Comment: Next steps for global climate change policy

Institutions and businesses around the world maintained their resolve to support the climate change agenda throughout 2017, despite the expressed intent of President Trump to reverse his own country’s policy commitments.

By the end of the year, even previous abstainers Nicaragua and Syria had both signed up to the Paris Agreement, leaving the US as the only country in the world to remain in opposition. Trump may have announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on 1 June 2017, but under the rules of entry, the country cannot formally leave until late 2020.

The US still sent a delegation to the COP23 Climate Talks in Bonn in November 2017, though its interventions were minimal and controversial, organising a single side event promoting coal as a solution to climate change which was widely ridiculed. We can only hope that the opinion of Christiana Figueres, former UN Climate Envoy and key Paris Agreement negotiator, is proved right: that the Trump era will go down as a blip in the long-term history of the global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

COP23 nevertheless made progress on some key technical details left unfinished in Paris, and further advancement was seen in the so-called “ratchet mechanism” giving greater latitude for countries to increase the ambition of their decarbonisation commitments.

In the absence of American political leadership, the country’s investors, cities and businesses came together to fill the gap. A coalition of 20 American states, 110 cities and more than 1,400 businesses pledged to reduce their fossil fuel emissions to help the US fulfill its obligations under the Paris Agreement, regardless of the president’s retrograde actions. Last year also saw the launch of a major new initiative from policymakers aiming to radically change the way in which companies report on climate change.

Chaired by the former mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, and backed by the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) published its voluntary recommendations in June 2017. These called for companies across the global economy to stress-test their business models against aggressive low-carbon transition pathways. As at February 2018, more than 240 companies had pledged their support for TCFD.

Eager to assert his own country’s leadership on climate change, French president Emmanuel Macron organised a major climate conference in Paris in December 2017. At the One Planet Summit, a new global investor coalition was launched, called Climate Action 100+.

This five-year, investor-led initiative aims to engage with the world’s largest corporate greenhouse gas emitters to improve governance on climate change, reduce overall emissions and improve the quality of climate-related financial disclosures. To date, 256 investors (including Rathbone Greenbank) with more than $28tn in assets under management have signed up to Climate Action 100+.

Matt Crossman is engagement manager at Rathbone Greenbank

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