By C40 Executive Director Mark Watts

It is hard to believe that COP26 was only a year ago. Since that time the world has seen ever more shocking climate impacts, a global energy crisis exacerbated by a war in Ukraine, increasing poverty and food insecurity, and another COP that failed to deliver urgent, science-based action to reduce emissions. It’s also a year which has seen a rising global movement for climate action, with voters demanding leaders who will take the crisis seriously. As we move towards 2023, the need to crack down on fossil fuels once and for all and invest in a clean future becomes more pressing by the day. 

Throughout 2022 the impacts of global heating have rapidly gathered pace. Heatwaves, flooding, droughts, and wildfires have afflicted every region of the globe, with current average global temperature rise now at 1.35°C. As Sir David King told mayors at the C40 Summit, there is no ‘carbon budget’ left – every tonne of carbon dioxide that goes into the atmosphere now is going to need to be removed later. We need to rapidly reduce annual emissions by at least half this decade, repair critical ecosystems and remove at least 20 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere every year from now on. 

However, COP27 saw nothing like this level of ambition. Countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions remain far short of what the science demands, and yet again, a COP ended without progress on ending the burning of fossil fuels.

So it is fortunate that we do not have to rely solely on inter-governmental agreements. As well as the progress at city level – 75% of C40 cities are cutting emissions faster than their respective national average, and more than 1160 global cities are now participating in Cities Race to Zero – it’s exciting to see developments such as Climate Trace, a non-profit coalition that uses real-time data to more accurately track global emissions. High-quality emissions inventories are an essential basis for effective emissions reduction – this initiative could prove to be revolutionary. 

These developments can be seen in the context of a growing global momentum towards serious climate action. This year, voters across the world have given their backing to political leaders standing on pro-climate platforms. A study in Australia has found that climate concerns were a major issue prompting voters to switch parties at this year’s federal election, leading to a change of leadership and an increase in the country’s climate ambition, while in the US midterm elections, candidates with aggressive climate commitments won several key races. Perhaps most importantly, in Brazil, this year’s change of leadership could mean a reprieve for the site of one of earth’s critical tipping points – at COP27, President-elect Lula announced his commitment to reversing the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. 

It’s been a long time coming, but 2022 was the year that the demands of climate-vulnerable countries for financial compensation were finally acknowledged, with the agreement at COP27 to set up a ‘loss and damage’ fund. It’s been 30 years since the term first appeared, and this is just the first step – agreement on how much, who pays, and who benefits was deferred until COP28 – but, as the Kenyan climate advocate Mohamed Adow put it, ‘the victory of the vulnerables in Sharm shows what can be achieved when enough people get behind a good idea.’

As we head into 2023, we continue to face multiple global challenges – sky-high inflation in many parts of the world, including an energy and cost of living crisis, food insecurity, and war. Unfortunately, climate action cannot wait until these crises pass, but the good news is that the investments that secure a climate-safe future will also protect people from rising prices and create many millions of good, green jobs. In fact, C40 research shows we can create six times as many jobs and far less pollution by investing in renovating buildings and solar power rather than fossil gas-powered electricity.

The mantra we need to keep repeating is that taking investment out of fossil fuels and putting it instead into renewable energy and efficiency will mean lower energy bills, more jobs, and less pollution.

From now on, urgent, large-scale investment to improve energy efficiency in buildings will be critical to tackle emissions, bring down people’s bills, and create jobs. In Europe in April, C40 mayors joined with the International Energy Agency and trade union leaders to call on national governments to prioritise windfall taxes on energy companies and invest in renewables and building retrofits. If there is anything that this year has shown us, it is how much misery is caused by our continuing to burn fossil fuels. We need 2023 to be the year that we act decisively to stop all new investments in dirty energy. 

We are out of time to keep polluting, but we know what needs to be done. The best way to protect people everywhere from rising prices and extreme weather is to invest in a greener future for all.

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