Lancaster academic presents at COP24 Global Climate Conference

Christiana Figueres, convenor of Mission 2020, with Professor Gail Whiteman
Christiana Figueres, convenor of Mission 2020 (left) , with Professor Gail Whiteman at Davos 2017

As carbon emissions continue to rise, a Lancaster academic is joining leading voices from around the world to champion the many tools the world’s governments, businesses and decision-makers have at their disposal to radically up their climate ambition ahead of 2020.

A Nature Commentary article, co-authored by Christiana Figueres, Professor Gail Whiteman from Lancaster University, Corinne Le Quéré, Anand Mahindra, Oliver Bäte, Glen Peters and Dabo Guan, and co-signed by more than 100 leading experts from political, civil and business sectors, announces and responds to this year’s Global Carbon Project (GCP) annual report’s headline finding that global energy growth is currently outpacing decarbonisation, with carbon emissions expected to rise more than two per cent in 2018.  

The commentary is published as representatives of 190 nations gather in Poland to review progress on the Paris climate agreement, at the annual UNFCCC climate negotiations.

Christiana Figueres, convenor of Mission 2020 and vice-chair of the Global Covenant of Mayors said: “Global CO2 emissions must start to fall from 2020 if we are to meet the temperature goals of the Paris agreement, but this is within our grasp. We have already achieved things that seemed unimaginable just a decade ago.”

Professor Gail Whiteman, Director of the Pentland Centre for Sustainability in Business at Lancaster University, is presenting the commentary at COP24 with co-author Professor Corinne Le Quere who is the lead scientist on the Global Carbon Budget. Professor Whiteman said: “The global economic risk from not bending the emissions curve from 2020 will be significant and likely run into the trillions of dollars. It is imperative that both state and non-state players take advantage of the significant economic opportunity offered by renewable and sustainable business models. The truly visionary leaders of today and tomorrow understand that doing business in this way is the only way to secure a stable and long term economic future for the planet.”

The new GCP emissions estimate adds another layer of urgency for cutting carbon pollution to the findings of the recent IPCC 1.5 Special Report. The IPCC report outlined with brutal clarity the difference between a 2°C and 1.5°C rise in average global temperatures.

Despite the upwards trend in CO2 emissions, Christiana Figueres and colleagues are heartened that the low-carbon transition is gathering speed, and occurring faster than any experts predicted. Serious deployment of solar or wind energy was unthinkable just ten years ago, but the world started commissioning more gigawatts of clean energy than fossil fuels from 2015. Today, more than 50% of new electric generation capacity is renewable, with wind and solar capacity doubling every four years, and the capital cost of a utility-scale storage system based on lithium-ion batteries is predicted to fall 52 percent by 2030. If these trends continue, renewables will produce half of the world’s electricity by 2030.

More than 9,000 cities and municipalities from 128 countries, representing 16% of the world’s population, have reiterated their commitment to the Paris Agreement. In the private sector a full 6,225 companies headquartered in 120 countries, representing US$36.5 trillion in revenue—larger than the combined GDPs of the United States and China- have pledged to reduce their emissions to contribute to the Paris goals.

Over twenty countries have already declared they will explore the possibility of strengthening their Paris pledges before 2020 and the Marshall Islands submitted its upgraded national target to the UN in November. 

The Paris Agreement was built on a ratchet mechanism - the first round of pledges kick-started the world’s decarbonisation efforts. Those commitments are expected to be increased every five years as technology and economic progress allows for exponential change. Governments and business leaders can now act on their pledges, and match the momentum revolutionising the energy sector.

Christiana concluded: “Exponential progress in key solutions is happening and on track to displace fossil fuels: renewable energy technology costs have dropped by 80% in a decade, and today, over half of all new energy generation capacity is renewable. Before 2015 many people thought the Paris Agreement was impossible, yet thousands of people and institutions made the shift from impossible to unstoppable. The same is true of decarbonising the economy. Propelled by the pursuit of clean air, jobs and energy-independence among other benefits, the intrepid, collective efforts of young people, civil society, businesses, investors, cities and states are charting the course to net zero emissions by 2050.”

The 100+ co-signatories include the CEOs of Unilever, BT, World Business Council for Sustainable Development; the Director-General of the World Health Organisation, HRH Prince Jaime de Bourbon de Parme; the former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson; former Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Jan Peter Balkenende; and Sir Tim Smit, co-founder of the Eden Project in the UK.

You can read the commentary in full here:


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