has achieved targets”. If you have something to shout about, in the spirit of this week, please get in touch.