With 2019 behind us, 2020 is already testing how we work together to address critical challenges at home and across borders. Support for international cooperation hangs in the balance at precisely the moment when robust collaboration is needed most. From promoting climate change and sustainability, to averting conflict within and between nations, to confronting the systemic forces that create unequal societies, in 2020 we must answer the question: How resolved are we to confront the challenges and embrace the opportunities ahead, and what is needed to do so?
1. CLIMATE ACTION ACCELERATED?
The numbers are in: The past decade has been the warmest in recorded history. Deadly wildfires including those affecting Australia, hurricanes, extreme weather events, and climate-influenced migration and hunger in many parts of the world are now regular occurrences. Ice caps are melting, sea levels are rising, and the very survival of island nations is being threatened. Indeed, our entire ecosystem is at risk: 1 million animal and plant species may be extinct within years, the largest-scale ecological loss humans have seen. And a mounting global movement of youth impatient for change is pushing climate protection into the global consciousness like never before.
We have a decade to significantly curb carbon emissions and avoid catastrophe. Because of years of delayed action, we face an even more pressing mandate. We need to halve global emissions by 2030 but the emissions gap between what is needed and our current commitments is significant. Starting this year, we need to cut emissions by 7.6% every year for the next 10 years to limit warming to 1.5 degrees.
The UN’s Climate Action Summit last year set a roadmap for action and the UN Secretary-General continues to serve as a moral compass, pushing countries and other actors to do more, now: “If we do not change course by 2020 we risk missing the point where we can avoid runaway climate change with disastrous consequences for people and all the natural systems that sustain us.” And the 2019 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Madrid (COP26) did not send a strong signal of positive intent.
In 2020 we must decarbonize large swaths of the economy, shift financial flows, protect ecosystems, and adapt for the future. Countries are all expected to reduce more emissions under the Paris Agreement. The 2020 Conference of the Parties in Glasgow, UK, will enable the global community to take stock of which nations stepped up and by how much. Yet the countries who have so far pledged to cut carbon outputs at the highest rates represent under 10% of those producing global emissions. At current rates, that means that temperatures will rise more than 3 degrees this century.
We need all countries, and especially leading economies, to sign off this year on bolder commitments and actions.