More than 50 countries and 16 partners met at U.N. headquarters this week in the lead-up to the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Katowice, Poland, which opens this week. There were two dozen heads of state or government, including Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and French President Emmanuel Macron. But the focus was not on what countries are doing, rather on what the world is doing: 1.2 billion people get their power from coal. About six percent of oil burned goes into oil-refining, while about seven percent of all methane emitted on the planet comes from landfills. One-third of all freshwater supply is used in agriculture. These challenges are embodied by one of the world’s largest emitters: the United States.
Below are six takeaways from COP26.
1. U.S. delegation will not be strong enough to get tough deal.
The Obama administration declared climate action a national security priority in 2017, but it is now clear that the United States will not be able to mobilize its own political capital to get an ambitious agreement from the United Nations. Several studies have highlighted the real economic and strategic challenges that the Trump administration’s stance on climate threatens, from the Arctic and Caribbean, to West Africa and Western Europe. At the U.N. Secretary-General’s Climate Summit on Sept. 19, the Trump administration refused to endorse a call for a universal, legally binding agreement that includes all countries.
2. Striking compromises still possible.
We know how good a strong United Nations can be at working together to produce consistent and effective policy outcomes. The world never reached any major agreement as a result of trying to divide China and the United States, France and Germany, or the European Union and China. The United States and China are particularly promising partners on climate, having been able to work together on setting a new global emissions target for 2030 and agreeing to incorporate carbon pricing into the Paris Agreement.
3. Many more countries are making commitments than we thought.
Countries with low renewable energy capacities now realize the need to expand them so that all their citizens — especially in emerging economies — have access to clean energy. Renewable energy costs continue to fall, with wind energy costs plummeting by more than 50 percent between 2011 and 2017. China and India announced ambitious targets in favor of renewables. A number of European countries, including Austria, Ireland, and Switzerland, all recently made renewable energy their national policy priorities. In contrast to years past, nations have not walked away from these commitments just because their economies are growing at an explosive pace, but recognize their responsibility to provide clean, affordable energy for their citizens.
4. We should be working harder than ever to use land as a resource rather than a problem.
The United Nations calls the world’s land a “strategic natural resource,” in part to provide access to food and shelter. Yet, only 2 percent of the world’s arable land is under irrigation, and just 14 percent of developing countries currently count agricultural land among their top eight financial resources. Increasing water efficiency, diversifying agricultural production, and building capacity to provide food security is key. To accomplish this, we must focus on: improving water efficiency, preserving the diversity of land, natural resources, and people’s livelihoods, and reallocating greater land to arable and non-arable uses. Countries like India, Israel, Kenya, Mexico, and the Netherlands — all of which have demonstrated successful management of land — deserve more attention from the United Nations.
5. It’s time to stop waiting for public financing.
Global public finance has been discussed for years, but it still pales in comparison to climate-action needs. We know that half of all greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation can be prevented if governments put in place policies to protect forests. We also know that the private sector should fund climate actions, but only 5 percent of capital for climate financing is available from the private sector. Only a few days ago, Apple CEO Tim Cook testified before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee and said the United States cannot wait for the private sector to step up. In the next two weeks, the private sector can play a critical role in helping implement the Paris Agreement, but only by actively investing in sustainable investments.
6. Developing countries’ voices are growing louder, louder.
My organization, the World Resources Institute, hosted a COP23 by the developing world in Bonn in November. We listened to the voices of all developing countries. This is how we found hundreds of people in agriculture and tourism advocating for higher climate ambition. We also heard from cities,