Enhancing ambition in NDCs – a case study of climate leadership

Negotiators writing at SB48 climate conference

Following the gathering of leaders at the UN Climate Summit, James Harries reflects on true climate leadership, drawing on Ricardo’s work with small island developing states under the Climate Ambition Support Alliance (CASA).

Wow – what a few days for climate action! First, we had the amazing climate strike on Friday, and then over the weekend and Monday we had the UN Climate Summit, with world leaders gathering to discuss how to accelerate efforts to address the climate emergency and to get back on track for the Paris Agreement’s goal to limit global temperature rises. We know that current climate commitments from countries – known as Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs – are not sufficient and so the focus of the discussions over the weekend in New York was on how countries can do more.

For me, one of the observations coming out of the Climate Summit was around climate leadership and what we really mean by this. The Climate Summit saw various announcements by countries but when it comes to the crunch, what is really needed is leadership by action, and that means countries stepping forwards and committing to update their NDCs and to enhance ambition. Obviously, over the next year, all eyes will be on the big emitters – US, India, China, Brazil, Canada, Europe and so on. But sometimes climate leadership can come from the smaller players. Climate Watch, an online platform managed by the World Resources Institute, recently launched a 2020 NDC tracker, which records the countries that have committed to updating their NDCs. It shows that so far, 32 countries have stated their intention to update their NDC and/or enhance ambition or action in their NDC by 2020. Of these, 13 are small island developing states (SIDS). This is a huge show of climate leadership. These are countries that hardly contribute at all to climate change and yet will be most affected. Yet here they are, putting words into action and committing to upping their ambition. This was backed up by the ‘SIDS package’  presented at the UN Climate Summit by the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS). In the package, AOSIS members commit to communicating new and/or updated climate plans and strategies that are consistent with the Paris Agreement, as well as undertaking an expansion of the ‘SIDS Lighthouse initiative’  by 2023 to support the move towards 100% renewable energy targets. 

At Ricardo we’ve had close involvement with SIDS on NDC enhancement and have been hugely impressed with their ambition and drive on climate action. In August we ran a 2-day training workshop in New York for AOSIS members, looking at options for enhancing NDCs and how to develop these. Whilst the participants were all at slightly different stages of work on their NDCs, both in terms of implementing their current NDCs and producing an enhanced NDC, there was a shared sense of urgency, as you might expect from countries that are on the front line of climate change.

This workshop was the first under a new programme being funded by the UK Government and led by PwC, called the Climate Ambition Support Alliance, or CASA. The programme aims to increase the capacity of low-income and climate vulnerable countries to engage as progressive voices in the international climate negotiations. Other capacity building workshops are planned over the next two years. The first workshop was a promising start and is part of a wider process of building momentum towards COP 26 in Glasgow next year. Of course, the key to leadership is to get others to follow. We will see over the coming months the extent to which the bigger emitters, who now need to step up, will do so. We look forward to doing our bit to support this importance process, both through our role as a delivery partner for the CASA programme but also through our work more generally on climate action. Who knows, maybe in the same way that one 15-year-old Swedish girl led to a global movement of the sort we saw last week, perhaps the leadership of small island states can be the catalyst for ambitious collective global action to reduce emissions. Here’s hoping.

This blog has been cross-posted with permission and it was first published here.

Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth

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