The French novelist and poet Victor Hugo wrote: “Nothing stops an idea whose time has come.”
In the past few months, the whole world has seen a groundswell of support for climate action.
Cities are setting ambitious plans for cutting greenhouse gases. Asset managers are divesting from coal and fossil fuels. Rating agencies, central banks and insurance companies are increasingly weaving climate considerations into their decision-making. School students are taking to the streets in their millions to demand action to safeguard their futures.
A new report ‘The Heat is On’ by UNDP and UN Climate Change (UNFCCC), which calls for bold, urgent action, also indicates that at least 112 countries aim by next year to update their nationally determined contributions originally made under the 2015 Paris Agreement.
Yet most countries are not on track to meet their contributions, which are quickly becoming out of date as ever more carbon enters the atmosphere. UNDP is supporting more ambitious commitments.
“We have a window of opportunity to take action. The new UNDP and UNFCCC report offers the most detailed review to date of actions,” said UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed.
The report was released at the tail end of a northern hemisphere summer that was the hottest on record, with savage forest fires, droughts, hurricanes, and fast-melting ice caps.
The poor and vulnerable have been suffering under the effects of climate change for years, but the fact that it is now something even those in the wealthy global north can see and feel has prompted new urgency.
“I see the whole of society being more and more engaged in climate action. And what I want is for the whole of society putting pressure on governments; to make governments understand they need to run faster. Because we are losing the race,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
“Nature is angry, and you cannot play tricks with nature. Nature strikes back. And we are seeing nature striking back, and this is a very serious problem.”
Mr Guterres was interviewed by reporters from Spain’s El Pais newspaper, the US broadcast network CBS, and the current affairs magazine, The Nation.
They represent three of the more than 300 global media organizations, with a combined reach of more than one billion people, that have committed to share content and report climate change in a way that reflects the seriousness of the future we face. The initiative, Covering Climate Now, aims to maximize coverage of what Mr Guterres calls “an emergency” leading up to the UN Climate Summit on September 23.
On the Friday before, September 20, climate activists planned a global strike, led mainly by school children. Millions turned out for events in more than 163 countries and all seven continents.
Children have stepped up because they say adults are not doing enough, and Mr Guterres agrees with them. He has invited world leaders to come to climate summit, ahead of the General Assembly, with “concrete, realistic plans” and a clear understanding that the option of doing nothing is the most expensive of all.
“I am not desperate. I am hopeful because I see a lot of movement in societies. And I see more and more pressure being put in relation to governments. I think we have many reasons to be hopeful that massive change is possible,” he said.
The UNDP/UNFCCC report offers another note of optimism. It finds that among the at least countries who’ll be stepping up their climate commitments are many of the nations most vulnerable to climate change, and those who’ve done the least to contribute to it.
“In Paris in 2015, countries around the world put their support behind a vision of a resilient, sustainable and low-carbon future for our planet,” said UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner. “The report shows that governments have taken bold steps to reduce emissions and increase their resilience to climate impacts. The Paris Agreement can work and is working.”