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Climate leadership emerging from the shadows of Paris?

by Jennifer Morgan | @climatemorgan | Greenpeace International
Thursday, 3 May 2018 12:30 GMT

A woman sits on the beach on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, France, April 13, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

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In a critical year for raising climate ambition, some leaders are finally realising the need to step up. Will others follow?

By Jennifer Morgan, Greenpeace International 

Just a little over two years since the world agreed in Paris to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, we are witnessing signs of climate leadership emerge from the shadows. 

Despite the often strong words of world leaders who spoke of meeting the Paris goals, they have mostly failed to deliver an adequate amount of action. Consequently, we’ve seen inertia as progress languished behind the transformational change envisioned in the Paris Agreement.

The decision of US President Trump to abandon the Paris Agreement last year led to the rest of the world fighting to hold the line. Although leaders reconfirmed their commitment to the Paris Agreement at the G7 and G20 meetings, climate action was still insufficient. 

Critics could easily say the euphoria of Paris was colliding against reality because the world is off track, hurtling towards global warming of 3 degrees rather than 1.5.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has since shown the type of bold leadership we need. Her ban on new offshore oil and gas exploration in the world’s fourth largest Exclusive Economic Zone has helped to define what climate leadership means today. It’s time other leaders stepped up. 

As host of a Climate Action Summit in September, California governor Jerry Brown must also draw a line in the sand and say no to new fossil fuel infrastructure if his summit is to be called a success.

Non-state actors have so far driven climate momentum. Paris and Copenhagen are banning petrol and/or diesel vehicles. An increasing number of corporations are starting to align themselves with the Paris goals.

The baton now needs to pass to governments, such as in the UK, where Minister for Climate Change Claire Perry has asked for a review of the UK's decarbonisation targets. Her announcement – if backed up by domestic action – could be a valuable lead for other countries. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, known for her climate leadership internationally, has also been a shameful symbol of domestic inaction. But in March her new coalition government agreed to set up a National Coal Commission to work on a plan to phase out the nation’s coal power. This plan must put forward a bold and detailed rapid phase-out of coal starting immediately and concluding by 2030. 

Addressing the US Congress last month, French President Macron was strong on climate talk, but to be truly credible, he must lead the transformation in France - which he is so far sadly failing to do.

The European Commission has been asked to review the EU’s efforts and seven EU member states are now calling for higher climate ambition. This higher ambition, however, must be translated into action and a new target must be put forward to give momentum to the international negotiations.

China, which met its 2020 emissions reductions targets three years early, can advance the global climate agenda, but with emissions rising last year, Beijing, like the EU, still has much to do at home. 

The next step in advancing the climate policy agenda takes place this week and next at the UNFCCC intersessional meeting in Bonn when preparations for the first global stocktake of climate action – the Talanoa Dialogue – will occur. 

This is where countries need to deliver the mechanisms to capture and drive further leadership, because what is overlooked by those who focus on the inertia and engage in fatalistic defeatism is the possibility for rapid change to achieve the Paris goals. 

Climate action is aligned with many goals that our leaders claim commitment to, such as improving public health, innovation or cost-effectiveness. As the cost of renewables falls and the awareness of climate risk grows, climate leadership makes sense on multiple levels. 

Climate leadership demands of our leaders the integrity to accept and understand the urgency of our time and the strength of purpose to embark on the unprecedented scale of change required. There are no second chances. 

Jennifer Morgan is executive director of Greenpeace International