Nature and Biodiversity

We must reach peak carbon emissions by 2020, says former UN climate chief

Steam rises at sunset from the cooling towers of the Electricite de France (EDF) nuclear power station at Nogent-Sur-Seine, France, November 13, 2015. The nuclear industry argues world leaders at the COP21 conference in Paris next week should not have to choose between nuclear and renewables but between low-carbon energy, including nuclear, and fossil fuels. Paris will host the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) from November 30 to December 11. Picture taken November 13, 2015.   REUTERS/Charles Platiau TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTX1VT31

Greenhouse gas emissions must begin a rapid decline by 2020, says Christiana Figueres Image: REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Simon Torkington
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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The ticking clock counting down to disaster is a Hollywood staple. James Bond and other movie heroes often take us to within seconds of armageddon before choosing the correct wire to snip or delicately removing the trigger from the latest doomsday device.

Now, Christiana Figueres, the former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, is using Hollywood’s technique of narrow escapes for the launch of her latest crusade to save the world from the ravages of uncontrolled climate change.

Using #2020DontBeLate, the campaign pinpoints 2020 as the ‘climate turning point’, the last moment at which we can still roll back the clock and reverse the effects human activity has already had on our planet’s climate.

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Source: Mission 2020

Three years to prevent a climate disaster

Mission 2020 is warning the world must hit peak carbon emissions by 2020 or face the calamitous consequences of rising sea levels, an increase in violent weather events, and other impacts of climate change on humans, our environment and economies. Launching Mission 2020, Christiana Figueres said only the most urgent action will influence how climate change affects our planet and its people.

“Everyone has a right to prosper, and if emissions do not begin their rapid decline by 2020, the world’s most vulnerable people will suffer even more from the devastating impacts of climate change. Science tells us this is our imperative, technology shows us we have what it takes, the economics are pointing us in the right direction and the benefits to humanity will be immense. This is no time to waver.”

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Milestones for climate mitigation

Despite the sense of confidence from Figueres, 2020 feels like an impossibly tight deadline. But the Mission 2020 campaign has outlined six milestones to help the world meet the target for avoiding the worst effects of climate change.

Image: Mission 2020

Mission 2020 says the world will fail to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals by its target of 2030, if it doesn’t first implement the six milestones just three years from now.

The milestones include a major shift toward renewable energy sources. Renewables must be able to outcompete fossil fuels as the first choice for new power plants to meet growing energy needs.

A view shows windmills of several wind farms at the so-called
Image: REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer

A second milestone requires zero emissions transport as the preferred option for new mass transit systems in all major cities. Our cities themselves must also be much greener with well developed plans in place by 2020 to fully decarbonize infrastructure by 2050.

To meet another milestone, heavy industries like steel production, cement manufacture and oil and gas production must commit to being compliant with the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Beyond city boundaries, land use will be a critical factor in limiting the worst effects of climate change. The fourth milestone requires deforestation being replaced with large-scale forest restoration and a shift to earth friendly agricultural practices.

Finally, funding for climate change alleviation must top $1 trillion per year by 2020. By then all financial institutions must have a transparent transition strategy.

A timetable for a zero emissions world

2020 is seen as a critical year on the pathway toward an emissions free world for a number of reasons.

Image: Mission 2020

By 2020 we’ll be five years beyond the landmark Paris Agreement and just 10 years from the deadline for meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Only if those are met can we move forward to creating a net zero emissions world by 2050.

Also, Mission 2020 is looking to capitalize on recent trends that have seen GDP growing in developing countries with no consequential rise in carbon emissions. This is a result of large-scale investment in renewable energy in countries like India and China.

The organization points to this as powerful evidence that a 2020 climate turning point is within reach.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Nature and BiodiversityEnergy TransitionClimate Action
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