Courage to Explore — The Road to COP26

COP25 Closing Statement from the Citizens’ Climate delegation

The future of humankind will be shaped and defined by how well we manage our relationship to the climate system. Nations that move too slowly are ensuring they will face higher costs, expanded vulnerability, and reduced benefit from international cooperation.

The Citizens’ Climate delegation came into the COP25 with five primary areas of focus:

  1. Public Participation
  2. Carbon pricing aligned with the PARIS Principles
  3. Climate-Smart Finance
  4. Ocean / Watershed / Cryosphere
  5. Nature-based solutions

Regardless of the details of the COP25 outcome, all nations must upgrade the ambition of their national climate action strategies (NDCs) by the start of the COP26, in November 2020. This requirement is set, not by policy or negotiation, but by the geophysical dynamics of worsening climate disruption.

  • NDC upgrading should be a national planning priority, connecting parallel areas of work that often don’t interact.
  • It must happen locally and regionally, integrating many sectors and stakeholder interests, and adding up to a strong and investable national plan.
  • All of this will be easier with strong international cooperation and clear, irreversible price signals.

We are past the point where it makes sense for any nation to hedge against future market dynamics. All nations should aim for at least a 50% reduction in global heating emissions by 2030, and net-zero no later than 2050. This will ensure national economies (as well as local and regional) are more innovative, more independent, more investable, and more secure.

The Courage to Explore

The road to COP26 will require courage, an emphasis on expanding the measurable value of natural capital, and entrepreneurship. We need to move steadily and expeditiously toward ecological integrity in the design and everyday practice of our systems.

The remaining Carbon Budget, beyond which further global heating pollution will cause irreversible and catastrophic climate disruption, is rapidly declining. Time is passing, global heating emissions are ongoing and expanding, forests are burning, marine life is being depleted, accelerating depletion of the cryosphere—melting of glaciers, ice sheets, permafrost, and sea ice—and climate impacts are compunding, all of which means we are reducing the Carbon Budget faster than we can afford.

Ecological integrity means not only improving our rate of emissions reductions. It means setting and investing in action targets that categorically change our relationship to the climate system.

  • New investments in all sectors must be part of the overall resilience-building effort.
  • Agriculture must consistently expand the amount of biomass, and so carbon, in the soil, and reduce chemical pollution to ensure watersheds and coastal and ocean ecosystems are healthier and more resilient.
  • Pollution of all kinds from all sectors must be comprehensively reduced, and waste management must integrate with and condition financial decision-making.
  • Local actors need access to evolving science insights, to inform their own planning and practice.
  • We need to learn how to trace and value ecological integrity and macrocritical resilience in spending and investment decisions—because those forces will affect value across whole economies.
  • We need to get to net-zero global heating emissions as soon as possible, to avoid unmanageable unraveling of vital natural systems.

Achieving this multifaceted surge in ambition will require the courage that comes with an explorer’s mindset. We have, as a global community of nations, already committed, in 1992 and 2015, to work together to build a future free from dangerous climate disruption. Now, we have to step outside of the industries and assumptions we are most familiar with, and explore the space of unprecedented multifaceted innovation—to remove pollution from the everyday life of every economy.

Nature-based solutions are more than a way to draw down carbon or build coastal resilience. They are also a way to transform key sectors of our economy, so our everyday lives make a healthy and sustainable future more likely.

During the COP25, we were fortunate to play a role in what we believe is a major breakthrough in the development of mainstream climate finance:

  • In collaboration with the EAT Foundation, we co-facilitated a working session on the development of a Sustainable Food Finance action track, to run through the 2020 Stockholm Food Forum and the COP26, to the 2021 Food System Summit, and beyond.
  • This action track will support the financing of critical innovations toward a healthy food system, as outlined by the EAT-Lancet Commission.
  • It will also support the widespread transition to climate-smart agriculture, the building of soil carbon and resilient farming communities, and the nature-based upgrading of NDCs.
  • Partners in this effort plan to work with leaders at the World Bank and in the Coalition of Finance Ministers for Climate Action.

Climate Emergency Demands We Engage People and Advance Human Rights

Climate disruption is the result of grossly imbalanced industrial development policies, and of unchecked pollution. In other words, climate disruption starts from a violation of human rights. Successful mitigation and resilience-building will require we switch-out basic assumptions about the flow of money and power, which undermine resilience and access to fairness and opportunity.

Climate disruption puts human rights at risk in hard-hitting direct ways, and also in subtle, insidious, slow-moving ways. A viable strategy for international cooperation to speed the climate transition must protect and advance human rights, and include grievance mechanisms to ensure funds are not expropriated or used in ways that harm vulnerable people.

Going faster is critical; we need the weight of more minds and voices to get traction. Not only is public participation in the design and implementation of climate policy required by the 1992 UN Climate Convention; the public tends to demand more ambitious policy than conventional political wisdom allows for, especially in the protection of public health and the environment.

  • Indigenous people deserve to see the Free, Prior and Informed Consent standard of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples honored.
  • Action for Climate Empowerment efforts, including the World War Zero initiative just launched by former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, should be welcomed, and replicated, to bring as many people as possible into the visioning process.
  • The Engage4Climate Toolkit is action-ready, for any individual or group that wants to host local stakeholder meetings, with any level of pre-existing expertise, and produce structured policy guidance.
  • The networking of science data to finance data will require ongoing local and sectoral engagement of stakeholders, to shape climate policy and investment.
  • Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteers will have more meetings than ever with lawmakers across dozens of countries.

Expanding rights protections will create more transparency and accountability, ensure more democratic and innovation-attuned processes, and make it possible to convert the climate emergency into the moment when we decided, as a global community, to refuse to accept suffering and injustice as tragic facts of life.

2020 is the Year of Inclusive Future-building

The opportunity inherent in climate-smart innovation and transformation is unprecedented. Already, an estimated $5.48 trillion has been committed to climate action. That money is waiting to go to work, and needs bold, directional policy signals—rooted in local experience, aligned with science-based targets, and aimed at securing and expanding vital natural capital.

The COP25 outcome documents don’t do enough to speak loudly and clearly about how to achieve this, but we did see major breakthroughs that will support stronger and better-funded collaborative climate action going forward:

  • We saw the integration of a wider diversity of voices, and a stronger role for young people and indigenous peoples and communities affected by both the climate crisis and the transition.
  • We saw a widespread increase in commitment to the need to consider the science of not only greenhouse gases and temperatures, but also ecosystems, biodiversity, ice, land, and ocean, into national climate policy and even into private-sector investment.
  • For the first time, 50 ministers of finance joined the COP—launching and beginning work on the Santiago Action Plan of the Coalition of Finance Ministers for Climate Action.
  • The European Green Deal, including a commitment to 50% reductions by 2030, alongside Denmark’s commitment to 70% reductions by 2030, has set a new standard.
  • There is also increasing support for leadership from subnational governments; this is, in some ways, a ceding of power by national governments, but also a recognition that their job gets easier if they let leaders lead.

All of this sets the stage for 2020 being a breakthrough year in the much-needed and still emerging active collaboration on climate, energy, sustenance, and security (ACCESS). If we succeed in aligning with the 1.5ºC upper limit for global heating, and follow the lead of the most ambitious parties, we will mobilize trillions of dollars in finance across whole economies, protect and spread prosperity, and strengthen institutions that promise and work to make justice real.

If we fail, we will lose any hope of safety in climate, energy, sustenance, or security.

2020 must be the year of inclusive climate-smart future-building. There really is no other choice.

This comment is the collective work product of the Citizens’ Climate Education COP25 delegation. It represents detailed information-sharing throughout the Madrid Climate Conference and draws on a number of open and developing commitments to strong collaborative ambition-raising in 2020.

You can learn more about our delegation’s work at COP25, at the following links: