As delegates and campaigners gear up to the climate talks starting in Paris at the end of the month, it might seem hard to be optimistic given the experience of previous UN climate change summits.
Yet the signs are good that the world is waking up to the urgent need to take strong action on both tackling greenhouse gas emissions and building adaptation and resilience to the effects caused by a warming planet. Here is a round-up of recent positive steps.
- President Obama rejected the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. As 350.org's Bill McKibben noted, a head of state has never rejected a major fossil fuel project because of its climate impacts before. He wrote: "The President's decision sets the standard for what climate action looks like: standing up to the fossil fuel industry, and keeping fossil fuels in the ground."
- Goldman Sachs announced it will leverage $150bn into clean energy financing and investments by 2025. It aims to become the first US investment bank to be carbon-neutral across its operations. Its Environmental Policy Framework says that by 2020 it will seek to invest $2bn into green operational investments and source 100% of its global electricity needs from renewable energy. The bank will also deploy clean energy solutions into under-represented markets with poor access to renewable solutions as part of a Clean Energy Access Initiative. The $150bn investment expands on the existing $40bn target set in 2012. It joins a 13 member team of American multinationals, including Apple and Coca-Cola, pledging $140bn of new low-carbon investment to support President Obama's Climate Action Plan.
- A new Low Carbon Technology Partnerships initiative is claimed to be capable of delivering 65% of all the carbon emission reductions needed to meet the UN target of keeping global warming to under 2°C. It would do this by channelling at least $5-$10 trillion investment into low carbon sectors which would create at least 20m-45m jobs around the world over the next 15 years, according to the President and CEO of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) Peter Bakker.
- French energy firm EDF has a strategic plan – “CAP 2030” – to double its renewable energy portfolio from 28GW to up to 50GW in the next 15 years, says its Group Senior Executive Vice President Renewable Energies, Antoine Cahuzac.
- Meanwhile ExxonMobil is being investigated by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to determine whether it misled its investors about the risks of climate change, as outlined by its own research. This follows reports by the non-profit Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times that Exxon deliberately played down the impact of fossil fuel burning on the climate.
- China's cumulative installed capacity for renewables, excluding hydropower, is expected to more than triple from 196.3 Gigawatts (GW) in 2015 to an estimated 608.9 GW by 2025 – a Compound Annual Growth Rate of an astonishing 12%, according to research and consulting firm GlobalData. This is driven primarily by ambitious government targets for onshore wind. It's amaxing to think that in 2007 its installed capacity, excluding hydropower, was just 9GW.
- The European Union's Energy Community ministerial council adopted a 20% headline target on energy efficiency by 2020, paving the way for further energy efficiency improvements beyond that date. As in the EU, the Directive will require the Contracting Parties to adopt energy savings obligation schemes for energy distribution and retail companies, promote efficiency in heating and cooling and co-generation and apply yearly targets for the renovation of central government buildings.
Cities and regions are also taking unilateral action, independent of their host countries:
- Mexico City, one of the largest cities in the world, is this week hosting 100 Resilient Cities's second annual Chief Resilience Officer Summit. At this week-long summit, established by the Rockefeller Foundation, pioneers in the practice of urban resilience from 6 continents and more than 30 countries are brainstorming how to broaden their efforts to adapt to climate change and related issues in their cities. For example, they will visit the southern borough of Xochimilco, where solutions are being implemented to resilience challenges including water and watershed management, mobility, vulnerable populations, conservation encroachment, and urban sprawl.
- In October The Covenant of Mayors - a movement of European cities committed to more energy efficiency and renewable energy - and its sister initiative Mayors Adapt – cities committing to prepare for the impacts of climate change - joined forces in the fight against climate change, led by Miguel Arias Cañete, the European Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy. These cities house 360 million people and account for 70% of the continent's energy consumption. Commissioner Arias Cañete called this "bottom-up approach which has worked so well in Europe"... "the world’s biggest urban climate and energy initiative".
- On this local level Energy Cities maintains a best practice database of European cities’ action in the field of energy and climate policies containing about 500 examples of energy transition aspects: local resources, energy efficiency, sustainable mobility, governance, social innovation, financing and, coming soon, a whole new series of best practices on urban farming. Further resources are in the “Proposals for the energy transition of cities and towns”.
The bottom line is that investors like pension funds and insurance companies, and cities and regions find it easier and quicker to change their policies than national governments. What's more, they see added benefits to doing so, benefits that mean that it may not even be necessary to cite 'climate change' as a motivating factor, even though the measures aid the fight against it.
Johanna Rolland, the Mayor of Nantes, a leader in this regard, certainly agrees. "The response to climate urgency can also become an opportunity for local development, job creation and the emergence of a new societal model," he said at the October Covenant of Mayors meeting. His city plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030.
That's exceeding by almost a factor of two the target endorsed by respondees to a European Commission consultation of cities’ views on the possible orientations of a new Covenant of Mayors, in which 97% called for new targets for 2030 of a minimum 40% CO2 reduction, and 27% increase in energy efficiency and renewables.
The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, consisting of 80 megacities worldwide, including Tokyo, Hong Kong, Seoul, Beijing and Jakarta, is doing similar, parallel work. This kind of thing is even happening in China.
We still need to keep up the grassroots pressure on political leaders to be ambitious in Paris. It is vital not to be complacent. The money and the measures need to be shown to be making a real, measurable, difference. But perhaps we can cautiously hope that the world is belatedly making a welcome recognition that the response to climate change can actually bring many other positive benefits.
David Thorpe is the author of: