OPINION: Now is the time to turn climate promises into action

by Malik Amin Aslam Khan | @aminattock | Government of Pakistan
Sunday, 2 May 2021 21:45 GMT

People wade through the flooded road during monsoon rain, as the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Karachi, Pakistan August 27, 2020. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The Biden climate summit was a start – but concrete steps are needed next, including on climate adaptation and finance

Malik Amin Aslam Khan is Pakistan’s Minister of Climate Change and the global vice president of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The recently concluded U.S. climate summit aimed to steer the world away from its current warpath with nature and inject positive political momentum into the fight against climate change.

The unprecedented virtual congregation of world leaders, however, kept searching for that magic moment where the politics of climate change tip over and drive real action and set a purposeful direction to bend the curve on climate change.

In terms of tangible takeaways, firstly it was obvious that after five years of self-inflicted isolation, the United States wanted to make a grand comeback in the climate arena.

The pendulum politics played by them on climate change, including the unceremonious exit from the Paris Agreement, had created a credibility vacuum that was being strategically filled by China, with ambitious “nature-positive” announcements such as creation of an “eco-civilization” and achieving carbon neutrality by 2060.

The U.S. summit has certainly helped to arrest this eroding U.S. credibility as the rallying cry on the climate crisis came at the right time and managed to galvanize the relevant global players.

Secondly, the tone and tenor of the meeting set by President Joe Biden’s opening speech was one of hope, premised upon technological breakthroughs, and optimism linked with the generation of millions of good jobs through an alternate green economy.

Subsequently, the very welcome announcement of a 50% reduction of carbon emissions by 2030 and the associated $2 trillion climate-compatible infrastructure plan - based on increasing electric vehicles, expanding charging stations, and installing smart grids and carbon capture plants - was a manifestation of this optimism.

This was echoed by other countries such as Japan, Germany and Canada, which announced large emissions reduction plans based on technological fixes as well as putting a price on carbon – ranging to as high as $170 per ton.

Some other countries shared this solutions-oriented approach while focusing on nature-based remedies. In this domain, Pakistan with its “10 billion tree plantation tsunami” led the pack, with other countries such as New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia also announcing similar “billion” tree targets, putting their trust and investment in nurturing nature.

All this political optimism should fuel innovation and spark human ingenuity to trigger climate-compatible solutions.

Thirdly, however, climate adaptation and resilience failed to capture center-stage, which is unfortunate.

Climate change is a global issue that, like the pandemic, needs to be addressed with global consensus and this is not possible by pushing the urgent needs of impacted countries under the rug.

Vulnerable countries like Pakistan, the Philippines and Haiti are already immersed in the age of forced adaptation and braving rising impacts at ground zero.

Adapting to climate change is an inescapable “priority” which is neither affording time for innovation nor extending any latitude for delaying action. It needed to be addressed as such, but wasn’t at the climate summit.

Finally, the re-entry into the Paris Agreement by the world’s largest historical climate polluter was widely acclaimed, and responded to with ambitious emissions reduction announcements.

However, as the dust settles on the hype, what remains to be seen is actual action.

The world needs to match its words with actions and actually “do” more on climate action and climate finance.

Countries have to translate their loud pledges into formal Nationally Determined Contributions at Glasgow and, in turn, into measurable climate action on the ground.

In parallel, the delivery of associated climate finance focused on supporting adaptation and facilitating the clean energy transition needs to be urgently augmented.

Financial innovations such as debt-for-climate swaps and nature bonds, pushing countries towards nature investments and away from coal-laden development pathways, need to be boldly initiated.

Most importantly, the gaping trust deficit on the already committed $100 billion per year of climate finance needs to be addressed - by actually delivering on it.

The world owes a huge burgeoning debt to nature, and the climate crisis is nearing the threshold of irreversibility. Now is the time to act.

The plethora of promissory pledges by the carbon polluters, if not urgently translated into action, will only serve to hasten our collective and disastrous jump over the precipice.