The year ahead in climate change

© Paul Itkin

A look ahead at climate change in 2019

It can be argued that climate change gave us the top stories of 2018.

The world has little more than a decade to stop accelerating climate change and keep the average global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius, according to a much-anticipated report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). As if to hammer home the point, extreme weather events ruled the headlines, from flood-inducing hurricanes in the Carolinas to wildfires in Greece.

To find out what climate change has in store for 2019, we spoke with Conservation International’s climate change lead, Shyla Raghav, and learned what is going to make news about the climate in the coming year.

Question: What’s the biggest thing on the horizon for climate change in 2019?

Answer: The biggest story and moment for 2019 is a climate summit planned by United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres to take place September 23 before the United Nations General Assembly. That’s going to be a key culmination point for a number of reports, studies and political processes. The secretary general has the ability to use his influence to help broker really important deals that are going to accelerate action on climate change, particularly in the face of 2020. The year 2020 is crucial for a few reasons, primarily because we know that globally, in terms of the science, emissions need to peak, but there are also a couple of other political milestones.

Countries are also going to start implementing their nationally determined contributions (NDCs), which are their commitments to the Paris Agreement. Until now, our focus has been the rules and the framework and 2020 is going to be the critical moment to act and implement, which means the 2019 summit is going to be the opportunity to actually create the political will to bring together a diverse set of stakeholders, including companies and cities to enable and incentivize that action.

Overall, this year is an opportunity for organizations such as Conservation International to reframe the environmental or conservation movement to think about regenerating, restoring and reviving critical ecosystems because nature is our most immediate opportunity to make progress on climate change today while the policies catch up. Overall, the most critical issues for us are going to be: building resilience to the impacts of climate change; restoration and regeneration of our land, coasts, and oceans; and shaping the future of innovative climate finance and REDD+ (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation).

Q: What kind of deals at the U.N. meeting in September are you referring to?

A: The secretary general’s team has set up a couple different workstreams, such as energy, industry, resilience and nature-based solutions — which we at Conservation International are most directly focused on. We expect the summit to be a transformative event, bringing diverse stakeholders together in a unified way. We don’t know exactly what the outcomes will look like — it could be some sort of global declaration or commitment to NDCs, the creation of a new fund, companies committing to broader transparency goals or a multitude of other things. Those deals would range from political to financial to some more in the technical realm, but our position is that we don’t need a new slew of commitments, we need to dive into the barriers that are inhibiting action.

I think in terms of 2019, most of our work is going to be oriented around that summit and then in parallel, the Paris Agreement process will also continue, and hopefully, the progress at the summit will help accelerate the work needed to implement the Paris goals.

Q: In 2018, we saw a lot of major reports on climate change. What does 2019 have in store?

A: There are a number of big climate reports that are timed to be announced or to be published before the U.N. climate change summit in 2019, such as a global report on resilience, which will provide a global assessment of climate-resilient development pathways and will be evaluate what resilience actually means in practice. It’s going to have some important data and analysis on the level of the projection of climate impacts on what that means for societies, for cultures and for economies. Another big report that will be released in 2019 is about global food systems and will look at what shifts or transitions need to happen to sustain the amount of food that our land is producing, but also more importantly it will look at growing populations and pressures on land, and determine how the world can meet all those competing demands given the evolution of the food system. Lastly, the IPCC will also publish special reports on land use and oceans, following the special report on the 1.5 degree goal that we saw last year.

Q: The U.N. climate talks last month — the Conference of the Parties (COP) — in Poland made progress in some areas but fell short in others. Where do we go from here?

A: In 2019, Costa Rica will be hosting pre-COP negotiations and the official COP will take place in Chile, tentatively scheduled for January 2020. The pre-COP will be arranged in advance to help usher and advance some particularly contentious decisions before the COP in Chile. Overall, these two negotiations will be used to accelerate climate action and complete the final elements of the rule book that need to be fed into the U.N. process. It is our hope that the 2019 pre-COP and the 2020 COP will be a forum for creating action that will uphold the Paris Agreement.

Q: Are we going to see more storms and disasters like we did last year?

A: While we still have time to avoid the most harmful impacts of climate change, a certain amount of warming and changes have already been set in motion due to the greenhouse gases we’ve already emitted. We are, today, at 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels, which means that more frequent and intense storms, extremes in weather, droughts and floods are likely. Change is our new normal. So, while we focus on avoiding the worst for the decades to come, we also need to take these new trends into account today.

Shyla Raghav is Conservation International’s climate change lead. Olivia DeSmit is a staff writer for Conservation International.