The importance of being optimistic – Christiana Figueres leads the charge to limit global warming to 1.5°C

Professor Joanna Haigh and Lord Stern share the stage with Christiana Figueres at the Mission 2020 launch event 10 April 2017
(L-R) Steve Sedgwick, CNBC Anchor, Helena Morrissey, Legal & General Investment Management, Prof Joanna Haigh, Co-Director of Grantham Institute, Imperial and Lord Stern Chair of Grantham Research Institute, LSE, share the stage with Christiana Figueres at the Mission 2020 launch event.

Grantham Institute Stakeholder Engagement Manager, Dr Alex Howe, writes about the launch of a new campaign to turn words into actions on climate change, and in six global revolutions that must take place before 2020.

Yesterday saw the launch of the Mission 2020 campaign, convened by the former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Christiana Figueres. Christiana opened the event by stating that “in order to be a decarbonised economy by 2050, we have to bend the [emissions] curve by 2020”, and went on to ask, “is it challenging? Absolutely it is, but we are on our way!”

This statement sets the tone for the campaign which was launched by the release of The Climate Turning Point Report at a live-streamed event held at Google UK in London. On the panel for the launch event was Professor Joanna Haigh CBE, Co-Director of the Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London, who stated that “science is the basis of this whole activity […] if we want to stop the temperature rising we have to stop emitting”.

With more than 190 nations signing up to the Paris Agreement, many regarded this as a fait accompli for climate action. Together we committed to manifesting a more prosperous, resilient and equitable world in 2030, and set a maximum for global warming of 1.5-2°C. But the Paris Agreement just agreed the limits for climate change, not the action we need to take to bring about this change.

Timing is everything

“We know how to do it, we can do it and we are on our way” said Figueres, keen to point out that climate action is not only necessary, but desirable and achievable. Mission 2020 focuses on the ambition required to meet the Paris Agreement also highlights the consequences of being late for climate action:

Lord Stern, Chair of our sister-institute the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, agreed “the cost of action is much less than the cost of inaction, and this is understatement [in the Stern Review]”. We must now act with great urgency to fulfil our shared commitment. If we are to meet emission targets, greenhouse gas emissions must begin their decline by 2020. Bending the curve of emissions any later will eliminate our chance to stay within 1.5°C.

“We only have 800 gigatonnes of emissions left for the rest of the history of humanity [currently we use] 40 gigatonnes per year, we only have 20 years” before we need to be at zero carbon, Figueres told us. To ensure effective climate action, timing is everything and we need to step-up the pace of change if we are to bring about a peak in global emissions by 2020.

6 revolutions for climate action

The report highlights 6 revolutions that must take place by 2020 in order to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, and for human activities to be ‘net zero’ (have overall no change on the atmosphere) by 2050:

1.	Energy - Renewable energy outcompetes fossil fuelled electricity production in all countries. 2.	Infrastructure - Cities and states are implementing policies and regulations with the aim to fully decarbonise buildings and infrastructure by 2050. 3.	Transport - Zero emission transport is the preferred form of all new mobility in the world's major cities and transport routes. 4.	Land Use - Large-scale deforestation is replaced with largescale land restoration and agriculture shifts to earth friendly practices. 5.	Industry - Heavy industry - including iron & steel, cement, chemicals and oil & gas – commits being Paris compliant. 6.	Finance - Investment in climate action is beyond USD $1 trillion per year and all financial institutions have a disclosed decarbonisation strategy

Helena Morrissey, Head of Personal Investing, Legal & General Investment Management, also joined the panel said “I believe that climate change is a financial issue, they are intrinsically linked”. Helena discussed the need to move away from thinking that climate change is a special issue for specialists, but instead should be considered by the whole investment community.

The Mission 2020 movement views the climate challenge, not as a burden; but a tremendous opportunity. Through being ambitious they aim to inspire us all to meet the challenge, spur innovation, create new jobs and economic opportunities, and while at the same time nurture the benefits we get from an unspoiled natural environment . The campaign states that the intrinsic value of the benefits of climate action extend beyond just economic metrics, and indicate that by 2050 efforts to slow climate change could make us $19 trillion richer.

Reasons to be optimistic

While we all acknowledge the serious challenges that climate change poses, for example possibly irreversible the recent catastrophic levels of damage to the Great Barrier Reef, there is evidence of the success of climate actions already undertaken. Global CO2 carbon dioxide emissions have plateaued; we have seen investment growth, technology breakthroughs and cost reduction; commitments for low carbon cities; the uptake solar and wind energy, growth of renewable energy jobs, and the signing of the Paris Agreement. Change is waiting, we just need to be ambitious enough to drive it forward.

Mission 2020 highlights that in the next three years, businesses, investors and policymakers need to take new actions across a wide range of sectors to meet the key global goals. Specifically, the report stresses the need for the cost of renewables to outcompete fossil fuels by 2020.

The campaign launches at a critical time for climate action. As global temperatures hit record highs for a third year in a row, many question the reality of meeting the 2oC target, let alone the ambition of 1.5oC. What we need now is commitment and optimism, and that is what Christiana Figueres and Mission 2020 are offering.

Find out more

2020 The Climate Turning Point Report – Mission 2020

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