Jose Maria Figueres, Chair of the Board of Trustees of Rocky Mountain Institute and Chair of the Global Ocean Commission – The pace is picking up. We’re just a few short weeks away from UN climate negotiations in Paris, when more than 190 nations will gather with the aim of finalising a new global agreement on climate change.
This agreement is aimed at constraining global greenhouse gas emissions, and will encompass measures to help developing countries adapt to inevitable climate impacts.
For many it’s not a moment too soon, as scientists expect 2015 to be the first year where global annual average temperature passes 1C above pre-industrial levels. We began 2015 with its hottest eight months on record, smashing records for 2014, previously the hottest year since record keeping began in 1880. And, scientists say this is just the beginning — the unusually warm El Nino Pacific Waters will bring record-breaking heat in combination with already warming seas into 2016.
On a more positive note, we’ve seen goodwill to find a way forward and more countries than ever recognise the economic benefits of a low carbon economy. Never before have three super powers: the USA, China and EU been so positive on finding a global solution. And it goes far wider. So far, 159 country pledges are on the table, covering 90% of global emissions. That’s enormously impressive, and better than many had expected.
The whole pledge process has resulted in commitments by governments that put us on a trajectory that will take us to a world 2.7-3.7°C warmer than preindustrial levels. This is markedly better than it was before the pledges were submitted – and it offers hope that a deal can still be done in Paris that eventually gets us to 2°C. Meeting 2°C is not just a political goal; it is a social, economic and humanitarian necessity.
And this is where Russia can play such an important role both on land and at sea. Russia is currently responsible for 5% of global emissions but has not committed to reducing its emissions, nor does it set a definite peak. Russia has also stated that its final decision on emission cuts is contingent upon the outcome of the UN climate negotiations, along with the pledges of other major emitters. Nearly all other countries have now shown their cards. What an opportunity for Russia to now join the global leadership circle!
Will there be winners and losers with climate change? Very possibly. But right now it’s hard to predict who and how. According to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change AR5 assessment, Russia is likely to be affected by climate change impacts more than many other countries, apart from low-lying lands such as Bangladesh and Small Island States.
The methane locked within permafrost may amplify global climate change as this ground starts to thaw. Buildings, pipelines, and other infrastructure built on the permafrost will be in trouble as solid ground turns into bogs.
Consequently, even the prospect of access to new oil and gas resources will be hard to quantify because of the construction challenges associated with northern conditions and melting permafrost.
There is also bad news for the agricultural sector, which is most affected by the climate. Dry regions are likely to become drier, with wet regions getting still more rain. Similarly, more extreme weather events would inflict additional damage on the energy system.
It’s also bleak for the ocean and marine life, and Russia is a vast fishing country with an extensive coastline. No corner of the ocean will escape climate change. It seems logical that at a time when climate change impacts are increasing, we need to work on all fronts: to cut emissions, transition to cleaner energy and protect massive ocean ecosystems.
Russia has massive and exciting affordable opportunities for decarbonisation. Through our work at the Rocky Mountain Institute and the Carbon War Room we see the huge economic opportunities available through embracing renewable energies like wind and solar, as well as improving the efficiency of industrial buildings, homes, cars and ships. Growing these sectors means job creation and economic diversification.
We are on the brink of a clean energy revolution and I have no doubt, that climate change is the biggest economic opportunity of our generation. The price of solar has dropped 50% since 2008 and is now putting it on price parity with diesel in Africa, the Caribbean and other areas. We have witnessed enormous technological breakthroughs over the past 2 years such as the Tesla battery. China’s 13th Five Year Plan next year will contain massive demand pull for clean energy and technology of a scale we have never seen before, and Africa will be coming on to the grid in the next decade. There are early signs to suggest that many places will be leapfrogging over coal to solar.
Russia is also in a position to lead on what could be the biggest piece of ocean protection ever, by supporting the protection of Antarctica’s Ross Sea. The rest of the international community is on board to move this forward. And, given Russia’s long history of exploration and scientific endeavour at both poles, an area that is known as Antarctica’s Serengeti, could next year be designated an ocean regeneration zone, helping to replenish ocean systems and studied for the benefit of all humankind.
Russia’s role on the world stage and to influence planetary stability cannot be under estimated. In addition to significantly reducing CO2 emissions, the best, most cost-effective investment Russia could make to help the ocean regenerate would be through creating marine reserves where no extractive or destructive activities are allowed.
2015 and 2016 are important years where Russia’s support could be decisive. We live in a globally connected, hyperlinked world. We share the same air and the same ocean. We now need to share the responsibility, the leadership and the enormous benefits from spurring economic investment in renewables and taking ocean conservation action for our common future.