Can we get some solid progress in climate action, please?
Last week, a number of events were held around the world to promote actions to tackle climate change and get everyone ready ahead of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), to be held in Glasgow, Scotland in November this year.
The week started off with a high-level meeting at the United Nations in New York, co-hosted by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, where a number of world leaders were invited to be persuaded to enhance their ambition to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to keep the world temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius, and also reach the target of USD 100 billion annual fund promised by the rich countries to support the poorer and more vulnerable countries in tackling climate impacts.
While there was indeed some progress—particularly the announcement coming from US President Joe Biden to double America's contribution to climate finance and Chinese President Xi Jinping announcing that China will no longer support coal-fired power plants abroad—it was not enough to keep the hope for reaching the goals of annual fund and temperature rise cap alive.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina attended the meeting, representing the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), a platform for nearly 50 of the most climate-vulnerable developing countries. Attending the meeting as the CVF chair, the Bangladesh premier once again pointed out that the biggest emitters and richest countries were failing to fulfil their promise to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius as well as deliver the annual climate support fund of USD 100 billion.
Many of the leaders, including Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, also spoke at the UN General Assembly during the week, emphasising the need for taking stronger actions where climate change is concerned, but the actual commitments have still fallen short of what the world requires.
So, the pressure must be kept up on all those countries to deliver what they promised, by the time they come to Glasgow in November.
An additional issue that has recently come up following the publication of the sixth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in August this year, where scientists, for the very first time, made an unequivocal statement that human-induced climate change had caused the global mean temperature to rise more than one degree Celsius over the last century.
Thus, the scientific community can now make clear attributions of the loss and damage caused by human-induced climate change, which was not possible in the past. This does not mean that every extreme weather event such as cyclone, flood, heatwave, wildfire or drought is happening because of human-induced climate change, but that they are certainly getting much worse because we have raised the global mean temperature with our activities. Hence, we are now in the era of human-induced climate loss and damage.
Developing countries have made demands to both the British prime minister and the UN chief. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been asked to appoint a special envoy for loss and damage to discuss ways to deal with the issue at COP26, while UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has been asked to appoint a special envoy for loss and damage to continue the discussion beyond COP26—to take the matter to COP27, which is due to be held in Africa in 2022—as well as beyond the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and engage with the humanitarian agencies that will have to deal with the ground reality.
Perhaps the most significant event took place at the end of the week, when the Fridays for Future activists held a massive worldwide strike, joined by millions of school children in well over a thousand cities and towns in over a hundred countries around the world. This movement of young girls and boys was inspired by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who started boycotting her school every Friday three years ago to stage her protest against the lack of action in dealing with climate change. In the last few years, this movement of school children has grown all over the world, including in Bangladesh, and is still growing. It has the potential to become a powerful enough force to overcome the barriers against climate action that still seem to pervade the governments throughout the world.
The friendship and solidarity among the youth from different countries across the continents, initiated and fuelled by Greta Thunberg, will become an unstoppable force in the years to come and engage the world to tackle climate change with the urgency that it requires.
In my view, although we have seen some promising announcements made by different leaders, they are still inadequate to tackle the climate change crisis with the due urgency. I also feel sceptical about what success COP26 will bring be in November. Even the idea of waiting for a COP to talk about the problem once a year has become redundant as actions have to be taken by everyone, every day, to tackle climate change. Hence, I believe every leader of a country, province, city, town, company or any other organisation that has declared their intention to take actions to tackle climate change should give a weekly update on their progress every Friday, to the school children who we are all now answerable to.
Dr Saleemul Huq is director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) at the Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB).