“Paris promised. Glasgow must deliver” warns COP26 President Alok Sharma in UNESCO speech

13 - Climate Action

The success or failure of our climate future is in world leaders’ hands, stressed Alok Sharma, President of the 26th United Nations Climate Conference (COP26) in a speech given at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris on 12 October. Recalling that temperatures have already risen at least 1.1 degrees above pre-industrial levels, and that the world has not done enough since the adoption of the landmark Paris Agreement in 2015, he urged leaders to take ambitious action at COP26 in a few weeks to ensure that the 1.5-degree limit does not slip out of reach. Shamila Nair-Bedouelle, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences, and Vladimir Ryabinin, Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission and Assistant Director General of UNESCO, presented concrete actions and tools at the disposal of Member States to step up climate action, drawing from science, education, culture and communication and information.

We are also urging countries to take the action needed to move to a cleaner world. To consign coal power to history. To accelerate the drive to clean electric vehicles. To end deforestation. And to reduce methane emissions. All of which present historic opportunities to create jobs, create growth, and move to a healthier more secure world.

Rt Hon Alok Sharma MP, President of the 26th United Nations Climate Conference (COP26)

Many climate vulnerable countries, such as Small Island Developing States (SIDS), are leading the way on emission reductions and bold climate action. Mr Sharma called world leaders, particularly G20 leaders, to take the lead from those climate vulnerable countries which are taking action in the most difficult circumstances to protect the planet and its people.

Responsibility rests with each and every country. And we must all play our part. Because on climate, the world will succeed, or fail as one.

Rt Hon Alok Sharma MP, President of the 26th United Nations Climate Conference (COP26)

He highlighted highlight four elements for COP26 to deliver the level of ambition required:

  • climate action plans to significantly reduce emissions by 2030 and reach net zero by mid-century, and to support adaptation to tackle climate threats
  • concrete action to deliver these plans, including agreements on reducing coal, electric cars, protecting trees and reducing methane emissions
  • to honour the $100bn dollar pledge to fund climate action and adaptation in developing states, and
  • a negotiated outcome that paves the way for a decade of ever-increasing ambition.

Changing minds, not the climate: UNESCO’s climate action

The complexities of climate change require a holistic approach, which UNESCO provides though its longstanding expertise combining science, education, culture, and communication and information.

While climate change is driven by global processes, the solutions to offset the negative effects of climate risks are particularly dependent on local conditions. UNESCO’s global network of designated sites (1,121 World Heritage sites, 729 biosphere reserves and 169 Global Geoparks) provide local solutions for climate change adaptation. By assessing the impact of climate change, the designated sites are being used as climate observatories on one hand, and as pilot areas for targeted climate change adaptation actions on the other. They protect essential ecosystems; for example the 50 World Heritage Marine sites (in 37 countries) account for 1/3 of all blue carbon assets on the planet despite representing less than 1 percent of the ocean’s surface. Meanwhile, biosphere reserves cover more than 5% of the Earth’s surface, serving as serve as models of sustainable development while rebuilding our relationship with nature.

Indigenous Peoples are custodians of 80% of the world’s biodiversity, and they are mobilizing their in-depth knowledge of the territories that have been the source of their livelihoods for generations in order to address climate change. UNESCO's Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems programme (LINKS) promotes local and indigenous knowledge and its inclusion in global climate science and policy processes, including COP26.

Water is recognized as a climate connector. UNESCO has been developing tools to support climate resilient water management, such as the African Flood and Drought Monitor, flood early warning systems, assessment tools and reporting. UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Hydrological Programme will follow an ambitious plan to combine transdisciplinary scientific research, together with education and training for its sustainable management (Science for a Water Secure World in a Changing Environment, IHP-IX). The results of UNESCO’s global conference on Climate-Resilient Water Management Approaches: Application Towards Climate Action and 2030 Agenda will be presented at COP26, to show how new tools and approaches for climate-resilient water management can fit into national plans for climate action.

The ocean plays an essential role in our climate- it absorbs a significant part of carbon and an overwhelming portion of the excess heat. UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) is at the forefront of new research priorities on climate change impacts on the ocean, climate change mitigation through the conservation and restoration of coastal and marine ecosystems such as mangroves and salt marshes – the so-called ‘blue carbon’ – and the overall contribution of the ocean to combatting climate change. IOC is leading the UN decade on Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, which presents a great opportunity to foster ambitious climate action.

As part of COP26, UNESCO is organizing a Conference of Ministers of Education and Environment, because education is an essential tool for effective and sustainable climate action. UNESCO supports countries to incorporate climate change related issues into their education systems through two tracks by:

  • implementing the education components of the Climate Convention and Paris Agreement and making climate action a core curriculum component, and
  • policy support, technical advice and capacity development in support of the UN-Water Global Acceleration Framework for SDG 6.

In parallel, UNESCO supports Youth engagement through dedicated networks, and is setting up the Youth-UNESCO Climate Action Network (YoU-CAN).


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Image: from let to right: Laurent Fabius, President of COP21 and President of the French Constitutional Council; Shamila Nair-Bedouelle, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences; and Alok Sharma, President of COP26, at UNESCO headquarters in Paris on 12 october 2021.
© UNESCO/Christelle ALIX