2024 Must Be the Year for Exponential Climate Action

6 minute read

Tubiana is the CEO of the European Climate Foundation and France’s Climate Change Ambassador and Special Representative for COP21, and as such a key architect of the landmark Paris Agreement.

McKenna was the Chair of the United Nations’ High‐level Expert Group on the Net Zero Emissions Commitments of Non-State Entities. She is Canada’s former Minister of Environment and Climate Change from 2015 to 2019 and Minister of Infrastructure and Communities from 2019 to 2021. Ms. McKenna is a founder and principal of Climate and Nature Solutions and of Women Leading on Climate. She is also a Distinguished Visiting Scholar at Columbia University’s Centre on Global Energy Policy and Climate School.

Welcome to 2024—or T minus 6. 2030, a critical milestone in the fight against climate change is now clearly in view.

And yet the world is not on track for where it needs to be.

A course correction is urgently needed to limit warming to the 1.5 degrees Celsius set out in the Paris Agreement. Yet our current trajectory of between 2.5 and 2.9 degrees Celsius ensures the prospect of catastrophic climate change.

The U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres put it succinctly: "Today’s emissions gap is more like an emissions canyon." To close this canyon, we need to make 2024 the year of exponential climate action.

This can only happen with an immediate and rapid reduction in our planet’s reliance on fossil fuels, the main cause of climate change.

In 2024, we need to make it clear that the fossil fuel era is at an end and focus on five exponential actions:

1. Implement the IEA net zero pathway

The International Energy Agency has spelled out the exponential action that’s required: By 2030 we must triple our reliance on renewable sources of energy, double energy efficiency, significantly cut methane emissions and increase electrification with existing technologies.  It’s an agenda that is fundamental to the deal reached this year at COP.

As Bruce Douglas,  CEO of the Global Renewables Alliance, points out governments, working collaboratively with the private sector, must clear the way now to install 11,000 GW of renewable energy, in particular solar and wind, in just six years by ensuring ready access to financing, faster permits, new grids and resilient supply chains.

We also need to get serious about acting on methane. Tackling methane from oil and gas is one of the cheapest and most effective options to limit warming in the short term.

Many countries including the EU, the US, and Canada have brought in tough methane regulations. China recently announced a new methane action plan. Over 150 countries have signed the Global Methane Pledge and agreed to cut their methane emissions by 30% by 2030. Remarkable new satellite technologies make it possible to spot and monitor methane emissions from individual facilities. Exponentially reducing methane leaks is a problem that countries have the immediate power to solve.

2. Phase out fossil fuels

Perhaps the most hotly contested commitment at COP28 concerned the need to phase out fossil fuels. While the final text committed to “transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems” it still fell far short of what’s required — or what 127 countries demanded. We need to listen to these countries as well as leading initiatives like the We Mean Business Coalition and the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance. Their message is unequivocal: the world must begin a managed phase out of the use and production of fossil fuels to meet the terms of the Paris Agreement and ensure a just and equitable transition.

The next two years to 2025 will be crucial. Countries are due to submit their updated national climate commitments at COP30, in Brazil. These commitments must show that all countries are serious and prepared to set targets and timelines for a real phase out. And we need financial institutions to work ambitiously and collaboratively with governments to transform the global energy system to a full phase out of fossil fuels.

3. Scale Financing to the Global South

Phasing out fossil fuels requires massively scaling up the capital available to build renewable energy systems and support countries in the Global South to achieve a fair and just transition. The exponential action requires capital measured in trillions, not billions. This is why finance must be the focus this year including at COP29 in Azerbaijan and why immediately reorienting our global financial architecture towards climate prosperity and debt sustainability and de-risking blended finance models to leverage private capital is imperative.

We also need new sources of climate finance. This is especially critical for climate vulnerable countries who have done the least to cause climate change and are paying the steepest price. France, Kenya and Barbados are leading the way with a new international taskforce on taxation for development and climate action that will examine levies on maritime shipping, aviation, fossil fuel trade, and financial transactions, and extreme wealth. These measures could help provide much needed capital and ensure that those most responsible for climate change finally contribute their fair share.

4. Align national and subnational net zero action

In 2024, we need to stitch together and level up the climate ambition of the range of subnational actors that are critical to delivering on country-based climate commitments. Businesses, financial institutions, cities and regions each play a critical role. The UN’s “Integrity Matters” report, released in 2022, defined what it takes to make credible net zero commitments, including verifiable transition plans that reduce emissions and move money to clean energy. Thanks to work by civil society and initiatives like the Bloomberg-Macron Net Zero Data Public Utility, large companies and financial institutions can be held accountable for their net zero pledges. The UN’s new TaskForce on Net Zero policy, announced at COP 28 will help accelerate the shift that is already underway to move from voluntary net zero initiatives to regulated requirements.

5. Empower people

We must make 2024 the year when public voices rather than public relations prevail. Over the next 12 months, no fewer than 67 national elections will take place. We need citizens to support and vote for parties that are committed to more ambitious climate policies.

There should be no doubt that the actions of young people marching with their parents and grandparents, or the citizen groups challenging their governments and the fossil fuel industry in court matters. It matters when religious organizations divest their fossil fuel investments and when young people demand that prospective employers are climate leaders.It matters when consumers buy from companies that they know are taking credible climate action, and when Indigenous people are supported in their  fight to protect traditional lands. In 2024, we need to redouble our support to people working everywhere for change.

This is especially true for women. In spite of the lack of women heads of state as captured in the dispiriting COP 28 family photo, globally, women are leading the way on climate action. We need to support even more women and girls to lead in their communities and mobilize funding, mentorship, and skills training to scale the women-led climate solutions the world needs.

New Year’s is a time when we rededicate ourselves and promise to do better. But the time for resolutions is up — the only thing that counts now is action. This is a fight we need everyone to join. A new year holds out the promise of new hope. Let’s not let a day of this new year go to waste.

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