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Ask an Expert: Why Is the 2020 Climate Ambition Summit So Important on the Road to COP26?

Why Global Citizens Should Care
The United Nations’ Global Goal 13, calls for countries to take action on the climate crisis, and events like the Climate Ambition Summit on Dec. 12 are a key part of that process. It’s important that even during the COVID-19 pandemic, governments don’t forget about their climate targets and do their bit to make the progress that’s so needed. To find out more about climate change and take action, join us here.

On Saturday, Dec. 12, the international Climate Ambition Summit is taking place as a virtual conference.

Despite being a smaller affair than COP26 — the UN climate change conference that the UK was originally set to host this year, now postponed to November 2021 due COVID-19 — this summit is still an incredibly significant moment.

Co-hosted by the UK, France, and the United Nations, and held in partnership with Chile and Italy, the Climate Ambition Summit represents a vital step on the road to next year’s COP26, providing an opportunity for countries to set an agenda for next year.

It also marks the 5-year anniversary of the Paris Climate Agreement, the groundbreaking international commitment to climate action, which set an overall ambition for the world to be no warmer than 1.5C above pre-industrial temperatures by 2100.

Being part of the Paris Agreement means governments have to set targets called “Nationally Determined Contributions”, or NDCs, which determine, among other things, how fast they are going to cut carbon emissions.

There has recently been a number of large economies pledging to reach net zero by 2050 as part of their NDCs. These include Japan and South Korea in November, while China — currently the world’s biggest polluter — has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2060.

This is incredibly good news. The Climate Action Tracker, an independent scientific analysis of climate targets, says: “The recent wave of net zero targets has put the Paris Agreement’s [goal of] 1.5°C within striking distance.”

But if these ambitious, although doable, targets are to be met then it’s clear that progress during the next decade is absolutely essential. And that’s why ensuring that governments, businesses, and all of us are onboard is so key.

Related Stories Dec. 10, 2020 The NDCs of Climate Action: Why Nationally Determined Contributions Are So Important

Global Citizen caught up with Bernadette Fischler, the head of international advocacy at WWF UK (the World Wide Fund for Nature) ahead of the Climate Ambition Summit to find out more about what it’s about, and what it aims to do.  

What does your job at WWF UK involve? 

I am head of international advocacy, and that means I work on the UN processes that we are trying to influence, mostly those related to the environment, climate, or sustainable development.

A really big part of my work at the moment is focusing on COP26 in Glasgow next year. But there is another important event that I’m working towards — the UN Biodiversity Conference, also known as the “nature COP” which is taking place in China in May 2021.

It means both climate action and nature are in focus in 2021 and it’s a good opportunity to emphasise the links between the two. You can’t solve the climate crisis without solving the nature crisis. And vice versa. 

What is the Climate Ambition Summit this Saturday, and why is it being held? 

The Climate Ambition Summit is being convened by the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the French President Emmanuel Macron, along with the UN’s Secretary-General António Guterres.

The point is to ramp up ambition ahead of COP26 in just under a year’s time. It’s an opportunity to gather leaders from around the world to make ambitious commitments and take action ahead of that. 

It’s also really significant, in the context of the current global crisis, because we need a really green recovery from COVID-19. Now more than ever is the time to address the climate crisis and the catastrophic loss of nature. 

Related Stories Sept. 9, 2020 Biodiversity Loss Threatens the World's Poorest People Most: Report

Why is it important now to look ahead to COP26, which is almost a year away?

Because the bulk of the work happens in the run up to the COP, not during the event itself — so one of the important things that the UK needs to do in 2021 is to lead by example. It needs to make commitments and encourage others to as well.

That’s why this convening role is very important — as the COP26 president [the position held by the host country for an entire year] — you have to lead and make space for others to shine. 

Great. So is that what the Climate Ambition Summit is for, to set the scene for next year?

Yes, for the Climate Ambition Summit there are three aims.

One is to convene leaders and get them to make more ambitious commitments under the Paris Agreement, to help make sure we keep global heating below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The second aim is to share evidence that the commitments that were meant to be happening by 2020 have been fulfilled, and that we are now shifting towards momentum for 2021.

The third is to create an inclusive platform to consider the world’s ambition for climate action  — hearing from representatives from governments, the environmental sector, businesses, and academia. 

Can you explain more about the role of the Paris Agreement? 

We’re five years on from the Paris Agreement and the point of that was to get countries to look at what they think they can do in terms of addressing climate change, and make targets (Nationally Determined Contributions, NDCs) based on that.

However, the UN said that the targets that had been agreed in 2015 would still take us to 3 degrees global warming — which is far too high. The idea was to get targets that took the world to less than 2 degrees global warming, preferably no more than 1.5 degrees.

That’s why there is something called a “ratchet clause” in the Paris Agreement — essentially a clause that says every five years countries should submit new, tougher targets, to try and close that gap between what they originally proposed and the lower temperature we need to reach. That’s why it’s important to convene and review targets.

What are the challenges with getting countries to accept tougher targets right now?

The biggest problem at the moment is the COVID-19 pandemic because the whole world is going towards an economic crisis. It’s really hard for nations to be innovative and ambitious when they are just trying to keep the lights on and ensure that civilians are safe.

So that’s one of the big setbacks that we are experiencing with the Paris Agreement progress right now for sure.

But there have still been some pledges this year?

Yes, quite a few countries have come forward saying they will go net zero by 2050. And that’s really important. The UK has enshrined the target in law, then there’s China, South Korea, Japan, and President-elect Joe Biden has said the US will rejoin the Paris Agreement and be net zero by 2050.

These are major economies and it inspires confidence in the countries most affected by climate change that wealthier countries are going to make the effort.

That’s interesting. Can you say more about the need to foster goodwill across countries?

Yes — we need every country to take part and have a seat at the table, because without that collaboration we will not address climate change.

Some countries need to do more than others, especially those that have emitted carbon for longer and on a bigger scale.The UK is one of them — as the country that led the Industrial Revolution and has been emitting carbon ever since, it needs to show leadership.

The challenge in getting people to work together, it’s the same with any shared task: there needs to be clarity, trust, and you have to inspire others too.

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And that’s the UK’s job as COP president?

The UK, as host, is trying to lead by example and build trust. Last week, the UK government presented a plan to reduce carbon emissions by 68% on 1990 levels by 2030, and so that’s pretty good.

We could go even further, it could be up to 72% emission reduction including aviation and shipping. But instead they’ve gone for 68% and excluding aviation and shipping by 2030, which is a good starting point.

Is there anything else that WWF-UK would like to see the UK do in 2021?

The UK presidency has made nature-based solutions to addressing the climate crisis one of the priorities, and I’m glad to see that. It’s really important to consider nature-based solutions — changes to agriculture and land use, for example — in order to be able to stay below 1.5 degrees.

We will not reach that target without those nature-related solutions so we want to see them taken onboard. Reforesting, restoring forests and managing them well, protecting peatlands, and keeping soil healthy — these are all ways to store carbon. In fact, the WWF-UK has a checklist for the NDCs we want to see pledged to at the Ambition summit which explains more.