21 December 2020
- US return to Paris Agreement will raise pressure on governments to meet environmental commitments in 2021
- States showing insufficient commitment to action, particularly Brazil and Russia, particularly likely to face heightened scrutiny over coming years
- Companies worldwide will come under pressure to demonstrate moves towards carbon neutrality, raising reputational risks and threat from activists
President-elect Joe Biden appointed John Kerry to his transition team as special presidential climate envoy on 23 November. This will make Kerry, who signed the Paris Agreement on behalf of the US, the first official dedicated to climate change who will sit on the National Security Council. The following weeks saw other countries pledge increased commitments ahead of and during the UK-hosted UN Climate Action Summit, which marked the fifth anniversary of the agreement of the Paris climate accord.
A press release issued at the end of the virtual summit on 12 December noted a raft of new commitments, and crucially stated that at least 75 nations, representing approximately 65% of global carbon emissions, will have set out their intent to achieve net zero carbon by the end of 2021. The UK led with plans to cut emissions by 68% relative to 1990 levels over the next five years. The EU made a similar announcement, setting out plans to cut by 55% against 1990 levels by 2030, with the goal of reaching net zero by 2050. Narrower policy commitments were also set out by major emerging markets including India, which announced plans to generate 450 gigawatts of power via renewables by 2030, and China, which said it would increase the share of non-fossil fuels used for primary energy consumption to 25% over the same timescale.
Recent decades have seen growing global acceptance of the science behind anthropogenic climate change, and the crucial role played by the burning of fossil fuels. This has intensified as evidence of the effects of climate change and its direct political and security implications, particularly the increasing migratory pressures in developing countries that are most adversely impacted, has become more visible. Attempts to combat the issue at a global level have risen in line with this, chiefly under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The Paris accords, which came into effect in November 2016, represented a major milestone in the fight against climate change, with the overall aim of at least preventing global temperatures from rising more than two degrees centigrade from pre-industrial levels. All 196 UNFCCC members signed the agreement, although ratification was not universal, with 188 still party to it. The only states that are not signatories and contribute more than 1% of global emissions as of November 2020 are Iran and Turkey, as well as the US following…