World: America, welcome to the front lines of the global fight against climate change. On Friday, President Joe Biden pledged a major climate campaign by rejoining the Paris Agreement – the international climate agreement agreed by world nations in 2015 to tackle global warming.
The US was a key player in reaching the Paris Agreement, with former Secretary of State and current US climate envoy John Kerry playing a vital role in this successful process.
I was enormously encouraged by the talks I had with China and White House National Climate Adviser Gina McCarthy – both formidable allies fighting against climate change.
The US’s return paves the way for climate action to run like a golden thread through US domestic and international policy, reflecting our approach in the UK as we prepare to welcome world leaders at the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference COP26, in November in Glasgow.
Why does it all matter? The UN’s climate conference in Paris, the 21st such international event, was a turning point. It has established a global consensus on the existential threat posed by climate change to our planet, and a shared international approach to addressing it.
Progress has been made in tackling climate change since 2015. Recently, in December 2020, the United Kingdom, together with the UN and France and in partnership with Italy and Chile, organized a climate ambition summit to mark the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement. Seventy-five world leaders have come together to make further concrete promises such as emission reduction targets to achieve net-zero emissions in 2015.
As I said at the end of the summit, we have made progress, but we have so far fallen short of the requirement.
In Paris, the international community agreed to limit warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, with a rise of 1.5 degrees insight. But increasingly, scientific evidence suggests that we have already reached more than 1 degree at pre-industrial levels, or about 1850. Much more still needs to be done.
The world is already experiencing the damaging effects of this steady rise in world temperatures. Last year was on par with 2016 as the warmest year on record, but it was singled out by the disasters fueled by climate change. It ignited wildfires across Australia, Europe, the American West Coast, and floods and locusts destroyed East Africa crops. Cyclone Ana hit Fiji just last month, sending thousands of people to evacuation centers.
As President of COP26, I have worked extensively with governments worldwide during deliberations and meetings with individual leaders – recently Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India – on the need for ambitious policies and commitments to deliver climate action.
Through my work, I have seen the devastating effects of climate change: melting glaciers, sea-level rise, crop degradation, deforestation, and pollution that are suffocating some of the world’s largest cities.
All of this is taking a heavy toll on people’s health, the destruction of homes and livelihoods, and a disturbing biodiversity loss.
Encouraging in my conversations with governments and businesses, from technology to construction, there is a realization that we just can not go on as we are. We need to implement policies that deliver green growth – to protect our environment. At the same time, we create jobs and economic prosperity, whether it means a transition to clean energy with a firm focus on renewable and clean energy sources, phasing out the sale of new incineration vehicles or reforestation programs, and clearing environmentally-related land.
Green growth is absolutely possible. In the UK, we have managed to grow our economy by 75%, while we have reduced it by 40% over the last 30 years. And along the way, we have reduced the use of coal in our power mix from almost 40 years ago to 40% to now less than 2%.