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Climate Change

The climate crisis poses an existential threat. We want to create political space for ambitious action, help ensure a just transition to the low carbon economy and encourage the scaling-up of support for particularly climate vulnerable communities.
Photo: NASA/Kathryn Hansen

The Issue

"The exigency of this situation must not lead us to despair, rather it should propel us into action." - Mary Robinson

The climate crisis is not a looming threat, people are now living with the consequences of centuries of greenhouse gas emissions. A failure to act urgently now will mean a reverse in development gains for the poorest and most vulnerable people in society, an erosion of biodiversity, increasing difficulties in providing food and shelter, as well as the potential loss of entire countries due to the impacts of climate change.


Our Approach

"As the scientific evidence mounts, so too does the need to address the concerns vulnerable countries are raising around loss and damage and adaptation finance." - Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

The Elders stand firmly behind the goal of limiting climate change to 1.5 degrees.

A just approach to tackling climate change means not only that the most vulnerable are able to participate fully in efforts to address the climate crisis; but that richer countries help poorer countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change, contributing more towards developing low-carbon solutions, and providing funding and access to this technology.


Photo: UN Women/Joe Saade

Our call for urgent climate action

“This is a crucial moment for all of humanity.”

The Elders call for climate justice and urgent action on the climate crisis. They ask for leaders to do all they can to keep a path to 1.5°C degrees alive.



The Elders' vision

The historic climate agreement reached at COP21 in Paris between 196 nations was a rare and encouraging display of global solidarity and hope. However, the need to turn this hope into concrete action is urgent if we are to ensure that we limit climate change to 1.5 degrees.

Unless governments act quickly and deliberately we risk creating, through our own actions, one of the greatest injustices in human history, denying future generations their right to a habitable, sustainable planet. If we fail to act now, the whole of humanity stands to lose.

A solution is possible. We possess the tools and the technology to move towards a low-carbon economy and end our reliance on fossil fuels. With bold, transformative leadership at the global level and insight and innovation from the grassroots, we can unite around the shared vision of a sustainable, equitable world.


A carbon-neutral future

By the end of this century, if we continue business as usual, the world faces the risk of a global temperature increase of 2° to 5° Celsius above pre-industrial era levels: a future of unprecedented heat waves, severe droughts, rising sea-levels, and acidified oceans. As the 2021/22 IPCC AR6 Climate Change Report makes clear, this level of climate change threatens life on earth as we know it. 

The Elders stand firmly behind the goal of limiting climate change to 1.5 degrees and support the overall goal of global carbon-neutrality by 2050.

This transition to a low-carbon, sustainable future is technically still possible but requires bold and concerted action. Governments should do all they can to encourage the switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy and energy efficiency through investment, regulatory reform and policy.

This will mean giving clear market signals to business and investors, including through an internationally agreed price on carbon. It means leveraging public and private capital to support the rapid and just transition to sustainable, affordable energy sources. And it means supporting technological innovation – recent advances in clean and renewable energy have already penetrated energy markets, including in the Global South; the sooner these innovations can be scaled up and invested in, the lower the costs and the greater the return on investment.


Climate justice

Perversely it is the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people – those who have benefitted least from fossil fuel-powered growth – who are the most affected by the impacts of climate change. Floods, droughts and extreme weather events undermine their basic rights to food, water, health and shelter. Left unchecked, climate change threatens catastrophe for generations to come.

A just approach to climate change means not only that the most vulnerable are able to participate fully in efforts to address the climate crisis; but that richer countries help poorer countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change, contributing more towards developing low-carbon solutions, and providing funding and access to this technology.

The Elders call on the international community to significantly scale up support for the implementation of adaptation strategies in vulnerable communities, as well as for mechanisms that address the irreversible loss and damage in climate-vulnerable countries. The Elders also call for financial support to ensure that the poorest and most vulnerable nations are represented in international climate negotiations.

Any credible response to the climate emergency needs to recognise the intergenerational injustice of climate change, and the intersectionality of other major challenges facing humanity. Climate change exacerbates the likelihood of the spread of disease, of conflicts, of gender and racial inequality and of environmentally-forced migration.

The views of younger people must be at the heart of decision-making on climate change and these opinions, and the needs of future generations, need to be considered and addressed at all levels of government and in international decision making. Without action, climate change will rob future generations of the rights and opportunities many of the current generation take for granted.


Grassroots solutions

A global solution to the climate crisis requires the direct participation of the people who are most affected by it.

Some of the greatest innovation is taking place, out of necessity, in communities already suffering the most serious impacts of climate change. These adaptive strategies should inform policies at the national and international level.

Gender equality is a critical element of effective policy responses to the climate crisis. Across societies, climate change affects women and men differently. In many cultures, it is women that are responsible for gathering and producing food, collecting water and sourcing household fuel. As a result of climate change, women are more likely to have exacerbated health problems, more likely to suffer the impacts of food insecurity, more likely to bear the brunt of having to collect water, more likely to come into direct contact with harmful dirty fuel sources and more likely to drop out of education. Extreme weather events are having the greatest impact on the world’s poorest people, and more than two-thirds of the world’s poorest people are women.

Despite women being disproportionately affected by climate change, their crucial role in climate change adaptation and mitigation is being largely under-utilised and under-resourced. Restricted land rights, lack of access to financial resources, training and technology, and limited access to political decision-making often prevents women from playing a full role in tackling climate change. The Elders will bring a gender perspective into all of their work on climate change. It is very important that the role of women as decision-makers and implementers is prioritised.


Multi-stakeholder approach

If we are to seize this historic opportunity, avert climate catastrophe and move towards a carbon-neutral world, extraordinary leadership is required. The Elders appeal for leadership at all levels – political, business, faith communities, young people, women, civil society – to change the narrative on climate change and deliver transformative progress.

World leaders must be bold, restore trust and give hope. The long-term interests of humanity take precedence over short-term political and financial concerns. We should not be afraid to ‘name and shame’ governments that break international agreements or fail to meet their commitments on climate change. At the same time, we should recognise and encourage good leadership, for example in the many developing countries that have made significant progress to pioneer legislation on climate mitigation and adaptation.


Implementing and increasing ambition around the Paris Agreement

The Elders welcome the Paris Agreement which gives the world the opportunity to create a sustainable future.

The Paris Agreement sets the direction of travel and shows that progressive change is possible. Despite their differences, 196 countries came together to prove that a multilateral process built on trust and dialogue, and that respects the capacity of smaller delegations to engage, can yield strong results.

It is important that all countries take their commitments under the Paris Agreement seriously and implement their Nationally Defined Contributions in order to move us ever closer to a green and sustainable path towards economic growth and development.  The Elders also recognise that the commitments made in the Paris Agreement are but a first step towards limiting climate change to 1.5 degrees and that countries will need to increase the scale and speed of their actions on climate change if we are to reach a carbon neutral future.

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