On UN World Environment Day 2017 (5 June), the Spokesperson of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Nick Nuttall, gave a speech to the International Student Conference on Environment and Sustainability at Tongji University in Shanghai. Nick Nuttall is visiting professor at the university. Speaking about the future of the Paris Climate Change Agreement and the UN's Global Goals, he said: “The question is not if the world is moving to address climate change and also realize the Sustainable Development Goals. The question is now scale and also speed if we are to avoid potentially catastrophic climate impacts, hand on a healthy planet to the next generation and seize the opportunities of a different kind of development path.” Read his full address here:
Professor Zhong Zhihua, President of Tongji University and all the senior officials of this great, academic institution,
Clarice Wilson of UN Environment,
Other distinguished guests,
And of course all you wonderful students from so many countries,
Firstly, let me thank Tongji University and Professor Li Fengting, Deputy Dean of the Institute of Environment for Sustainable Development for inviting me to be here.
I am no stranger to this University, having been here in my former life many times with the then UN Environment Executive Directors Klaus Toepfer and Achim Steiner.
And last year I was invited by Professor Li to lecture to his students on communications and sustainable development.
I either did well, which is why I have been invited back for a second year or I did very badly and so I have been invited back as a second chance!
Either way it is great to be with you on UN World Environment Day—an event that traces back to the UN Conference on the Human Environment that opened on 5 June 1972 in Stockholm, Sweden.
And where the world’s governments agreed at the outcome to establish the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), or as we call it today UN Environment.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we have been at this for a very long time.
The Paris Climate Change Agreement, my topic today, has an almost equally long genesis—it didn’t just pop out of a box one winter’s day in 2015 in the French capital.
It took over 20 years with millions of people in that time struggling to bring into being a universal climate agreement of all nations.
Indeed, it was seen very much as the impossible dream and held up by some as emblematic of the inability of the United Nations to deliver on its mission.
When I scribbled down my suggested title for today’s lecture a month or two ago I called it 'The Future of the Paris Climate Change Agreement in a Changing World'.
I could never have imagined how changing that world would be in the past few days: I will mention the announcement of late Thursday by the United States government to withdraw from Paris.
But let me first give you a glimpse into what has happened since Paris, where the world needs to go next and the prospects for success on an issue of profound significance to everyone, and not least the future for many of these students and young people in the room today.
The good news first.
Paris was adopted universally in December 2015—even before the next UN climate conference in 2016 in Marrakech, Morocco—the Agreement had entered force.
In other words, sufficient nations had ratified the Agreement and brought it into their national laws—it was a record time for such a treaty.
- That enthusiasm among nations continues to this day—at the last count 147 countries had ratified the Paris Agreement with more joining monthly.
It is not just support for the treaty that continues to grow—action on the ground is moving forward at a rapid pace.
And it is not just governments but cities, regions, territories, business, investors and citizens who are acting.
Let me give some examples.
In April this year the UN Environment, the Frankfurt School and Bloomberg New Energy Finance released their annual assessment of renewable energy.
- It showed that in 2016 138.5 gigawatts of new renewable power capacity (excluding large hydro) was installed world-wide, up 8 percent from 127.5 gigawatts in 2015.
Average dollar capital expenditure per megawatt for solar photovoltaics and wind dropped by over 10% —in other words the cost of renewables is falling all the time.
- The proportion of global electricity provided by renewables rose from 10.3% in 2015 to 11.3% in 2016, up from almost nothing only a few years ago.
The growing penetration of clean energy globally was cited by the International Energy Agency this year as one reason why, by some measures, greenhouse gas emissions have stayed flat for three years running despite global economic growth rising by over 3 percent.
In 2016 Chile saw record low costs for solar and Morocco for wind power, and India completed construction of the Ramanathapuram solar complex, billed as the world's largest ever solar voltaic project at 648 megawatts.
- India this year also announced the doubling of its solar capacity by 2020 with at least 50 new solar parks.
The report also noted the rise of offshore wind such as the United Kingdom’s 1.2 gigawatt Hornsea project in the North Sea, estimated to cost $5.7 billion.
- China also invested $4.1 billion in offshore wind, its highest figure to date.
Speaking about the UK, this year it had its first ‘coal free day’ since the 1880s in April—underlying how its plan to phase out all coal fired power plants by 2025 is well on track.
This year the Union of the Electricity Industry, an association of 3,500 power companies in Europe with a turnover of $200 billion, announced they would build no new coal-fired plants after 2020.
Meanwhile Saudi Arabia announced a $50 billion push to develop renewables and the head of OPEC confirmed his organization’s support for the Paris Agreement.
Indeed, many private sector oil and gas companies such as Total and BP have this year underlined their support for the Paris Agreement.
2017 has also seen the beginnings of a surge in the electric car fleet with experts predicting that e-vehicles could represent 35 per cent of the global fleet by 2035 with big cuts in oil and coal demand as electric cars are fueled by solar.
Also in April this year the Green Climate Fund—the financial mechanism for the Paris Agreement, backed 8 projects in developing countries at its first Board meeting.
- These include over $150 million worth of funding for Egypt for renewable energy financing,
- Over 100 million Euros for a climate resilience project in Tanzania,
- Nearly $90 million for a river power project in the Solomon Islands.
The Fund has now spent over $2.2 billion on over 40 projects attracting a further $5.1 billion in co-financing.
- In May, the Grantham Institute and the Inter-Parliamentary Union unveiled that the number of climate and climate-related laws world-wide supporting the Paris pledges has grown to over 1,200.
New financial instruments are growing such as Green Bonds—France issued 7.5 billion Euros worth early this year and last year China issued over $15 billion worth—companies too: Apple issued $1.5 billion to finance green energy for its operations in 2016.
A club of subnational governments, the Under2 Coalition, who have committed to reduce their emissions by at least 80 percent by 2050, announced their membership has grown to 165.
- The combined GDP of these 165 members is close to $26 trillion – a third of the global economy – and covers a population of around one billion people living in North America, Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia
- These include Sichuan and Jiangsu Province in China, Amazonas in Brazil, Cross River State in Nigeria, British Columbia, California and New York State in North America, to name but a few
To be honest ladies and gentlemen, the announcements on action are too many and too numerous to capture in a speech of 30 minutes let alone 30 hours—I would need days to list them all since Paris 2015.
But this momentum must be tempered by scientific reality, and so the bad news:
NASA, the US space agency, reported in March that the extent of sea ice in the Arctic and around Antarctica hit record lows.
- The UN’s World Meteorological Organization this year confirmed that 2016 was the warmest year on record – a remarkable 1.1 °C above the pre-industrial period, which is 0.06 °C above the previous record set in 2015.
Remembering of course that the Paris Agreement aims to limit warming to well below 2 degrees C this century and better to 1.5 degrees C.
The WMO’s report also underlined that levels of greenhouse gases continue to rise in the atmosphere and that climatic impacts are being felt in many parts of the world.
Noteworthy extreme events in 2016 included severe droughts that brought food insecurity to millions in southern and eastern Africa and Central America.
Hurricane Matthew caused widespread suffering in Haiti as the first category 4 storm to make landfall since 1963, and inflicted significant economic losses in the United States of America, while heavy rains and floods affected eastern and southern Asia.
So there is simply no time for complacency, in many ways the Paris Agreement came super late and so we must be super-charged nationally and as a global community.
Where do we then go from here—accepting that there is movement as never before and not just at the level of the nation state but across all sectors of society and across all continents?
Practically, under the UN there is still much to do to complete the Paris Agreement including what some have called the rule book, others the implementation guidelines or what you might term the operating manual.
In November, in the German city of Bonn where my organization is headquartered, governments will meet to take this forward under the presidency of the small island developing state of Fiji, with a view to completing the work by COP24 in Poland in 2018.
2018 is also the year when nations will take stock of what they have achieved so far with a view to raising national ambition—because we know if you add up all the climate action plans of countries, they do not yet get the world on track to keep well below 2 degrees C.
2018 will also see the publication of a report by the UN-coordinated Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on prospects and scenarios for achieving the 1.5 degree C temperature goal—it is likely to make sobering reading.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The question is not if the world is moving to address climate change and also realize the Sustainable Development Goals.
The question is now scale and also speed if we are to avoid potentially catastrophic climate impacts, hand on a healthy planet to the next generation and seize the opportunities of a different kind of development path.
Perhaps the biggest single question is whether the trillions of dollars of finance that is being invested every year in developing and developed countries can be greened and greened in time.
Perhaps it can.
Only a few weeks ago the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) brought out the report Investing in Climate, Investing in Growth.
It argues that “bringing together the growth and climate agendas" could add one percent to average economic output in the G20 countries by 2021 and lift 2050 output by up to 2.8 percent.
- If the economic benefits of avoiding climate change impacts such as coastal flooding or storm damage are factored in, the net increase to GDP in 2050 would be nearly 5 percent
The report singles out infrastructure investment as crucial.
Limiting the global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees C in line with one of the Paris Agreement’s temperature goals, will require close to USD 7 trillion a year between now and 2030.
But the study points out that this is only around 10 percent more than investing in carbon intensive infrastructure and indeed would help save money—as well as help save the planet—because of increases in energy efficiency leading to annual fuel savings globally of around USD 1.7 trillion.
The report makes a series of recommendations that underline the importance of integrating the aims and ambitions of the Paris Agreement in national economic policies.
For example, the strengthening of climate mitigation policies including carbon pricing, fossil fuel subsidy reform, smart regulations and the use of public procurement to help drive low-carbon growth.
The report also underlines the importance of private sector investments and support from local government, companies and workers in not just a transition, but a just transition.
It is not just hard infrastructure such as the power, buildings and transportation sectors where climate-friendly investment is needed—there also needs to be smarter management of the world’s soft infrastructure including forests and agricultural systems.
There is positive news here too. CDP, the former Carbon Disclosure Project, is reporting ever more companies joining an international initiative under the post Paris global climate action agenda aimed at deforestation-free commodity supply chains.
New ones include McDonald’s Latin American franchise Arcos Dorados, Swiss fragrance and flavor company Firmenich, Brazilian meatpacker JBS, American healthcare company Johnson & Johnson, Brazilian paper producer Klabin and Canadian restaurant group Restaurant Brands International.
Forests have a critical role to play in reducing global warming, and deforestation itself is responsible for 10-15% of global greenhouse gas emissions, as well as habitat loss and social conflict.
What all this speaks to is the need for reforming the financial architecture of our world so that long term wealth versus short term profit and risk is properly priced into markets.
There is positive news here too—take a recent report by UN Environment. It cites that measures taken by finance ministries, central banks and regulators to promote sustainable finance have risen to 217 and now exist in nearly 60 countries.
These range from actions to steer finance towards clean energy through assessments of climate risk for insurance companies and on to roadmaps that set out how to green an entire financial system as China announced last year.
The financial system clearly needs to evolve further to price environmental risks, overcome short-termism and deliver greater transparency on climate performance.
Making this happen, and happen with a sense of urgency, will require different players to put in place mutually reinforcing financial policies and regulations that support the Paris Agreement.
If we can get it right, private capital will respond and the trillions needed for transformation across countries will flow.
Let me close with again thanking the organizers of today’s event and the University of Tongji and its students.
I could not close without mentioning the announcement by the Government of the United States late last week to withdraw from the Paris Climate Change Agreement.
A lot has been said of this including an interesting editorial in China Daily I read over breakfast this morning –as the United Nations, we have called it a ‘major disappointment’ and others have been even clearer or blunter in their remarks.
But it is also clear from the many, many comments by world leaders from China to India and Europe to Latin America and the Pacific that nations everywhere are standing shoulder to shoulder in their determination to achieve the Paris Agreement and move forward as one.
Why? Because it is in everyone’s national interest, it is not a straight-jacket but a flexible framework, it offers a road map to a more prosperous, healthier and job generating future and it can assist in avoiding risks to lives, livelihoods and our shared human existence.
Later today (perhaps early morning tomorrow here in China) a huge alliance of US states, cities, companies and investors are expected to issue a joint declaration called “We Are In” on how they plan to deliver emission reductions equal to those previously made by the US administration.
Underlying again the robustness of the Paris Agreement, spotlighting how—unlike a chain which can break if one link snaps—it enjoys a web of support that is far stronger and deeper than its parts.
Only a few weeks ago members of NATO—the North Atlantic Treaty Organization –warned of the threats of instability in the Middle East and Africa if climate change is not addressed.
Other senior military leaders from the US and Australia to the UK have made similar warnings and urged climate action.
Many faith leaders including the Pope have also reconfirmed this year the moral imperative to act on climate change.
Nearly 300 global investors with $17 trillion in assets have urged nations to stick to their Paris commitments.
In 2016 the number of people employed in renewable energy world-wide was close to 10 million and rising, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency headquartered in Abu Dhabi—many more now than in the fossil fuel industry.
In short, ladies and gentlemen, the train to a low carbon, climate secure future has already left the station, it is irreversible, unstoppable and has wide geographic support from all sectors of society.
For sure there will be bumps along the road—the transition envisaged is fundamental and vast in its vision.
But today’s challenge is to make sure the benefits are universal not just for all countries but for all people, from the rural areas of Africa and Asia to the industrialized areas of Europe and North America.
We need to make sure no one is left behind and equally that the climate action train swiftly evolves at the next available station into a TGV or Bullet train so that the necessary speed is achieved.