In the news: 6 steps to ‘Make Our Planet Great Again’

Iceberg

A group of penguins stands before an iceberg in Antarctica. (© Antrey)

Ahead of the G20 summit of world leaders next week in Hamburg, Germany, a group of prominent climate advocates and researchers led by Christiana Figueres have outlined what the world must do in the next three years to stay ahead of a climate crisis.

Figueres, a Lui-Walton Distinguished Fellow at Conservation International (CI) and the former head of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, is the lead author of a commentary published today in the scientific journal Nature, with CI Chairman and CEO Peter Seligmann among its co-signers.

The group identifies six key milestones to reach by 2020, the year by which global carbon emissions must begin to fall to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. The milestones cover energy, infrastructure, transport, land, industry and finance — with the role of nature highlighted as critical to meeting climate goals, many of them outlined in the 2015 Paris climate agreement. “When it comes to climate, timing is everything,” the article states. “[S]hould emissions continue to rise beyond 2020, or even remain level, the temperature goals set in Paris become almost unattainable.”

Following the announcement last month that the United States intends to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, a new coalition of governments, businesses and individuals has stepped forward in a renewed effort to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. Inspired by these new initiatives — including French President Emmanuel Macron’s campaign to “Make the Planet Great Again” — the article seeks to rally these new leaders around common climate targets.

Land-use change accounts for as much as 12 percent of net global greenhouse gas emissions — mostly a result of deforestation and land conversion for agriculture. When considering nature’s ability to absorb carbon when forests regrow and land is restored, nature can provide at least 30 percent of the solution needed to meet the 1.5-degree global target. As the article recognizes, if nature can be turned from a carbon source into a sink, it can move the world toward net-zero total global emissions with fewer economic consequences.

Figueres stressed the importance of nature to climate in a recent interview with Human Nature. “Over the next decades,” she said, “by 2050 at the latest, we need to have a global economy that is not emitting any more than can be naturally absorbed by the planet, which means that land-based solutions are a very important part of that formula.”

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The authors also point to finance, calling for a mobilization of at least US$ 1 trillion a year for action to address climate change and specifically highlighting the promise of innovative instruments like green bonds to leverage private-sector capital.

In support of this goal, CI last year joined with the International Finance Corporation — a member of the World Bank Group — and the mining company BHP to launch the world’s first Forests Bond. The bond, listed on the London Stock Exchange, raised US$ 152 million from major global investors, providing stable financing to nature-based climate solutions in Kenya in exchange for the proceeds from offsetting 1.4 million tons of carbon-dioxide emissions each year for the next 30 years.

The milestones offer a target for global policymakers and businesses — and a note of optimism in a turbulent time.

“I am always optimistic,” said Figueres, “because we don’t have another choice.”

Jamey Anderson is a senior writer at Conservation International.

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