It’s about to get more difficult to have “above average” temperatures. Each decade, the 30-year #climate normals are updated, and the 1981-2010 one is about to get replaced by the 1991-2020 one. In #Miami, that will nudge the climatological baseline temperatures up by ~ 0.6°F.

Brian McNoldy Senior Research Associate at Univ. of Miami’s Rosenstiel School
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My favourite year

the familiar joys of the festive season are muted this year by fears surrounding the pandemic and the sputtering economy. In the background, many of us still hear the ticking time bomb of climate change.

Just maybe, however, 2020 will go down as the year we started getting things right. Science broke all speed records for developing effective vaccines. The United States elected a president with the greenest agenda ever. Solar emerged as the least expensive energy source in history. And more political and business leaders are recognizing that society’s vulnerability to COVID-19 is rooted in longstanding inequities and harmful behaviours that are finally being addressed.

All these trends, unexpectedly, helped make 2020 a banner year for Corporate Knights – and for anyone who cares about sustainability and social justice. As we continued our reporting and advocacy, we’ve seen several major advances this year:

  • Our Building Back Better roundtable series last spring – masterfully moderated by the unflappable Diana Fox Carney – brought together a host of leaders in business, labour, science and government to explore innovative ways to spark a “green recovery.” The ideas put forth by our numerous experts – in energy, manufacturing, agriculture, construction, transportation and so much more – coalesced into an ambitious summary report whose proposals were endorsed by business leaders across all major sectors and are now seeping into policy agendas on both sides of the Atlantic. A short video of the Canada we could have by 2030 if we act boldly in the coming months and years can be viewed here.
  • This fall we launched a follow-up roundtable series, Building Back Better Together, in partnership with the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Canada. This alliance demonstrates the growing international interest in collaborating on climate issues, and we can’t wait to see how this trend grows as the United States rejoins the Paris Climate Agreement. 
  • To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, we worked with Earth Day Canada and the Earth Day Initiative in the U.S. to produce the first-ever Green 50: Top business moves that helped the planet. Our list celebrated such game-changing events as Toyota’s launch of the first mass-produced hybrid car and Ontario’s decision to ban coal-fired power plants (still the world’s single largest GHG-reduction measure). Our goal parallelled that of Earth Day itself, as described to us by the movement’s founder, Denis Hayes: “To try to create enough pressure on governments and companies around the world to be aggressive in their [climate action] leadership.”
  • The lockdown also opened a door for us to launch virtual Corporate Knights roundtables, building up a community of more than 5,000 engaged citizens, business leaders and public policy leaders who invested thousands of hours to explore and define the “angel in the details” of what it will take to build back better as we emerge from the pandemic pause. This year’s roundtables culminated in a fireside chat featuring Margaret Atwood, Sheila Watt-Cloutier, and David Suzuki, who offered a rousing call to action to take a moonshot at being the first to land a net-zero-emissions economy. 

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The new geopolitics of China’s climate leadership

Since 2014, China has embarked on a new era of confident, independent international policy activism under President Xi Jinping – the origins of which can be traced back to the Chinese Communist Party’s 2014 Central Conference on Work Relating to Foreign Affairs. That conference marked the end of Deng Xiaoping’s 30-year-old dictum of “hide your strength, bide your time, never take the lead.”

The origins of China’s newfound desire to play a leadership role in the global fight against climate change can also be traced back to 2014. This includes Xi’s landmark joint announcement on climate change with President Barack Obama less than three weeks before the Party’s Central Work Conference.

Since then, China has shown a steady determination to demonstrate its own climate credentials, which increasingly has become a bright spot in China’s position on the world stage. Yet, Xi’s announcement this September that China will aim to achieve carbon neutrality before 2060 marked an important new milestone. For the first time, China has signalled it is not just willing to be a participant in the international fight against climate change, but that climate leadership has crossed the geopolitical Rubicon in Beijing’s eyes. In other words, it has become a central priority for China irrespective of the steps taken by other countries, including the United States.

This marks an important new era for the geopolitics of China’s climate leadership, but also one in which Beijing must understand that it will be judged more sharply than ever before, including by its developing country compatriots. This is especially the case as President-elect Joe Biden takes office in the United States with a wide-ranging and ambitious programme to tackle climate change both at home and abroad.

To best navigate these newfound expectations and responsibilities, China will need to significantly bolster its short-term efforts to reduce emissions through its 2030 Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement, especially with regards to its future use of coal. Piecemeal steps forward in the short-term will be insufficient in the eyes of the international community. At the same time, China must also demonstrate a propensity to achieve Xi’s vision of carbon neutrality as close to 2050 as possible and start to seriously re-orient its support for carbon-intensive infrastructure overseas through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Without these steps, any goodwill generated by Xi’s recent announcement risks quickly becoming a thorn in China’s side because of the geopolitical benchmarks it has now set for itself.

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