By Alvaro Umańa and Peter Eigen, Co-Chairs of Climate Transparency
We are in the midst of a crisis that threatens the very foundations of our societies. Climate change impacts are increasing across the world. Heatwaves, droughts, floods, and wildfires are causing devastation: every day, people are dying, others are losing their homes and their livelihoods, and ecosystems are being destroyed.
Energy prices have skyrocketed in many places of the world. Energy supply is not secure and, on top of that, food prices are steeply increasing, with climate change impacts contributing to the crisis. Some governments are advocating for a pause in climate action, and others are using the energy crisis as an excuse for reducing mitigation efforts and delaying the shift from fossil fuels.
The COVID-19 pandemic could have been a point of transformation but, instead, we have returned to business-as-usual in the way we generate and use energy. After a short dip in 2020, the G20’s emissions have rebounded in 2021 to nearly the level experienced in 2019: not enough renewable energy added; no speeding up the coal phase-out; no reduction in deforestation; and no acceleration of the exit from fossil-fuel-based transport.
There are enormous inequalities linked to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The top 1% of individual emitters are responsible for 17% of the global emissions; the poorest half are responsible for only 12%. This difference between the rich and the poor’s contribution to this global problem applies in most countries. For example, the per capita emissions in sub-Saharan Africa are 1.6 tCO2/yr; in North America they are 21 tCO2/yr.
Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, humanity has emitted 2,500 billion tonnes of CO2. If we want to keep global temperature increase to 1.5˚C, less than 500 billion tonnes can be released into the atmosphere. Under present trends, we will have used up the remaining carbon budget in less than 10 years. Future generations will be left with little choice but to deal with the disastrous results of our inaction.
It is difficult to agree on what would be a just solution to the climate crisis, but not at all difficult to agree that the present situation is unjust. It is only a question of fairness that those who make the biggest contribution to climate change – countries, companies, and individuals – must drastically reduce their emissions, and must carry a bigger share of the costs associated with those reductions. And that means a big increase in climate finance. Yet the contributions to climate finance from the world’s richest countries are still dwarfed by the money they pour into subsidising the very product that is causing climate change: fossil fuels, a sum that appears to increase every year.
Reducing energy demand is central to reducing emissions. Yes, millions of people need cleaner and more reliable energy for a better life. And they need the best available technology for that. But equally, there are millions who can – and should – change their lifestyle. Addressing unsustainable consumption trends requires increased and strengthened demand-side policies.
Present political tensions do not bode well for the upcoming climate negotiations, neither at the G20 Summit in Indonesia nor at the UNFCCC’s COP27 in Egypt. We need global cooperation, despite the economic and political differences.
New crises, such as pandemics and wars, will come and go; but unless we act, the climate crisis will remain an ever-worsening constant. It will be with us for decades to come, and it will get more intense every day unless we decarbonise our economies by the middle of this century.
The 21st century – indeed the next decade – will be judged by whether we will solve the climate crisis by acting decisively now.