January 13th, 2021

Climate change: 2021 must become the year of genuine global action

By Henrike Doebert and Dr. Johannes Lundershausen

The Corona pandemic is the world's blueprint to tackle the climate crisis

The start of the new year has been overshadowed by the Corona pandemic and the collective action taken around the world to fight it. Each one of us as well as every government, business and foundation is taking an active role in this battle. With vaccines being rolled out at record speed around the world, the pandemic is evidence for the power of collective action and the capacity of humans to find solutions to existential threats. As such, the Corona crisis can be seen as a blueprint for the climate crisis.

Fortunately, despite the economic strains of the pandemic, we are witnessing unprecedented climate ambitions by governments in the European Union, Canada, South Africa, China, Japan, and South Korea. While the cancellation of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26 - the most important international milestone since the Paris agreement, in Glasgow in 2020 and its deferral to end of 2021 could have made the process stall, these countries have announced to become net-zero by 2050 (China by 2060).

The crisis needs genuine global measures at a rapid pace

But despite these very encouraging political announcements, the set climate targets, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in the UNFCCC speak, are not ambitious enough and still lack detail of how countries want to get on the right course in the short term. Out of the 197 signatories only 44 countries and the EU have met the 2020 deadline for submitting updated NDCs. As a matter of fact, by 2030 emissions need to have halved for a chance to keep global warming under 1.5°C. It is thus paramount that nations not only internationally commit to more ambitious targets but swiftly let action follow nationally by putting regulation and measures into place that decrease emissions. We know how rapidly we could install regulation and take action when fighting COVID-19. It is on us to put the same determination in the center of action against the climate crisis.

The current reality of climate change is daunting, and the urgency could not be any clearer. 2020 was the hottest year on record, has seen record temperatures in the Arctic. The footage from the massive wildfires in Australia, California and in the Amazonas left its marks. The hurricane season was so intense that the number of storms exhausted the regular list of names by September and extreme weather events driven by climate change forced millions of people to leave their homes and migrate.

The return of new (old) kid on the block

The world breathed a sigh of relief when the Electoral College decisively confirmed Joe Biden as the nation's next president bringing up new hopes for accelerated actions against the crisis. It is an unspoken truth that a global challenge like the underlying cannot be combatted without the USA. And Biden’s announcements sound promising. Not only will the US re-join the Paris Accord, and has ambitious plans in the drawer for reducing US emissions. Biden also wants to take a leading role in expediting international climate action which in turn will hopefully further step-up the dynamics of international climate diplomacy this year – and therewith the speed of action globally.

Under these changed international circumstances, the COP26, where countries are set to increase their ambitions for emissions reduction for the next ten years looks much more promising than if it had taken place last year. If the EU joins forces with the USA, countries like Australia, India, Brazil and Russia could be brought to up their game in the run-up to the COP.

Major events in 2021 mark potential climate milestones

Both the Climate Summit that Biden announced to host in the first 100 days of his term as well as the G20 Summit in Italy will provide real opportunities to step up climate action. G20 are in the spotlight because they account for almost three quarters of global greenhouse gas emissions. Since countries around the world started putting up recovery packages to attenuate the negative economic effects of the Corona pandemic, “green recovery” and “building back better” have become new buzz words. And indeed, there is reason to get excited by the enormous potential to use the public stimulus investments to mitigate the economic shock, build future resilience and at the same time fight the climate crisis. Analysis show that as part of their packages, so far 17 G20 countries are planning to support green industries. But it also becomes apparent that there is vast room for improvement as 30 percent of the stimulus spending is currently earmarked for carbon intensive sectors. Further globally important 2021 events relevant to climate are compiled here.

Investors are starting to ride the green wave

At the same time renewable energy has never been as cheap as today. In 2021, investments into renewable energy will, for the first time, overtake those into fossil fuel-based energy. Blackrock, the world’s largest private equity investor, has announced to make climate change central to its investment strategy in 2021 - it is a signal to the market but taken the huge amounts currently still invested in coal, the actual implementation by Blackrock needs to be watch closely. The Financial Stability Report, issued by the US Fed last November, for the first time qualified climate change as a key near term risk for financial stability. End of last year, the EU and China have principally agreed on a Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI), which covers European investment in China and vice-versa, including commitments on environment and climate, as well as the commitment to implement the Paris Agreement. These developments signal that we could very soon be reaching a tipping point in the financial world.

Some observers go as far as to see this year as potential historic turning point, the moment to turn a corner on climate change and a pivotal year of transition for climate change action.

Despite these optimistic developments, the fight is and will not be won without the power of philanthropic giving and leadership. If well targeted, it can unfold its impact to ensure that the current opportunities for change do not pass unused and to accompany the deep changes of our societies needed to become carbon-neutral. The Active Philanthropy team gathered great advice on where to start as a funder, foundation or philanthropist which you can review in our next blog post.

One thing remains certain in 2021. It must be the year in which mere climate consciousness turns into genuine actions and concrete measures – at all levels and in all areas. Nature will not wait for us.

What are your major climate related goals and where do you need support? 
Contact Henrike Doebert or Dr. Johannes Lundershausen.