November 23, 2021
Across the globe, storms, floods and wildfires are intensifying. Air pollution affects the health of tens of millions of people, and unpredictable weather causes untold damage to homes and livelihoods everywhere. But while the impacts of climate change are devastating, world leaders hope that advances in tackling these problems lead to cleaner air, job creation, restoring nature and unleashing the potential for economic growth.
The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, took place in early November 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland. COP stands for Conference of the Parties, and this year’s conference is the 26th meeting. The parties are the countries that signed the 1994 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Pledges versus actions to avert climate change effects
Despite many pledges and efforts by governments worldwide to tackle the causes of global warming, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from energy and industry have increased by 60% since the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was signed in 1992.
Global commitments and actions are growing but still fall well short of what’s needed to limit the rise in global temperatures to a rate no higher than 1.5 degrees Celcius and avert the worst effects of climate change.
United States President Joe Biden spent two days at COP26, carrying the message that the U.S. is once again taking up global leadership on climate change. Biden emphasized his Build Back Better bill, which would invest $555 billion in the clean economy. The proposed legislation would lay the groundwork for the U.S. to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50–52% below 2005 levels by 2030 to help create new jobs.
The road to net-zero carbon emissions
The Biden administration announced that the U.S. will cut methane coming from oil and gas rigs and that 105 countries have committed to reducing methane emissions by 30% by 2030. Meanwhile, leaders attending COP26 pledged to protect the forests that absorb CO2 in an effort to end deforestation by 2030.
Reaching net-zero carbon emission targets means the world must produce less carbon than it takes out of the atmosphere. Staying on the path to net-zero will require the massive deployment of all available clean energy technologies such as renewables, electric vehicles (EVs) and energy-efficient building retrofits between now and 2030.
Countries must manage the increasing impacts of climate change on their citizens’ lives, and they will need the funding to do it. The scale and speed of the necessary changes will require all forms of finance: public finance for the development of infrastructure needed to transition to a greener and more climate-resilient economy and private finance to fund technology and innovation.
Systemic challenges require systemic changes
Meeting the environmental and social challenges across geographies and political boundaries demands systemic changes that an individual company or country cannot deliver alone. It will take collective action across an ecosystem of industries, partners, suppliers, startups, policymakers, governments and academics to achieve the most significant positive impact from sustainability solutions and accelerate the journey to net-zero.
The need for positive action is urgent. Adapting manufacturers’ production methods to meet the carbon reduction targets required to limit climate change to a safe level arguably presents the biggest and most urgent transformation challenge facing humanity today.