Chapter 1. Dysfunction in Climate Governance
Warning from the UN Secretary-General: “the state of the planet is broken.”
In a December 2020 speech, Antonio Gutierez warned that “We are facing a devastating pandemic, new heights of global heating, new lows of ecological degradation and new setbacks in our work towards global goals for more equitable, inclusive and sustainable development. He reaffirmed his warning at the Climate Ambition Summit later that month.
Production Gap Report 2020
“To limit warming to 1.5°C or well below 2°C, as required by the 2015 Paris Agreement, the world needs to wind down fossil fuel production. Instead, governments continue to plan to produce coal, oil, and gas far in excess of the levels consistent with the Paris Agreement.” Read the report.
Emissions Gap Report 2020
According to UNEP’s latest Emissions Gap Report, “a brief dip in carbon dioxide emissions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic will make no significant difference to long-term climate change. The world is still heading for a catastrophic temperature rise in excess of 3°C this century – far beyond the Paris Agreement goals….”
Chapter 2. The Worsening Climate Crisis
“Climate meltdown” in 2020
“Wildfires in Siberia, Australia, California; the worst hurricane season and highest thermometer reading yet, maybe a global temperature record. What 2020 says about climate change.” Listen to the BBC Discovery program (37 minutes).
2020 on track to be one of three warmest years on record
According to a provisional report from the World Meteorological Organization, “Climate change continued its relentless march in 2020, which is on track to be one of the three warmest years on record. 2011-2020 will be the warmest decade on record, with the warmest six years all being since 2015.”
2020 was one of three warmest years on record
According to UN Secretary-General António Guterres, “that 2020 was one of the warmest years on record is yet another stark reminder of the relentless pace of climate change, which is destroying lives and livelihoods across our planet. Today, we are at 1.2 degrees of warming and … headed for a catastrophic temperature rise of 3 to 5 degrees Celsius this century.”
The Paris Agreement’s warming limit may be exceeded soon
As reported by the World Meteorological Organization, the “annual mean global temperature is likely to be at least 1° Celsius above pre-industrial levels (1850-1900) in each of the coming five years (2020-2024) and there is a 20% chance that it will exceed 1.5°C in at least one year, according to new climate predictions.”
G20 countries are spending over half a trillion dollars each year to subsidize fossil fuels
According to a new report, despite pledges to end support for fossil fuels, G20 governments provided $584 billion annually in direct budgetary transfers and tax expenditures, price supports, public finance, and state-owned enterprise investment for the production and consumption of fossil fuels.
“The 2020 report of The Lancet Countdown on health and climate change”
“No country – whether rich or poor – is immune from the health impacts of climate change. Right now, people around the world face increasing extremes of heat, food and water insecurity, and changing patterns of infectious diseases.” Read the report.
Chapter 3. Pathologies of International Relations
“Beyond good intentions, to urgent action”: 30 years of international climate change negotiations
According to this article in Climate Policy, the international climate negotiations are “constrained by the realities of the multilateral system. … The principal shortcoming is failure by governments to fully implement treaty obligations…. global emission growth over the 30-year period testifies to this failure….”
“Global Climate Change Governance: The search for effectiveness and universality”
“Two themes run across global climate change governance: different interpretations of how to differentiate between countries’ responsibilities for emissions reductions and the quest for universal participation.” Read the IISD brief.
“Did the Climate Ambition Summit Make Enough Progress?“
“If the summit achieved its goal of raising ambition—however incrementally—whether that ambition is sufficient to meet the key objectives of the Paris Agreement is questionable. … Current policies do not hold the world below 1.5°C, or even 2°C, of warming. Most of today’s targets will be judged when the leaders presenting them are long out of office.” Read the Earth Negotiations Bulletin analysis.
Chapter 4. Pathologies of National Politics in the United States and China
“Can Joe Biden make good on his revolutionary climate agenda?”
According to this essay in Nature, “although he faces a split Congress, the US president-elect has levers he can pull in the government to advance clean energy and curb global warming.” As a start, Biden pledged to “rejoin the Paris Agreement on day one of my presidency….”
Biden appoints a special presidential envoy for climate, creating a new cabinet-level position
President-elect Joe Biden has named former Secretary of State John Kerry as his cabinet-level special presidential envoy for climate. Kerry will try to convince other countries that the United States intends to become a leader on climate action. Read more in the New York Times.
Wildfires make climate change all too real for West Coast Americans
As unprecedented “mega fires” burned, climate change was “smacking California in the face” and doing the same in Oregon and Washington.
2020 “America’s Pledge” report updates emissions-reduction actions in the U.S.
Delivering on America’s Pledge aggregates and quantifies actions by U.S. states, cities, businesses and other non-federal actors to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in keeping with the Paris Agreement.
The U.S. climate fair share to limit global warming to 1.5°C
As reported in Sierra magazine, “Even if the United States honestly reduces its emissions to net zero in 2050, it will not have done its fair share of the planetary effort.” It must also help developing countries. Read more about what the US’s fair share should look like here.
“Chinese Overseas Development Financing of Electric Power Generation“
An article in One Earth shows that most Chinese overseas energy financing is currently in coal. It argues that decarbonization of China’s (and other countries’) power investments will be critical for reducing future carbon emissions from recipient countries.
Do actions in China match its carbon-neutrality pledge?
To achieve the Paris Agreement’s target to limit global warming to less than 2°C, emissions from the energy sector will have to peak very soon and decline by 2030. This report “shows that power industry plans to build new coal-fired power plants after 2020 contradict China’s 2060 carbon neutrality target.”
“U.S. and China Climate Goals: Scenarios for 2030 and Mid-Century”
According to an Asia Society/Climate Analytics report, “If the United States and China … are able to achieve net-zero GHG emissions around mid-century, it would … require bold action in all sectors of the economy, with an early coal phaseout being paramount for both countries.”
Chapter 5. Pathologies of National Politics in the Global North
The European Parliament calls for emissions reductions of 60% by 2030
The European Parliament adopted a mandate for the EU to cut emissions 60% by 2030 on the way to being climate-neutral by 2050 and thereafter achieving “negative emissions”. It also called for ending all fossil-fuel subsidies by 2025.
The EU to cut greenhouse gas emissions 55% by 2030
“European Union leaders agreed to cut net carbon emissions by 55 percent in the next decade from levels measured in 1990, overcoming the concerns of [member] nations still heavily dependent on coal and taking a critical step in the effort to become climate-neutral by 2050.” Read about it in the New York Times.
“U.K. to Halt Subsidies for Fossil Fuel Projects Abroad”
In December 2020, the UK government pledged to “end financing, aid and trade promotion for new projects overseas to extract or use crude oil, natural gas or the type of coal burned to generate electricity.” It had already pledged to end sales of petrol/gasoline and diesel cars, and to become carbon neutral by 2050.
“Russia rules out cutting fossil fuel production in next few decades”
Despite moves by other countries to move toward decarbonization, “Russia has no plans to rein in its production of fossil fuels in the coming decades.” Read more in the Guardian.
“How Russia Wins the Climate Crisis”
“Climate change and its enormous human migrations will transform agriculture and remake the world order — and no country stands to gain more than Russia.” Read the ProPublica/New York Times article here.
Chapter 6. Pathologies of National Politics in the Global South
Brazil’s forests continue to burn while the government looks away
Record-setting fires in Brazil destroy forests and wetlands, as ranchers, loggers and miners take advantage of the government’s policies of encouraging economic development and reducing environmental enforcement.
Chapter 7. Pathologies of Human Nature
The catastrophic impacts of humanity on the earth are increasing
According to the latest Living Planet Report, biodiversity is being lost at an increasing rate due to human activities. The populations of many species have declined by 68% since 1970, in the process harming human health and well-being.
Confronting carbon inequality
From 1990 to 2020, “The richest 10% of the world’s population (c.630 million people) were responsible for 52% of the cumulative carbon emissions – depleting the global carbon budget by nearly a third (31%).” Read more in this Oxfam report.
Chapter 8. Reconsidering International, National and Human Governance
Human Development Report 2020: The Next Frontier – Human Development and the Anthropocene
The report explores “how human development relates the Anthropocene. … considers the implications for action, discussing three key mechanisms for change: social norms and values, incentives and regulation, and nature-based human development [, and] proposes new metrics, including an adjustment to the Human Development Index to account for planetary pressures.”
Chapter 9. Prescriptions for Governing Climate Change
“Politics is not enough: Individual action and the limits of institutions“
In The Ecological Citizen, Luke Philip Plotica argues that “if we are to treat the cause as well as the symptoms of ecological devastation, melioration must begin where the harm begins – with us, at home, at work, in our neighbourhoods and communities….”
Chapter 10. Policies and Prospects for Climate Governance
“Global food system emissions could preclude achieving the 1.5ºC and 2ºC climate change targets“
According to a report in Science, “even if fossil fuel emissions were eliminated immediately, emissions from the global food system alone would make it impossible to limit warming to 1.5ºC and difficult even to realize the 2ºC target. Thus, major changes in how food is produced are needed if we want to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.”
“Radical Realism”: the phase-out of oil and gas production
This 2-minute video argues that “burning just the oil and gas in already operating fields would blow the world’s carbon budget for 1.5ºC. In other words, it’s not enough to simply stop new fossil fuel extraction to achieve climate targets. Governments and investors must take action to close oil and gas fields and coal mines early, while implementing just transition measures at every step of the way.”
COVID-19 Recovery: A Pathway to a Low-Carbon and Resilient Future
According to a report from the Asian Development Bank, “countries can use the recovery to drive investments and behavioral changes that will reorient their economies toward a more strategic low-carbon trajectory, while simultaneously addressing underlying vulnerabilities and strengthening resilience.”
Sources of renewable energy are growing rapidly
According to a report from the International Energy Agency, by 2025 renewable forms of energy are anticipated to overtake coal as the largest source of electricity worldwide.
“Postapocalyptic environmentalism: A movement for transformational climate adaptation?”
This paper examines the strategic implications of a “postapocalyptic” environmental movement, which assumes that climate catastrophe is unavoidable.
The possibility of rapid transition: we’ve done it before
Is a rapid (and fair) transition to living within environmental thresholds even possible? Drawing on precedent, this pamphlet argues that “once we understand and accept the necessity of action, we’re even quite good at it. The past shows we can adapt fast.”