The Planet

U.N. Shows Countries Six Ways to Take Climate Action Now

by Eric Pfeiffer

November 19, 2015

When world leaders meet in Paris later this month for COP21, their focus will be hammering out long-term commitments to reduce the threat of global climate change. The biggest goal of the negotiations is to strike a deal that would take effect after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2020. With the health of our planet’s future at stake, it’s an important and noble cause. But in the meantime, there are a number of immediate efforts that companies and local governments can undertake that will have a major impact within the next five years alone—i.e., right before the long-term Paris agreements go into effect.

A new report from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)—the same group that convenes the climate summit—highlights some of the areas where pre-existing agreements and initiatives have the potential to make a measurable impact in reducing greenhouse emissions and maintaining the goal of keeping the rise in the average global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius. If countries don’t take action before 2020, that 2-degree goal will be all but impossible to meet.

“Under the UNFCCC, governments have over the past few years led a significant effort during a series of technical expert meetings to identify and scope out the policies that lead to effective climate action—this report is the fruit of that effort,” said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, in a statement released with the “Climate Action Now” report.

Here are the six areas identified in the report where companies and cities can make a difference today, reducing emissions by 2020 by 10 to 19 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent.

Increased Use of Renewable Energy

According to the report, renewables accounted for around 9 percent of global energy in 2014. That’s a major increase from 10 years ago, when only 1.8 percent of energy was generated from renewable sources. For some perspective, more than half (58 percent) of the power added to our global capacity came from renewables, more than coal and gas combined.  

Energy Efficiency

Making energy more efficient isn’t just good for the environment, it’s good for the economy. Along with consumer demand, companies are upscaling their production of more energy-efficient products in a big way and with good reason: The International Energy Agency estimates that upscaling could net producers $18 trillion over the next 20 years alone. 

Reduction of Transportation Emissions

If you factor planes, trains, boats, and automobiles, transportation of people and goods represents more than a quarter of all global greenhouse gas emissions. However, the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) says we can reduce those emissions by up to one-third by 2020. A leading example of this is a pilot program in Mexico City where a major expansion of the rapid transport system has seen a 10 percent reduction in the use of private cars for shipping.

Carbon Capture, Use, and Storage

Today, there are 12 operational carbon capture and storage facilities around the world. And while there are 10 more already under construction, the IEA says that if these projects are properly funded, they could help capture 50 metric tons of C02 annually by 2020.

Non-CO2 Greenhouse Gases

From the U.N. report: “The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates 2.7 Gt CO2 equivalent of global non-CO2 GHG emissions could be mitigated by 2020 at a cost below $50/t CO2 equivalent. Almost one-quarter of these reductions could be made at or below a breakeven cost, with a substantial portion generating an immediate financial return.”

New Approaches to Land Use

Land development is a major contributor to C02 emissions. However, the U.N. says that the overall numbers can be reduced at a financially reasonable rate of around $50 to $100 per ton of C02. They say companies could reduce overall emissions in agriculture and forestry by as much as two-thirds over the next five years without having a negative impact on economic growth. They point to China, which while experiencing major economic and land development has also tied its land use directly into its carbon emissions pilot program, setting a goal of increasing net forest area by 40 million hectares (99 million acres) by 2020.

Obviously it’s important to keep our eyes on the goal of making major reductions in greenhouse emissions over the long run, implementing sustainable practices that will reverse the long trend of bad practices that are contributing to climate change. But this report also gives us some simple and encouraging tips for creating real results before the upcoming Paris agreements even go into effect.

“The remarkable reality revealed in this report,” said Figueres, “is that the very policies that deal most effectively with climate change also offer a ready-made portfolio of actions that can equally assist the Sustainable Development Goals and achieve everyone’s ultimate aim of a prosperous, stable, and environmentally healthy world for all.”

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U.N. Shows Countries Six Ways to Take Climate Action Now