Bending the Curve for a Better World: Why Distant “Net” Zero Targets Are Not Enough to Drive the Near-Term Action We Need

13 December 2019

ECO is in need of a good glass of Spanish wine over which to reflect on COP25’s failure to match the urgent demands for climate action being made by our fellow citizens back home. The emphasis now shifts to real climate action at the national level €” where it really counts.
“Net zero” targets have become a rather fashionable way for countries to claim that they are acting on climate change. But this simplistic phrase ignores important components, and allows for obfuscation and delay.
Let’s be honest: there is hardly any carbon budget left to stay under 1.5°C of warming, which means there can be no waiting around for future governments to have the courage to act. Certain countries” targets of “net zero by 2050” are woefully insufficient. ECO reminds parties that at this rate, the planet, and its people €” including our adorable future grandchildren €” will be long-fried by 2050.
Emissions must decrease as fast as conceivably possible in rich countries, including a complete phase-out of fossil energy. Action needs to start now, and strong near-term targets for 2025 and 2030 are needed to make sure that any target is effective. We need to not so much bend, as smash the curve for steep reductions in wealthy and high-polluting countries.
This must be accompanied by similarly unprecedented emission reductions in poorer countries €“ but this will require and be enabled only through a huge scaling up of support from richer countries. At the same time, with adequate and economy-wide Just Transition strategies and policies, countries must ensure that the poorer parts of their societies do not pay for this necessary transformation. Social justice is a fundamental precondition for climate justice.
It also makes sense to have separate targets for reductions of the emissions that are currently being released, vs targets for CO2 that is removed from the atmosphere using so called “negative emissions” approaches, so as to avoid obfuscating mediocre emissions reductions through “net-zero”.
The longer we wait to act, the more cumulative emissions will be released, and the hotter the planet will get. Clearly, we don’t want to rely on risky technologies such as BECCS to fix the problem, and neither can we rely on teleportation or unicorns to save us. So we’re going to have to do it ourselves, with the knowledge and technologies we have now. We need to reduce consumption, consume resources efficiently, and produce them sustainably.
When ECO thinks about the opportunity to go home and build a better world of renewable energy access for all, ecological food systems, sustainable transport and biodiverse ecosystems €” all of which enable social opportunity AND help the climate €” she gets pretty inspired! We look forward to hearing all about your ambitious plans for transformational pathways at COP26 next year!

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