Cities, Regions, Businesses Commit to “Race to Zero” Emissions in Post-COVID-19 Economic Recovery

Original article by Leila Mead, IISD

A group of stakeholders has launched an initiative that aims to bring businesses, investors, cities, and regions on board to commit to reaching net zero emissions by 2050 and to accelerate climate action in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ‘Race to Zero’ campaign, launched during a virtual event on 5 June 2020, on World Environment Day, aims to mobilize leadership and support for a healthy, resilient, zero-carbon economic recovery that creates well-paying jobs and inclusive, sustainable growth and prevents future threats.

The campaign is led by the UNFCCC Champions for Climate Action, Gonzalo Muñoz (Chile) and Nigel Topping (UK), and brings together a coalition of net zero emissions initiatives, covering 992 businesses, 449 cities, 21 regions, 505 universities, and 38 investors. These “real economy actors” join the 120 countries that are members of the Climate Ambition Alliance, a coalition of States committed to net zero emissions by 2050,  representing over half of global gross domestic product (GDP) and covering nearly a quarter of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

The launch event touched on, among others: COVID-19, climate change, and the public health case for a resilient, inclusive, zero-carbon economy; new announcements, data, and plans to drive sector-level transformation; and zero carbon as the new growth and leadership agenda for cities, finance, and “real economy pioneers.”

According to a UNFCCC press release, prioritizing climate change and low-carbon stimulus can spur economic recovery from COVID-19 and job creation as effectively as, or better than, environmentally neutral or harmful programmes. The ‘Race to Zero’ campaign will identify the most effective pathways to zero emissions in such sectors as energy, transport, industry, food, retail, and finance.

Speaking during the campaign launch, Alok Sharma, President of the 26th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 26) to the UNFCCC and UK Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, expressed hope that COP 26 “can be a moment where the world unites behind a fairer, greener recovery from the effects of COVID-19.” COP 25 President Carolina Schmidt said that despite the health crisis, climate action must continue at all levels.

UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa said the initiative must help spur enhanced nationally determined contributions (NDCs). Maria Neira, Director of Environment, Climate Change and Health, World Health Organization (WHO), called on governments to put health and climate action at the center of recovery plans.

UN Special Envoy for Climate and Finance and adviser to the UK Government on COP 26, Mark Carney, highlighted “the greatest commercial opportunity of our time” created by transitioning to net zero. Citing the COP 26 Private Finance Agenda, he said the COP 26 Presidency and the ‘Race to Zero’ campaign will focus on reorienting investment and finance towards net zero.

From the private sector, Mark Schneider, Nestle, said building a more sustainable food system will be central to addressing climate change. Warren East, Rolls Royce, expressed confidence that engineers can help break the airline industry’s reliance on fossil fuels, and supported a gradual transition towards green technology.

The virtual launch event convened as part of the UNFCCC’s June Momentum for Climate Change. The campaign will run up to COP 26, which was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and will now convene from 1-12 November 2021.