How the positive impact of climate action will improve the lives of all

COP26 is coming to an end, with mixed results. Progress has been made since Paris 2015, but the latest projections confirm that we are far from where we should be. As it stands, we are heading towards 2.4 ℃ of warming with disastrous environmental and human consequences that will affect the south of the planet the hardest.

Leaders of countries in the southern hemisphere made strong and heartfelt appeals for survival at COP26, and the streets of Glasgow filled with massive public protests. Yet leaders of the Global North have failed to respond to these calls and have failed to meet clear public expectations that the climate crisis must be addressed urgently and that broad systemic changes are needed.

In the coming decade, there is a huge gap to be bridged between the ambition and the action of the biggest contributors to global warming if we want to limit global warming to 1.5 ℃.

The climate actions needed over the next decade are often presented as unpleasant disruptions to our way of life and a burden on society. But these actions actually represent huge opportunities to improve the health, safety and economic prospects of people everywhere. Can these leaders of the global North afford to ignore that the countries of the North and the South have everything to gain from ambitious and swift action?

Looking at the benefits

There is strong evidence and a myriad of examples that climate actions can have a large number of other positive effects, offering co-benefits to society, especially for the north of the world, as has been reported by the COP26 Universities Network, of which I am a member.

It is estimated, for example, that reducing air pollution could prevent between 0.6 and 6.5 million premature deaths per year and reduce the burden of associated health costs estimated at $ 176 billion ($ 130 billion). pounds sterling). Climate actions and policies can also lead to increased employment, productivity, energy efficiency and agricultural yields.

The transition to net zero requires new “green” jobs in renewable energies but also in most other sectors. The New Climate Institute estimates that reducing emissions alone by improving the energy efficiency of buildings would create 5.4 million jobs worldwide for specialists in this field.

There is also a cascading effect. The London School of Economics reports that up to 4.2 new jobs could be created for every new “green” job. The environmental regulations needed to achieve net zero can improve productivity by stimulating innovation but also by other means such as improving the health and living conditions of the workforce and increasing employment. efficiency in all systems.

In agriculture, reducing air pollution – harmful to crops as well as to humans – considerably improves yields. In the United States, for example, reductions in air pollution between 1999 and 2019 boosted soybean and corn crops by 20%, worth $ 5 billion (£ 3.73 billion) per year.

The value of these parallel benefits often equals or exceeds the cost of climate actions. But the net benefit of climate actions and their constructive rather than disruptive potential are too often overlooked.

Support and collaboration

In addition, promoting these benefits would be a great way to garner support for climate action. First, because these co-benefits not only boost things like health and job creation, but also reduce poverty and inequality. They are therefore a powerful way for leaders to secure public support throughout the transition.

Second, the idea of ​​co-benefits is encouraging because it is a positive approach to a frightening and negative problem that affects us all. Focusing on these indirect benefits will help galvanize more support for action and gain critical buy-in from more key players. If others see a legitimate reason to get involved in climate policy, it increases the ability to make pro-environmental choices now and in the future.

This in turn could counterbalance the lobbying power of the fossil fuel industries and free governments from their influence and greenwashing campaigns.

The co-benefits also encourage greater collaboration and more integrated ways of working, essential to deal with a global crisis of this magnitude. Some cities and local authorities seem to understand this, with networks like C40 putting co-benefits at the heart of their climate action plans and toolkits.

The 2020 Carbon Disclosure report, with data from cities around the world, showed that, on average, cities that cited climate action co-benefits reported more than twice as many mitigation actions as those that did. cities that have not.

Unfortunately, while local leaders seem able to embrace and promote co-benefits for taking action on climate change, world leaders do not seem to engage as well in this approach. These co-benefits were barely mentioned at COP26 despite a strong emphasis on health benefits. Yet these benefits are a real opportunity for the Global North to act more radically to save the planet for all – and to realize so many gains for themselves in the process.

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