From phasing out fossil fuel subsidies to tackling the surging costs of loss and damage caused by climate change impacts, 2022 is likely to see growing pressure for more ambitious action to fight global warming on the ground.
The urgency comes as officials and climate policy analysts warn the most ambitious Paris Agreement target of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7F) is growing harder to reach — despite gaining stronger political backing in 2021.
“2022 is all about shifting into what the (UN) secretary-general has called ‘emergency mode‘,” Inger Andersen, executive director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Here are some of the climate and nature issues experts predict will be top priorities this year:
Faster, bigger emissions cuts
Efforts need to be redoubled, especially by major greenhouse gas emitters, to slash carbon pollution this decade, in a bid to stick to the 1.5C warming ceiling and minimise climate-change harm to people and the planet.
“There has been too much emphasis on net-zero (emissions) targets by mid-century and not enough attention to significant reductions between now and 2030,” said Robert Watson, a former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
“If governments are sincere in their stated goal of achieving the Paris target, then they must bite the bullet in 2022 and significantly strengthen their pledges,” he stressed.
This is especially needed from the biggest-emitting countries which include China, the United States, India, Russia, Japan and members of the European Union, Watson noted.
Governments agreed at November’s COP26 UN climate summit to find ways to strengthen their climate action plans again in a year’s time, rather than every five years as stipulated in the Paris pact.
Projections show global emissions in 2030 will still be roughly twice as high as needed to limit warming to 1.5C, according to Niklas Höhne, co-founder of the Germany-based NewClimate Institute, a research group.
“With such a glaring gap, all countries have an obligation to reconsider their choice,” he said.
Phasing out fossil fuel ending
Governments will be expected to push ahead on phasing out their backing for fossil fuels at home and in developing nations after agreeing at COP26 to end — though without a deadline — “inefficient” subsidies for oil, gas and coal.
Key countries that have financed polluting energy technology outside their borders, including China, Japan and South Korea, pledged in 2021 to end new overseas coal funding, while a group of donor states made a similar commitment for all fossil fuels.
Fossil fuel subsidies, funding and technical assistance have kept the cost of using oil, gas and coal for energy artificially low, hampering the much-needed switch to renewable sources.
UN environment chief Andersen said the transition away from fossil-fuelled economic growth is one of the “elephants in the room” that must be tackled this year.
The International Monetary Fund estimates global fossil fuel subsidies amount to a whopping $6 trillion a year.
“The priority has to be kicking fossil fuel interests out of politics once and for all, and removing their social license just like what happened with Big Tobacco,” said Jennifer Morgan, the head of environmental group Greenpeace International.
As the pressure to cut emissions from fossil fuels and switch to cleaner energy sources rises — in developing as well as wealthy nations — there is growing concern about how this will affect workers who now rely on high-carbon industries for a living.
Governments are increasingly grasping the need to provide support — such as retraining for green jobs and funding to set up new businesses in former coal or oil hubs — to ensure they bring communities along in the shift to cleaner economies.
At COP26, donor governments put billions of dollars into new partnerships to help coal-reliant emerging economies such as South Africa, India, Indonesia and the Philippines kickstart a “just transition” that is green and socially fair, especially for the most vulnerable.
In 2022, there will be strong interest in how those new programmes — backed by governments from Britain to Canada and Germany, as well as international climate funds — shape up.
In the wake of COP26, the International Trade Union Confederation - which represents 200 million union members worldwide — called for an immediate start to talks with workers and communities aimed at producing “just transition” plans.
Accelerating climate change impacts
From deadly Hurricane Ida in the United States to devastating floods in Europe and China, and hunger-inducing drought in East Africa, climate change-fuelled disasters cost tens of billions of dollars in 2021 and caused severe human suffering.
A key report from the IPCC, due for publication in late February, is expected to hammer home how the risks to humans and nature are bigger than scientists had expected — even at today’s 1.1C of global warming — and will surge beyond 1.5C of warming.
Social and economic inequalities are exacerbating the consequences of climate change for the poorest people, and in turn will be made worse by it, the UN climate science panel is likely to say in the second report of its sixth assessment series, aimed at global policy-makers.
“It talks to us not only of how we are currently adapting to these changes, but what adaptation responses may exist in the future,” Debra Roberts, co-chair of the group of scientists that drafted the upcoming IPCC impacts report, said in a statement.
The Paris Agreement established a global goal on adaptation to strengthen resilience and reduce vulnerability to climate change effects, through things like stronger infrastructure, early warning of disasters and crops that can tolerate extremes.
But efforts on the ground lag far behind accelerating climate stresses and weather shocks, with funding to ramp up adaptation tens of billions of dollars short of what is thought to be needed each year, especially in the most at-risk places.
Paying for climate loss and damage
As extreme weather disasters get fiercer and more frequent, wealthy countries responsible for most carbon emissions will come under greater pressure to help cover the rising costs sustained by vulnerable nations on the frontlines.
The issue of “loss and damage” gained important recognition at the COP26 summit, with countries agreeing to launch a new dialogue on how to finance efforts to prevent and repair harm, from destroyed homes and ecosystems to lost cultural heritage.
But a long-standing push by at-risk nations to create a new loss and damage fund did not succeed.
“It is time for the big historic polluters — government and corporate — to pay up,” said Greenpeace’s Morgan.
“This issue must be at the top of the agenda for developed countries at the COP in Egypt,” she added, referring to the UN climate conference to be held in late 2022.
The demand for fresh finance to cover “loss and damage” comes on top of a failure so far by the developed world to deliver $100 billion a year from 2020 to help poorer nations adapt to global warming and adopt cleaner energy.
New deal for nature
Protecting natural systems, including forests, and halting the rapid decline in biodiversity — both key to the global fight on climate change — are set to be in the limelight this year at a flagship UN biodiversity conference known as COP15.
The talks — where countries are tasked with finalising a new global accord to safeguard plants, animals and ecosystems, similar to the Paris climate pact - have already been postponed three times due to the pandemic.
Questions are being raised over whether the COP15 summit, scheduled for April 25-May 8 in the Chinese city of Kunming, will proceed, due to stricter travel restrictions worldwide to curb the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.
COP15 — together with the COP27 climate talks in Egypt — will be “critical turning points” to confront the “triple planetary crisis” of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution, said UNEP’s Andersen.
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