With 2021 coming to an end, we only have eight years left to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Is the decade of climate action delivering on its promises?

In 2019, the United Nations declared that after many years of talks to achieve the globally coordinated climate and social policies included in the SDGs, 2020 should usher in ‘the decade of action’. Or as Greta Thunberg put it at this year’s COP26, no more “blah blah blah”.

In this article, we look at the current state of climate action and the likelihood that the world will achieve its SDG promises before the 2030 deadline.

Government action

At government level, it is fair to say the pace of action is picking up. Practically every country now has some kind of climate legislation in place, and 237 of these laws were passed since 2020 alone. As of June 2021, 1,900 local governments and 34 countries had declared a climate emergency.

In Europe, since the launch of the European Green New Deal, new regulatory proposals on environmental or social matters are contemplated every week, and a decarbonisation roadmap has been set out to achieve 55% emissions reduction by 2030, compared to 1990 levels.

Citizen action

The strengthening of the regulatory framework around climate is leading to an increase in climate litigation, whereby citizens or associations can sue their own governments for taking actions that go against their commitment to fight climate change. One recent example of this is the Stop Cambo lawsuit against the UK government for approving a new oil field in the North Sea. The lawsuit itself is against the government, but the public campaign led by environmental activists gained so much traction that one of the project’s private owners (Shell) pulled out in early December just a few days before the court date, leading to a “pause” in the project development.

According to the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, the cumulative number of climate change-related litigation cases has more than doubled since 2015, and this trend is set to continue.

Business action

New regulations and customer expectations are also leading to action in the business sphere. For instance, in July 2021, the European Commission adopted the Sustainable Finance Strategy and proposed a new European Green Bond Standard to increase investment in the EU’s transition towards a sustainable economy. Globally, new regulations on transparency regarding environmental risks for investment portfolios have led to an exponential increase in Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) investment. According to MorningStar, by June 2021, ESG fund assets had reached US$2.24 trillion, almost double from US$1.28 trillion at the end of 2019. This is setting the course for economic initiatives and corporate strategic plans. Today, 622 of the 2,000 largest publicly traded companies have made net-zero commitments

Innovation is the strength of the private sector, and when applied to climate, it can create lasting change. New developments in clean energy technologies such as solar panels and batteries, for instance, have fuelled the tremendous growth of renewable electricity and electric vehicle adoption in the past few years. In 2020, 29% of global electricity generation came from renewables, and 2021 saw renewable generation capacity increase by 290 gigawatts. The International Energy Agency predicts a 60% rise in renewable electricity capacity between 2020 and 2026, to over 4,800 gigawatts – equivalent to the current total global power capacity of fossil fuels and nuclear combined.

Reality check

Despite this flurry of action, scientists are unanimous: we are not on track to meet the Paris Agreement’s commitments. In 2021, global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels are expected to reach 36.4 billion tonnes, only 0.8% below pre-pandemic levels.

The IEA notes that in order to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, renewable power capacity additions over the period 2021-26 would need to average almost double the current rate. And the State of Climate Action 2021 report, published last November, makes a clear statement that “the hard truth is that for many transformations, action is incremental at best, and headed in the wrong direction altogether at worst”. In fact, none of the 40 indicators assessed in the report are on track to meet environmental targets. 

We need to correct this trajectory and dramatically accelerate the delivery of climate commitments in all spheres: government, private sector and civil society. It is time to  achieve gigaton decarbonisation by simultaneously reducing global emissions and increasing the financing available to climate mitigation projects. At company level, this means it is time to calculate your carbon footprint, implement emissions reduction measures, and offset remaining emissions to achieve carbon neutrality. ClimateTrade can help: register for free on our marketplace or get in touch with our team.

As the State Climate Action report authors put it: “We must not only do better. We must do what it takes.”