Climate window closing: U.N.

There is no longer a ten year window to address climate change, the United Nations has warned, with up to $20 trillion globally being spent on the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

In an interview with Radio New Zealand, the United Nations lead negotiator for the Paris Agreement Christiana Figueres said this decade could no longer be the transformative one the planet needs to overcome climate change.

“Those 10 years that we thought we had have now been shrunk into basically anywhere between three to 18 months because by the end of those 18 months all the decisions, and in fact most of the allocations of the recovery packages, will have been made.”

And while the global lockdown and pause on industry has led to a giant carbon crash, this is not the good news environmentalists want it to be.

While 2020 may see carbon emission levels down by eight percent – more than the 7.6 per cent scientists said was needed and possibly the biggest drop ever recorded – the drop in emissions came at too high a human cost.

“It is not good news because the drop in emissions has come at a very, very high human cost. We have lost thousands of lives. We have lost millions of livelihoods. That is not the way we are planning on decarbonising the economy,” she said in an R.N.Z. podcast After the Virus.

“The responsible decarbonisation of the economy has to be a drop in emissions and an increase in the quality of life of the human population. So this is almost getting to the right destination with absolutely the wrong path.”

That large drop in emissions largely stems from the closure of factories, shrinking demand for electricity, and the stoppage of flights and a lot of driving dropping fossil fuel consumption.

In 2019, scientists warned the world had until 2030 to reduce emissions down and avoid global warming above 1.5 degrees.

But Ms. Figueres said this is no longer possible in as long a time period, especially if countries attempt to return to normal life when lockdowns ease.

This problem has some suggesting economic recovery packages, especially for high emissions industries, should be tied to reduction efforts.

Former U.N. Environment Programme Director Achim Steiner, who held the role in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, said the airline industry should be looked at closely.

“If that industry is not willing to now take a big leap forward and become part of tomorrow's economy, then I think it does raise in many people's minds the question, should we actually be providing those packages?” he told R.N.Z.

He agreed that while substantial, the predicted eight per cent drop in emissions is not to be celebrated.

“This has nothing to do with a low-carbon economy, this is a shutdown, it is an economic disaster on the back of a health disaster,” Mr. Steiner said.

“I think the real question will be can we recover first of all from the economic fallout, get the virus under control but in so doing sow the seeds of an accelerated transition to a low carbon economy. 

“That will be the question for the next few years and will be at the centre for everyone who is thinking about what will happen next.”

Ms. Figueres, who is the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change which oversees the Paris Agreement, said several global crises have all converged, meaning urgent solutions are needed. 

“We have to converge the solutions. We have to be able to find policies, measures, injections of capital in particular that answer and address all of these crises at the same time. Sequentially addressing them will only get us out of one frying pan and into a raging fire,” she said.

“The responsibility here is to use the recovery packages that will definitely be somewhere between US$10 and $20 trillion dollars worldwide in fresh capital that will be injected into the economy at a huge indebtedness to Governments.

“Let us take advantage of this forced indebtedness that governments are going to engage in and ensure that those recoveries are clean, green, lead to more social inclusion and that they are long term.”


Bg pattern light


Subscribe to Samoa Observer Online

Enjoy access to over a thousand articles per month, on any device as well as feature-length investigative articles.

Ready to signup?