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States alone cannot deliver the Paris Agreement - the role of the financial community is critical

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Speaking at the F20 Reception at COP25, entitled, 'Shifting the Trillions - the role of sustainable finance and impact investment for the implementation of the SDGs and the Paris Climate Agreement', Mary Robinson calls for cooperative action towards sustainable development. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to be with you this evening for this timely discussion, leading up to, and thinking about, the importance of 2020.

Much of the focus at this COP is rightly on states, their responsibilities and the need for urgent political leadership to tackle the climate crisis.

But states alone cannot deliver the fundamental shift in our economic and financial model that is needed to deliver the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.

As you know, the role of the financial and investment community is critical, which is why I am so pleased to see the F20 convening this event.

I will come back to the F20 but I want to first mention that I have met many young people, both here and before COP. In my conversations with them, I mention that we need the energy of young people, the energy of the Fridays for Future movement. The mobilisation that is going on, we need all of that to put pressure on governments from the bottom up. But there is also another important pressure, from the top down: the pressure of business and investment. Then who remains in the middle? Governments. It is governments who need to be squeezed; because if we are not squeezing them, then they are not going to move. I share this with you because your insights, innovation and influence can play a decisive role in pushing political actors to show real climate leadership, particularly in bodies such as the G20. My fellow Elders, Ricardo Lagos and Ernesto Zedillo, have addressed you on this on previous occasions.

To increase ambition on climate change and the implementation of the Paris Agreement, it is important to keep the G20 and its Finance Minsters closely connected to the UN’s climate agenda.

We have entered a new reality where fossil fuel companies are losing their legitimacy and social licence to operate. 

If governments are to retain their own legitimacy and trust among citizens, this means they must end all fossil fuel subsidies, in all forms, so coal and other hydrocarbons are kept in the ground and resources are invested instead in clean, renewable energy sources and green technologies. 

Leverage at the G20 level is imperative in terms of financial resources and potential impact on climate mitigation, but sadly the G20’s track record over the past decade has been underwhelming to say the least.

It is a full decade since G20 states first declared they would end fossil fuel subsidies, but these words have still not been backed up with actions. They have been repeated for the past decade, but no actions have followed.

At The Elders, we have been banging the drum on this issue for years, and I would urge you all to do the same.

In general, the G20 needs to play a pioneering role for raising the ambitions on climate, which needs to be reflected in the revision of their NDCs. It is in the context of these NDCs that 2020 becomes so important. I have a theory that I want the F20 to take on board in its thinking. It is a theory that I am very aware of because of the role I played before Paris Agreement, as the Special Envoy to the UN Secretary-General on Climate Change, from 2014-2015. I was a witness to the negotiations of two important frameworks in 2015. The first was the 2030 Agenda where 193 countries came together and negotiated a remarkable package full of human rights, gender equality, leaving no one behind, solidarity between countries: a remarkable Agenda. I believe that the reason that so many countries agreed the Agenda is because it was voluntary. They knew they could pick and choose.

Then we came to the Paris Agreement. The negotiations for that treaty became weaker, in its enforceability, but it led to the mantra in the streets of“1.5°C to stay alive”, and that became the new goal.

Both frameworks have, I believe, become imperative because of the succession of recent scientific reports. These include the IPCC report in October 2018 on 1.5°C of global warming, the report last May on biodiversity loss and threat to a million species, the Emissions Gap report of UNEP and recent IPCC reports on land use and oceans. It became clear that the whole world needs to stay at 1.5°C, and that there is a very real difference between 1.5°C and 2°C. The science told us it was doable if there was political will; what needs to be done is to reduce carbon emissions by 45% by 2030. Scientists said, “You have twelve years.”  But that was in October of 2018: speaking now in December of 2019, we now only have ten years.

We have ten years, and global emissions went up last year, and have gone up this year too. A very big, serious shift is needed. I think we can do it if we consider those two frameworks as no longer voluntary. There is no reason why something that was voluntarily agreed by countries cannot become an imperative, because of the science behind it. If the science is telling us that we have to do this, because we have to save future generations of mankind, then that is serious; we have to do it. I am more and more of the view that we really have to not only take the IPCC report on the need to stay at 1.5°C, but also the biodiversity report, the oceans report, the report on land use; reports almost on a weekly basis! All of these reports are telling us that climate change is happening more quickly than we thought.

The case for action is indisputable. The challenge is securing the political will to take decisions in the long-term, collective interests of people and the planet rather than the shorter-term horizons of electoral calendars or business cycles.

Both the G20 and the UN need to focus their efforts on:

Promoting green investments to unlock funds for investing into renewable energy, energy efficiency and the building of sustainable and resilient infrastructure;

Establishing a realistic carbon price across all sectors and finally and fully ending all fossil fuel subsidies;

And ensuring full carbon disclosure through the implementation of recommendations by the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosure (TCFD) to reduce the systemic risk that climate change poses on the global financial system and investments.

To complement these efforts, private and corporate investors need urgently to show a better understanding of the SDGs and climate-related risks of investments, integrating these into their risk assessments and showcasing relevant investment opportunities.

Sound investments are made to yield profits over many generations. This is why I believe groups like the F20 are uniquely placed to appreciate that climate change constitutes an intergenerational injustice that threatens any hope of future growth or prosperity.

As UN Special Envoy on Climate Change in the period just prior to the Paris Agreement of 2015, I spoke at length on the need for a “just transition” to a zero-carbon, climate-resilient economy that provides jobs, dignity and opportunity for all.

I strongly believe that the principle of a just transition applies equally to the fossil fuel industries themselves. We know that fossil fuels are finite, and that there are increasingly stringent environmental, economic and ethical imperatives to keep them in the ground and pursue new, clean forms of energy production. However, we must not do this over the backs of the workers in the coal, oil and gas industries.

I will end with this: I learned an interesting insight from a scientist, Pauline Dube, whom we had asked to explain the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on my podcast, Mothers of Invention. We wanted to understand climate change from a feminist lens, to provide feminist solutions. She explained the IPCC report to us very succinctly, and then she started to talk about her empathy for developed countries, who had hundreds of thousands of workers in these huge energy economies, coal, gas and oil, and how difficult it would be for them to transition. I have never heard that before; and it’s true. We need to really think about a just transition, and we need fossil fuel companies to think about their future. I believe that the F20 can play a role in getting the right people to think about the future.

But I am under no illusion about the risks posed to every living person on Earth if these challenges are not faced head on, with honesty, seriousness and integrity. But I am actually very confident that with the help of young people squeezing from the bottom up, and the business and investment groups squeezing from the top down, on the right side of things, that we can squeeze these governments in the middle, and get them to do what they need to do.

Thank you.


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