A Call to Action: Reflections from the Climate Action and UNEP Sustainable Investment Forum Europe 2024

Posted in: Business and the labour market, Climate change, COP28, Economics, Energy and environmental policy, Sustainability

Professor Chris Skidmore OBE is a former  Conservative MP for Kingswood in Bristol and South Gloucestershire and the author of the Independent Government Review of Net Zero. He has recently joined the University as a Professor of Practice, focussing on Net Zero Policy. Here he shares insights on climate action and sustainable investment from a speech he gave at the Climate Action and UNEP Sustainable Investment Forum Europe 2024 in Paris last week.


Thank you for the opportunity to speak today.

Since my resignation from the UK Parliament in January, I have had more time to attend events such as these.

Two months ago, I was also in Paris at the Global Climate and Buildings Conference, to begin the work of the Buildings Breakthrough launched at COP28, which is being led by France and Morocco. It was extremely welcome to see the progress France is making on decarbonising buildings and reducing its energy demand, whether from its innovative Ma Prime Renov programme for retrofit, its commitment to a million heat pump installations per year by 2027, or indeed its commitment to ban the production and exploration of oil and natural gas by 2040.

When I was the UK’s Energy Minister five years ago, I had the opportunity to sign our commitment to net zero into law. And if I am honest with you, it was France that drove us on. At the time, similar legislation was being taken through the French parliament, and we were keen to be the first G7 country to legislate for net zero. In the end, we beat France by a single day. Apologies for that. What I didn’t realise then, five years ago, was that net zero commitment lit a touch paper for the rest of the world. It helped the UK secure the presidency of COP26, which I secured with the backing of the French government. In turn, this allowed the UK to forge the Glasgow Climate Pact two years later, in which over 90% of global GDP, and 80% of all countries committed to going net zero.

Next month, on 27 June, will mark the fifth anniversary of the UK making that historic net zero commitment. I know that Climate Action will be marking that moment also, with their Climate Innovation Forum being held on that day in the Guildhall, as part of London Climate Action Week, an important event that will mark the centrepiece of the week.

Yet five years on, have we made the progress, delivered upon our ambitions, both in the UK and the world, that we set ourselves sixty months ago? In many ways, progress has been beyond what many could have forecast. The UK has further reduced its emissions by nearly 10% since 2019, and 51% since 1990: we are half-way there to net zero. At the same time, we have grown our economy by 82% demonstrating that we can decarbonise and not damage economic growth at the same time.

Yet globally, it is a different picture, with at best emissions reductions stalled, up over 1% in 2023 compared to 2022. Yesterday, there were 425 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere, compared to 414 when I signed net zero into law.

So we are at a cross roads. With five years behind us since committing to net zero, we have that same period of time to now deliver what is needed to meet our global 2030 goals. To achieve this, we need to halve global emissions by 2030 to remain on a 1.5 degree warming pathway. And that is just 2070 days away.

Without climate finance, nothing can happen. Even with the commitments made towards a loss and damage fund of $100 billion annually, the climate finance gap only grows each year, as the $2.4 trillion per year needed by 2030 becomes ever more unlikely with each day that passes.

The urgency we face requires nothing less than a global mission to match the investment we need. COP29 at Baku has already been termed a ‘finance COP’ with two important workstreams that need to be concluded. The New Collective Quantified Goal on climate finance may be included as part of a negotiated text, to move away from a floor of $100 billion a year to after 2025 taking into account the needs and priorities of developing countries, yet we know that this equates to at least $6 trillion needed by 2030. In the words of the UNCCC Chief Executive Simon Stiel, this is indeed a ‘quantum leap’. In addition, the Loss and Damage Fund agreed at COP28 and to be hosted by the World Bank will need to come to fruition, with a plan for its governance expected this summer, to be adopted at COP29. These are both vitally important tasks, that make COP29 an ambition COP in its own right.

Yet these processes and funds, while welcome, will not solve the climate crisis facing us. Even if we were able to close that climate finance gap, and to achieve that climate quantum leap, we still are missing the opportunity that we need from financial institutions and governments across the world, which is to bring to an end our use of fossil fuels. For unless we are prepared to turn off the tap, the bath will always continue to overflow.

I took the difficult decision to resign from the UK Parliament in January, in protest at the UK government’s, my own government’s decision to legislate for new, additional oil and gas licences, against the advice of the Committee on Climate Change, against the warnings of the IEA and the UNCCC. For the UK, it marked a moment where sadly we lost our position of climate leadership, having led at Glasgow in 2021, with the most ambitious of all G7 National Determined Contributions. For myself, having been responsible for net zero, I could not bring myself to support measures that clearly will cause future harm, and set a precedent to continue to explore for new oil and gas well beyond 2040.

And it is to this turning point in history, that must come, to which I want to address today. For if we focus only on decarbonisation, on tripling our renewable energy supply, and doubling our energy efficiency measures, this is the right thing to do, but it cannot be the only thing that we do. To meet a 1.5 degree pathway, we need to reduce our oil and gas use globally by 65%. There is no room for new oil and gas, and certainly no room for countries to finance new oil and gas projects.

And yet, in 2022, $1.5 trillion was spent globally on subsidising fossil fuels, with $200 billion in the G7 alone. The UK and Italy have been the biggest culprits, each subsidising fossil fuels to the tune of $50 billion each, yet across the G7, $42 billion was spent on support for new fossil fuel exploration and production. So we can talk about creating the $100 billion loss and damage fund, yet let us not forget it is the $200 billion fossil fuel fund that should be ending. If climate finance is to deliver, we need to be thinking more about ending fossil finance, and not just green finance.

We should be pressing G7 nations to demonstrate leadership, and it is welcome that France alone has joined the international coalition to phase out fossil fuel subsidies led by the Netherlands, that I hope can succeed in ushering in an end date for new oil and gas, to recognise that our future industries and businesses need to prepare for a transition that is coming fast. Already oil and gas demand is dropping that will lead to stranded jobs: and we need financial institutions to not continue to support declining industries, but to step up to deliver a just transition for those working in fossil fuels to move their skills to renewable and clean power.

Yet mostly, leadership on addressing how to end fossil finance remains lacking. The G7 Communique at Turin this week remained vague and resting on abstract intent about transitioning away from fossil fuels, while committing only to phasing out ‘abated’ coal in the first half of 2030. The statement also restated the commitment to end ‘inefficient’ fossil fuel subsidies by 2025. Yet this was a commitment first made fifteen years ago, back in 2009. Fifteen years later, we are still debating definitions, and not delivering. The statement in Turin this week has given final clarity that the term ‘inefficient’ should be taken to mean that subsidies ‘do not address energy poverty or just transitions’. Yet there can in all reality be no efficient fossil fuel subsidies, whatsoever. That money, that investment, should be diverted instead into both clean power, and to help deliver the climate finance needed elsewhere.

We also need to think how, as the financial sector, and the private sector, we can also help deliver and implement our net zero commitments now, and not wait for commitments, important though they are, to be concluded at COPs.

How companies and the private sector can deliver impact and emissions reduction more effectively, in line with our 2030 goals, is something I have decided to turn my own focus. Last month I announced that I was helping to set up a new organisation, Better Earth, that will seek to deliver emissions reductions in countries to meet their climate commitments. Yesterday it was announced that the former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will also join Better Earth, as its co-chair. I hope that in time, Better Earth will be seen as a new model for private finance to deliver urgent emissions reductions, for it seeks to both partner with countries to provide advice and support on future climate plans, in particular their revised National Determined Contributions, to then help deliver and implement projects on the ground to decarbonise and reduce emissions, especially methane emissions to meet the Global Methane Pledge of 75% methane reduction by 2030, and at the same time provide the necessary investment and finance to deliver the projects without asking governments for financial support. Better Earth has the chance I hope to demonstrate what can be achieved if we simply do not wait and get on with the job today.

The Net Zero Review, Mission Zero, I wrote for the UK government demonstrated that net zero was the greatest opportunity to deliver economic growth and regeneration for a generation. Already we are witnessing record amounts of finance being directed at the energy transition, not least in part stimulated by the EU Green Deal and the Inflation Reduction Act, which has seen $5.47 of private investment committed for every $1 of public investment spent.

Yet how can we ensure that this finance is best spent efficiently, and not wasted? I have been keen to promote a place-based approach, that recognises the critical role of cities and regions in delivering net zero. Indeed, we need to devolve far more powers and investment locally, to empower mayors to deliver on the ground.

Today in the UK, we are holding our local and mayoral elections, which will be key for delivering our net zero commitments for 2030. Those elected tomorrow will be responsible for meeting locally our targets over the next four years. And now that I am independent and free from party politics, I can say openly that I have been impressed with the leadership that the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has shown, both in standing his ground and implementing low emission zones, which after all were first introduced by the Conservatives, and his commitment with a detailed plan to deliver net zero for London. As chair of the C40, it is clear he cares about delivering climate action, which is more than can be said for the deeply divisive and climate sceptic campaigning of his Conservative opponent. In West Yorkshire, Mayor Tracey Brabin has demonstrated climate leadership leading her own Green Jobs Taskforce and setting out clear plans of how net zero will work for, and not against, her region. It is likely that both Tracey and Sadiq will be rewarded at the ballot box for their climate leadership.

Elsewhere, Conservative mayors such as Ben Houchen and Andy Street, in Teesside and the West Midlands, have also made net zero a centrepiece of their campaigns: and they have been rewarded with political polls that show them way ahead of national government approval ratings. I wrote a report with Mayor Houchen last September, setting out how net zero was the greatest opportunity to bring inward investment into regions. And it is that sense of vision, and of hope that both Sadiq Khan, Ben Houchen and Andy Street have shown that may see them returned for a new term of office. In short, net zero and climate action is a vote winner, not a vote loser— and those who will win today recognise that.

It is something I hope that we all can recognise today. We need more climate delivery now, for there is not enough time to deliver, let alone time to waste. And we need everyone at every level of government, not just national governments or international agreements to be held responsible. We must play our part, in whatever individual role we can, whether working in finance or policy, to deliver climate action today.

All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of the IPR, nor of the University of Bath.

Posted in: Business and the labour market, Climate change, COP28, Economics, Energy and environmental policy, Sustainability


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