People who are young today will be the most affected by climate change, but how do youth around the world actually influence the trajectory of the COP negotiations to ensure that we avoid catastrophic climate change?
Youth attend COP as civil society representatives, researchers, activists, and official delegates, sometimes wearing multiple hats during the same conference. While in Bonn, I had a chance to sit down with some of these young attendees in the first few days of the conference and ask about their role, motivations, and hopes for COP23.
Harry Holmes and Lucy Fellingham
Recently Phillip Hammond the Chancellor released the UK Autumn Budget, the outline of the government’s spending plan. As ever, the green agenda didn’t register as high as the NHS and housing, but that doesn’t mean there is nothing to talk about. So, without further ado, let’s look at the environmental side of the budget document.
Lucy Fellingham & Leo Frank
Oxford Climate Society’s weekly event on Monday saw almost 180 people gather to hear from our speakers and discuss what happened over the last 2 weeks in Bonn. It was a fascinating and thought-provoking talk, led by an expert panel made up of Dr Saleemul Huq, lead author on Adaptation and Mitigation for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Director of the International Institute for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD), joined by Professor Myles Allen, lead author on the Detection of Climate Change and Attribution of Causes for the IPCC and 2007 Review Editor on Global Climate Projections.
Due to finish last Friday, this year’s UN climate conference limped through the night to dawn on Saturday morning. With all of this year’s proceedings closed, OCS reviews what progress was made towards meaningful action on climate change over the past fortnight.
Though women internationally are more negatively affected by the impacts of climate change women’s voices are disproportionally represented in decisions relating to action against climate change. Not only are the majority of the world’s poor are women, but cultural attitudes towards women create barriers to their participation in climate action. While in developing areas heavily impacted by climate change, such as sub-Saharan Africa, women make up the majority of the food-producing workforce, women are also more affected by food shortages with female health being more strongly impacted than men’s in times of shortage. Lower social and economic status of women – meaning that women, for example, do not learn how to swim or cannot attend relief centres alone - can mean that a higher proportion of women die as a result of natural disasters.
Rupert Stuart-Smith, Oxford Climate Society President 2017/18
The Paris Agreement (Article 2) seeks to restrict climate change to ‘well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels’, with the ethically imperative goal of ‘pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels’. An important question, discussed in greater detail in my previous article, is whether the more ambitious of these two goals was merely aspirational, or if this is indeed an achievable target.
By some measures, global temperature rise is already knocking on the door of 1.5 degrees. Some studies have argued that we could have emitted enough carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to reach that level of warming as soon as 2021. But these numbers rely on different assumptions than were made when the goals of the Paris Agreement were devised in 2015, at which time delegates were advised that global temperatures had risen by ‘only’ 0.85 degrees. With this in mind, the 1.5 degree goal in the Paris Agreement should be seen as a very real possibility, with recent studies indicating that net-zero greenhouse gas emissions must be achieved by 2045 (figure 1) or 2055 (partly dependent on our ability to reduce emissions of non-CO2 greenhouse gases). In other words, achieving the 1.5-degree goal will be extremely difficult and require rapid decarbonisation of every part of every economy in the world, but it is possible.
Figure 1: Future emission trajectories under business as usual (baseline), the Nationally Determined Contributions to the Paris Agreement (NDC), uniform pricing on all greenhouse gas emissions to deliver a 50% probability of staying within the 2°C target (default 3.4), as with default 3.4 but with a probability of at least 66% of staying below 2°C of warming (default 2.6), as with default 2.6 but minimising the use of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage as a means of carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere (No BECCS 2.6), and delivering a 50-66% probability of remaining below the 1.5°C target (van Vuuren et al. 2017)
If we can understand the 1.5-degree target as being achievable and set with the intention of it being fulfilled, rather than a meaningless phrase added to placate many of the world’s countries at greatest risk from the impacts of climate change, who may otherwise have walked out of the discussions at Paris, the implications are huge. No longer will the biggest emitting countries and companies be able to drive global temperatures up beyond safe levels and then be able to claim that by the time we understood the science of climate change and came to a global consensus on its prevention, it was too late to do anything about it. We know it will be tough, and that we must be fully determined in our ambition to achieve rapid decarbonisation, but the knowledge that this trajectory is possible will greatly strengthen future claims of responsibility for causing climate change.
With this in mind, any future, not prevented impacts of climate change, including forced movement of people due to sea level rise, economic losses from extreme weather attributed to climate change, loss of life, and non-economic losses should be subject to ‘loss and damage’ claims. Those failing to play their part in preventing further climate change now, and pushing warming beyond global targets are responsible for its impacts. The fact they now know they can do something about it will simply add to their responsibility, should they fail to act now. And if they don’t, they should be liable to compensate those affected by conscious decisions to contribute to the devastation resulting from climate change – stories of which can be heard from delegates throughout COP23.
Despite the apparent logic of this, much of the developed world (perhaps unsurprisingly, given their large historical emissions and responsibility for climate change) remain unmovably opposed to developing mechanisms through the UN climate process to facilitate loss and damage claims. The latest attempts to block this process has been led at COP23 by the US, EU, Canada and Australia, whose contention that financing should be excluded from negotiations on loss and damage is apparently grounded in the fact that not every natural disaster can be attributed to climate change. The absurdity of this argument is underlined by recent and rapid advances in the science of attributing (probabilistically) extreme weather events to climate change. Since we can now model to what extent climate change influenced a particular event, we can determine with ever growing certainty how responsible for climate-related losses are those who contributed most to climate change.
If we can formalise a regime for loss and damage, and render the biggest emitters liable for the impacts of their actions, this would be a small but significant step towards addressing the vast injustices of climate change. For the developed world to continue to ignore their moral duty on this matter is simply unacceptable.
This article follows Oxford Climate Society’s side event at this year’s UN Climate Conference, on 12 November 2017, and is in part inspired by the talks given by the speakers, Professor Myles Allen and Kya Raina Lal.
Rupert Stuart-Smith, Oxford Climate Society President 2017/18
Since the fairly disastrous 2009 UN climate conference in Copenhagen (COP15), the slogan of many of the countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change has been “1.5 to stay alive”. Six years later, the Paris Agreement (and all its signatories) implicitly acknowledged the inadequacy of the 2°C goal agreed in 2009, and recognised that limiting climate change to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels ‘would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change’. Yet with the global policymaking focus of the past few years firmly centred on limiting climate change to 2°C, relatively few efforts have been made to understand the future emissions permissible if we are to stay within 1.5°C.
In fact, the answer to the question of our ‘carbon budget’ for 1.5°C is perhaps more dependent on what story you want to tell than the predictive abilities of climate modellers. Depending on what baseline of ‘pre-industrial’ temperatures is used, it is possible to come up with very different (but equally scientifically accurate) estimates of the extent of past manmade climate change.
Millar et al. (2017) use a baseline of average global temperatures from 1861-1880 (equivalent to that used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), and calculate that global temperatures have risen 0.93°C from the baseline to the present decade (when the influence of short-term variability from El Niño is excluded). Based on their projections, only a further 200 Gigatonnes of carbon can be added to the atmosphere between now and 2055, and by that point we must have reduced our net carbon emissions (the balance of release into the atmosphere and removal from it) to zero, if we are to have a reasonable chance of limiting climate change to 1.5°C. To put this into context, current annual net CO2 emissions are approximately 10.4 GtC, leaving less than 20 years of emissions at current rates to exceed the 1.5°C carbon budget identified by this paper.
Figure 1: Idealised mitigation trajectory for limiting climate change to 1.5°C. Dashed line shows a peaking of global emissions in 2020, followed by linear decline to net zero in 2055. Thin solid orange line is the climate response to the emissions scenario in 66% of CMIP5 models, showing a warming of under 1.5°C. Thick solid line shows the 50th percentile of the climate response to this scenario. Source: https://www.carbonbrief.org/guest-post-why-the-one-point-five-warming-limit-is-not-yet-a-geophysical-impossibility.
Based on Millar et al., to stay within the 1.5°C budget, unwavering commitment to rapid global decarbonisation is required, and emission reductions of 4-6% per year will be needed in the 2030s and 2040s. This rate of CO2 emission reductions is historically unprecedented and requires worldwide replacement of existing capital. This will include a revolution in our energy systems through the development and massive deployment of renewables, and an as-yet undemonstrated scale of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and CO2 Removal (CDR), for instance through Bioenergy with CCS (BECCS). The rate at which this transition can happen is limited due to the lifespans of existing infrastructure and the inertia of our economic system, and Millar et al. advocate for immediate and ambitious emission reductions to have any chance of keeping up with the precipitous fall in emissions demanded by their 1.5°C scenarios.
At the same time, the key message of Millar et al. is that the 1.5°C temperature goal is not impossibly ambitious, even though current national pledges require dramatic strengthening. With current national commitments falling far short of global ambition on climate change mitigation, technologically and economically feasible scenarios such as those this paper propose can provide a strong framing for the global stocktake process to increase national level climate commitments.
Alternative estimates of the future emissions compatible with limiting climate change to 1.5°C, using different measures of global temperature and baseline periods (such as 1750, since when global temperatures have risen more than they have since the mid-nineteenth century), indicate far smaller emission budgets. Under some estimates, cumulative emissions committing us to 1.5°C will be reached as soon as 2021.
The question is: is the bigger the panic the better? Does presenting climate change mitigation in line with the 1.5°C goal as being an unsurmountable challenge propel individuals, companies and world leaders into action? Or rather, in line with Miller et al., are we more likely to be able to inspire the behavioural, economic and policy revolutions required if science explains that we have a chance to avoid the vast human suffering brought about by inadequate climate change mitigation and warming of over 1.5°C, but only if we act now?
Join Professor Myles Allen, a co-author of the Millar et al. paper, the Oxford Climate Society, Oxford Martin School and Environmental Change Institute in a discussion on the findings of the paper and these questions on Sunday at COP23, in an event chaired by Kya Raina Lal.
Full details: https://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/event/2514
According to the UN website, “women commonly face higher risks and greater burdens from the impacts of climate change in situations of poverty, and the majority of the world’s poor are women.” The gender imbalance of decision making bodies and labour markets, which are largely male-dominated, often mean women are unable to contribute equally to climate-related policy making and implementing action against climate change. These beliefs, however, are not reflected in the gender balance of COP23 attendees.
Despite the progressive nature in relation to many of the events and discussions taking place at COP23, the gender imbalance at COP23 is striking. At COP21 in 2015, women compromised only 38% of participating delegates. These numbers have not changed in the last two years, with 62% male to 38% female party delegations attending COP23. Three countries or parties sent all-female delegates - Latvia, Albania and Guyana - although nine sent all-male delegates, notably including North Korea, Libya and Somalia. The UK was unusual in choosing to send twice as many female delegates as male.
The side event ‘Guaranteeing Rights and Gender Equality in all Climate Action’, which took place on 7th November, aimed to highlight opportunities for advancing human rights, gender equality and food security through national climate policies as well as the Paris Agreement implementation guidelines. Climate Change and Resilience Information Centre CARE chaired the discussion.
Lydia Essuah, a representative from Ghana, spoke about Ghana’s governmental frameworks instituted to guarantee human rights and promote gender equality in climate action. One such example was the Adaption Fund Project, which aims to empower women through providing access to financial support and livelihood interventions. In addition to this, The Sustainable Land and Water Project helps farmers vulnerable to climatic variability, such as drought, by funding new farming techniques and training forest fringe communities on wildfire. This in turn provides the local community with food and land security in an environmentally sustainable way, targeting the most fragile ecosystems in Africa. Over 9000 land users have adopted the new practices, resulting in progress benefiting almost 25,000 people, of which 40% are women. Implementation of this at a national level will, Essuah claimed, “advance the cause of the ordinary woman.”
Noelene Nabulivou, representative from Diverse Voices and Action for Equality, on the other hand, argued that not enough action is being taken to bridge the gap between rhetoric and reality on issues of gender and climate change. Failure to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5C and address further loss and damage, Nabulivou claimed, will endanger frontline and vulnerable communities such as the Pacific small island states, where the complex geopolitical context – here she highlighted the epidemic levels of violence against women and girls in these communities - plays a crucial role in hindering climate action.
Bridget Burns of Women’s Environment and Development Organisation advocated for more gender-divided data and analysis on the impacts of climate change, as well as demanding gender balance in the UNFCCC. She also highlighted the need for finance for the UN Gender Action Plan, which is unlikely to achieve its aims without an increase in funding. She reported that progress on making gender a focus in UNFCCC processes is underway.
Gender Day at COP23 will take place on 14th November, where attendees hope to highlight how gender-responsive climate policy and action will be able to generate economic benefits and raise ambition for our aims in climate action, in addition to transforming the lives of women and girls internationally.
Fredrik Eriksson and Lucy Fellingham
An important part of the COP meetings are the demonstrations and “actions” put on by civil society groups, including environmental groups, youth groups, and social justice groups. While major demonstrations are planned in Bonn over the two conference weeks, there are also several smaller demonstrations happening most days inside (or just outside) the venue where negotiations are taking place, in direct view of the national delegates attending the talks.
Today, a coalition of climate justice groups put on a demonstration just outside the negotiation venue in Bonn highlighting the need for increased climate ambitions in the next 2 years. According to Lise, participant in the demonstration and member of the UK Youth Climate Coalition, there is a lack of ambitious targets to reduce emissions in the next two years. Lise described how the Paris agreement NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions), including the pledged emissions reductions, will not take effect until 2020, and how the emissions targets leading up to 2020, agreed to in Doha, were left unratified by many countries, leaving the 2018-2020 time frame without solid targets for emissions reductions. “We can already see impacts on the climate,” she said, “and while we still need to step up the ambitions under the Paris agreement, as those commitments fall short [of protecting the climate], we also want to see countries take action before 2020.”
As of the end of October 2017, 84 Parties have ratified the Doha Amendment (an extension of the Kyoto Protocol), but the targets to reduce emissions will not be put into force until the number of Parties reaches 144. The ratification of this agreement would be valuable in pushing forwards momentum for global climate action in the years leading up to 2020, but the emissions targets for the next few years remain unclear.
The protestors aren’t the only ones to have expressed concerns about what needs to happen before the Paris Agreement. At the time of the Agreement, climate scientist Kevin Anderson stated “If we wait until 2020, it will be too late”, while the New Scientist came to the conclusion that the agreement itself will not be enough to limit the warming to just 2ºC. The IPCC’s projected trajectory for the emissions of carbon dioxide (pictured below) show an increase that will lead to a “near-complete” destruction of the Greenland ice-sheet, with 70% of worldwide coastlines projected to experience a sea-level change.
In addition, a large amount climate change that will occur as a direct consequence of our CO₂ emissions is irreversible on a millennial timescale. Unless we physically remove the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, surface temperatures will remain high and warming of the oceans, bringing a rise in sea level, will continue. It is clear that we must make use of the years we have before 2020 to do everything we can to reduce emissions and that the policy makers need to be aware of the urgency with which this needs to happen.
Author: Alessandra Martorana, Member of the OCS Media and Research Team
Businesses today are operating in an environment of increasing and sustained public attention to issues of sustainability and climate change, and there is strong scientific consensus on the direct links between business activity and environmental impacts, creating pressure for businesses to make changes to their practices and culture. Schaltegger et al., state that ‘no sustainable development is possible without a sustainable development of corporations’.
Since the 1990s, the emergence of ‘eco-efficiency’, a term coined by the WBCSD and referring to ideas describing how business can create more goods and services while using fewer resources and creating less waste and pollution, has encouraged businesses to invest in sustainability as a cost-cutting measure. Research has supported the potential gains of eco-efficiency and WWF and CDP have reported that if businesses cut carbon emissions by an average of 3% annually, they'd save up to $190billion in 2020 alone. Some companies have made significant financial gains through sustainable cost saving measures: Dow Chemical invested less than $2 billion since 1994 to improve its resource efficiency, resulting in savings of over $9.8 billion from reduced energy consumption and water waste.
Businesses have also long recognized the reputational benefits of being sustainable: Project ROI estimates that a top level corporate reputation for responsibility and sustainability can account for 11% of a firm’s value. The damage that a bad reputation in this area can have is also clear - after Volkswagen’s emissions scandal broke the resulting share price drop resulted in a loss of almost $28billion in market value.
While many businesses have been open to investing in the benefits gained by cost-efficiency and a sustainable reputation, they have often resisted further calls to change based on assumptions that investing in sustainability can only bring limited returns. However, businesses need to look beyond these arguments as increasing research is showing the multifaceted ways in which being sustainable can pay.
Goldman Sachs have reported that companies that the leaders in sustainable, social and good governance policies have a 25% higher stock value than their less sustainable competitors, and The Economist Intelligence Unit has found that share price losers are 2.5 times more likely not to have anybody in charge of sustainability. It is clear that being a leader in sustainability not only drives environmental benefits but also serves the financial bottom line of many businesses. Investors are paying attention to these findings and there have been dramatic increases in socially responsible and sustainable investment - this type of portfolio now totals more than $2 trillion in the US.
Beyond a company’s reputation with consumers there is also a market opportunity for sustainable products. 54% of consumers want to buy more sustainably. However, Young et al., describe an ‘attitude-behaviour gap’ where 30% of consumers report that they are very concerned about environmental issues but they are struggling to translate this into purchases. Focusing on sustainable products may create new revenue streams for businesses, securing customers that have greater brand loyalty, are willing to pay for more expensive goods and who purchase more.
Another argument for sustainable business is that as regulation increases it makes sense to get ahead of the game. There has been a 300% increase in the number of climate change bills proposed between 2003 and 2008 in the US, and water usage as well as product and packaging labeling are emerging as the next wave of regulatory focus. Focusing on sustainability can improve regulatory relationships and can go towards mitigating any sanctions that may be placed on businesses.
Research also finds that getting employees excited about creating products and services that help customers reduce their environmental impacts will engender an extremely loyal workforce and may even help recruit and retain better talent. A 2016 Deloitte study found that millennials are more likely to stay with employers when they feel a strong connection with their employer’s purpose. Similarly, a study by the Society for Human Resource Management found that morale was 55% better in firms with strong sustainability programmes, employee loyalty 38% better, and workforce productivity increased by 21%.
It is clear that a commitment to a sustainable purpose can benefit businesses in a number of ways, while at the same time serving the financial practicalities required for such investment. The recognition of such benefits is undoubtedly valuable in encouraging businesses to fulfill obligations demanded of them in order to address key environmental challenges such as climate change.
 Schaltegger, Stefan and Lüdeke-Freund, Florian and Hansen, Erik G., Business Cases for Sustainability: The Role of Business Model Innovation for Corporate Sustainability (2012). International Journal of Innovation and Sustainable Development, 2012, Vol. 6, No. 2, pp. 95-119. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2010510
 Young, W., Hwang, K., McDonald, S. and Oates, C. J. (2010), Sustainable consumption: green consumer behaviour when purchasing products. Sust. Dev., 18: 20–31. doi:10.1002/sd.394
OCS Media and Research Team
The latest in climate science and policy from the OCS team.