Globally, climate change has started to take a heavy toll. The California fires, the heat wave in Europe and Asia, and the droughts in East Africa bear testimony to this. In India, severe floods and random variations in weather have caused significant loss of life and property. All this has resulted in a flurry of activity with governments springing into action. There is a lot more awareness and intent on show with regular discussions and nations pledging to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions.
In this background, the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) 2018, in San Francisco, was a crucial exercise in mobilising key stakeholders and urging them to go “further and faster”. It sent out an unequivocal message that a lot more remains to be done on this front. While the Paris Agreement laid down the marker, GCAS 2018 challenged us to “step up” a level higher. Let us see some of the distinct features that made it stand apart amidst a glut of climate action events.
To begin with, the Summit could not have come at a more opportune time, roughly at the half-way mark between the Paris Agreement and the 2020 timeline to recalibrate National Contributions (NDCs). It provided a perfect opportunity to review the progress achieved thus far, recognise the roadblocks and gear up for increased commitments. The positive momentum from this summit should generate a fresh wave of action globally to help pull down the emissions curve by 2020.
Secondly, the summit was unique in that it secured participation of leaders from cities, states, environmentalists, corporates, investors and NGOs, that is “non-state actors”, on a mass scale, for the very first time. Traditionally, climate conferences have focused on heads of state and national governments. GCAS 2018 saw a major departure from this trend with private institutions and civil society coming forward to supplement the state’s efforts. With steady inflow of “green” private capital, governments would now be expected to up the ante and announce higher commitments.
An equally refreshing change was the focus on how climate change has impacted women and the steps needed for their empowerment. It was even more heartening to note that women themselves were leading this agenda, as evident from my panel on Innovative Finance for Climate, Resilience and Energy, which had three women out of the four participants.
Third, “Walk the talk” dominated the agenda with the summit showcasing real people and their achievements — people who have successfully implemented plans to reduce carbon footprint. This sharing of success stories, technological innovations and creative policies was highly educational and impactful, and should inspire all stakeholders to do that extra bit in the days to come.
President Donald Trump’s sudden decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement had created a lot of uncertainty, with the US being a major carbon emitter. A successful GCAS 2018 will now help reassure the international community that this will not decelerate the “decarbonisation” movement. Jerry Brown, the Governor of California put to rest any creeping doubts in this regard by demonstrating how his state is leading the charge of regional governments, businesses and individuals to offset a silent national government.
The summit points towards the emergence of “bottom up” climate action that is rooted firmly enough to ward off any conflicting individual or belief. Last but not the least, GCAS 2018 also helped cement India’s credentials as a climate action leader. It showcased some great work happening in India, by both industries as well as local governments. Several large corporates have adopted low carbon business methods across their entire supply chain. Innovations such as Heat Action Plans, energy conservation building codes, electric vehicles and solar pumps for farmers also bear testimony to India’s efforts to cut down carbon dioxide levels.
The start-up community and investors at the event also acknowledged growing contributions from private renewable energy providers.
I see GCAS 2018 heralding a new phase in climate action, marked by bolder commitments and speedier implementation, with wider participation. The movement against climate change is now clearly beyond individuals and countries.