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Climate Action: the urgency and need confirmed

by Nik Gowing

Filed under Climate Emergency

There can be no doubt. The scale and threat of the climate emergency is escalating rapidly and exponentially. Finally, our world is mobilising, although not yet as decisively as is needed.

The Sustainable Innovation Forum (SIF) during London Climate Action Week confirmed that. So did the Green Horizon Summit which convened two weeks earlier to galvanise the finance world on investing Green.

Over my left shoulder in the SIF London studio, the black screen and orange numbers relay the potential doom. The ticking clock reads just over seven years to go. That is when we all reach the predicted irreversible tipping point at the current levels of carbon emissions.

The clock confirms the ‘urgency of this emergency’, which I repeated many times to the global audience during five days of the SIF.

That moment of carbon truth will be at the end of 2027. “If that doesn’t stop you in your tracks, nothing will,” tweeted Dr Geoff Smith.

As our TTU work has long urged: the unthinkable and unpalatable of the existential threat from the climate emergency are at last becoming all too thinkable.

Hope came from California. The BS is over, governor Gavin Newsom told me in an exclusive interview from his office in Sacramento. He said even the Trumpian ideological climate deniers in The Golden State now realise the enormity of the threat to their lives and our planet. The terrifying fires and loss of life in August and September reinforced that big time. It means there was now no reasonable basis for arguing otherwise.

Governor Newsom confirmed the huge boost given to the causes of greening and sustainability from President Biden’s election. It will restore the chances of limiting the climate emergency. Biden will reactivate the US commitment to the Paris agreement and goals of five years ago. Huge relief all round. And now John Kerry has been confirmed as Biden’s Climate Change tsar.

I have too many headlines and excellent contributions to report. Here are some big highlights for me:

“We have entered the last chance decade,” warned HRH the Prince of Wales in two feisty video contributions made specially for the SIF. Targeting human selfishness, Prince Charles appealed to us all to stop what he described as ‘take, take, take’.

Former UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, Chair of the Global Green Growth Institute had a similar no holds barred message. So did the Directors General of the FAO, UNIDO and the World Energy Council. Sweden’s Deputy Prime Minister – a Green MP – described how governments like hers have embraced public anxieties. Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, now president of the Asia Society Policy Institute, urged every government to define its own pathway to reach net-zero emissions and honour the Paris commitments they signed up to.

The Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, Fatih Birol outlined the realities for reducing carbon in the massive quantities needed. His pay off line: “My priority is not to increase egos, but to decrease emissions.”

Big business contributed to highlight the determination and ingenuity of what can be labelled the ‘so-far-committed’. Across the board, the message was of time running out.

The software giant SAP explained how instead of measuring the age old top lines and bottom lines there would be a new green line. Auditing would not just be about cash. There would be new bookable values placed on a host of sustainability variables. This would force big changes in executive attitudes and incentives. The outcome would be in a Profit and Loss that will be defined very differently.

The huge UK facilities management company Mitie explained how its 5,500 vehicle fleet plus all its operations will be Net Zero by 2025. Hugely ambitious, and far ahead of most. Sustainability director Simon King joined me (socially distanced) to confirm how it can be done. Their customers have signed up to it. The ambition is already saving everyone not just carbon but a lot of cash. It sounded a no brainer.

Rapid development of both hydrogen production plus carbon capture and storage (CCUS) was a central focus. What were both distant possibilities relying on immature and hugely costly technology are now centre stage and achievable, if still massively expensive.

The Group CEO of Drax, the zero carbon energy generator company joined us live. Will Gardiner went through the pioneering BECCS project (bioenergy with carbon capture and storage) based in Selby. It is revolutionising green industrial development on the Humber estuary in north-east England. It is a win-win that can be replicated worldwide. The carbon is being captured under the North Sea. The resulting clean energy is attracting new corporates, thereby boosting job and business creation.

UK Energy Minister Kwasi Kwarteng reinforced that. He joined us just 24 hours after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the UK’s next push into deeper Green a year before Glasgow hosts the COP26 meeting. The minister emphasised the UK’s intensifying of development of decarbonising technologies, plus an urgent push to re-define supply chains and re-skill workers. A few days later Equinor announced a huge investment on the Humber.

Data is key to understanding and tackling so much related to the climate emergency.

Our eyes were opened to GHG Sat’s satellites and aircraft sensors. They measure greenhouse gas emissions directly from industrial sites anywhere in the world. SilviaTerra showed us how they can use biometrics to map and measure all the timber, wildlife and carbon on any property worldwide.

The car giant BMW wanted us all to know that while we all crave mobility and our own way of getting around, by the mid 2020s most of that won’t be done using the internal combustion engine. Electric will swiftly dominate, and many people will still want their own cars. They said at BMW: “We don’t do sustainability. We make the BMW Group sustainable.” But while expressing confidence, Thomas Becker, BMW Vice President for Sustainability and Mobility Strategy, made clear that the challenges of re-skilling, re-educating and re-tooling to meet the ever tighter ESG deadlines remain enormous.

Finally, but by no means last, the Next Gen. The kids.

Several ambassadors for a virtual Youth Summit for thousands of schools a few days earlier took their own two hours of the SIF. They were brilliant. In many ways their literacy and command on both sustainability and the climate emergency were impressively far superior to the grip of adults on the issues. They were determined. They were also anxious and frightened as they issued and sang their ‘SOS from the kids’.

Their fears must be listen to. They want action.

But not everything is positive. There was a sombre kicker from Rodolfo Lacy, Head of the Environment Directorate at the OECD. “Some countries are locking in measures that have negative impact on sustainable growth,” he warned.

So no time for complacency. The sustainability mountain slopes ahead remain steep. They require determined new efforts and cannot be taken for granted. As Nick Henry, the Founder of the SIF and CEO of Climate Action, told the end of the week-long forum: go out and mobilise!

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