The Paris Agreement (now in force), record high temperatures and carbon dioxide emissions. Below we overview the milestones of 2016.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) one year on
One year after the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, we now have a picture of what countries are doing with them. We have seen how so-called developed countries fall short on social equality or decent employment conditions. Implementing measures in connection with such goals as respect for human rights and eradicating poverty and hunger continue to be among our most urgent challenges.
Global consensus for sustainable development and against climate change
Although it never garnered much media attention, the Montreal Protocol, signed in 1987, has resulted in the elimination of 98% of ozone-depleting substances such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). In a new development, almost 200 countries agreed in 2016 to include expand the protocol to cover the progressive elimination of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), one of the main causes of global warming.
After twenty years of climate change negotiations, the Paris Agreement entered into force on 4 November 2016, setting out a clear path to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with the goal of limiting global warming to 2 ºC with respect to the pre-industrial era.
In the European Union, two milestones will continue to have an impact in the coming years. Firstly, the new Directive 2014/95/EU as regards disclosure of non-financial and diversity information, which obliges large corporations to disclose, among other things, their CO₂ emissions, and their record on human rights, union rights, gender equality, combating corruption, etc. Secondly, the communication on the Next Steps for a Sustainable European Future, which is aimed at integrating the SDGs into EU policy.
Social adversity and grounds for hope
Years after we achieved a scientific consensus on climate change, the Paris Agreement now gives us a political consensus. However, reality marches on and CO₂ levels have broken all records this year. Predictions by the the world's oldest emissions monitoring station, at Mauna Loa (Hawaii), indicate that those levels of CO₂ — above 400 ppm — will persist for many generations.
Another record we cannot be proud of is the increase in the global temperature, which will exceed pre-industrial levels by 1.2 ºC, according to the World Meteorological Organization.
Nevertheless, 2016 saw some encouraging developments in the transition towards a green economy. The International Energy Agency reported that, for the first time, the installation of renewable energies exceeded that of fossil fuels. In a more optimistic scenario for 2040, global primary energy demand is expected to increase by 30%, and renewable energy production to increase by 36%.
Furthermore, investment based on social, environmental and governance criteria is growing, and investor appetite is changing. The issuance of green bonds has tripled in the last four years, to reach a new record in 2016, and is expected to continue rising to exceed 133.700 billion euros in the near future, accounting for almost 20% of the market.
Similarly, the appetite for communication, for telling stories about sustainable development, is also on the rise. In Before the Flood, by Leonardo DiCaprio, and Years of Living Dangerously, by National Geographic Channel and ACCIONA, celebrities tell stories outlining the problems caused by climate change and the potential solutions.
In an upcoming post, we will examine the challenges we face in 2017.