Mark Watts

Race to Zero drives three times more climate action 

Over the last few years we have all witnessed the impacts of the climate crisis rapidly gathering pace. No region of the world has been left untouched by floods, storms, droughts, wildfires and heatwaves, as average global temperature rise surpasses 1.1°C and emissions continue to trend upwards. Temperatures have never risen or fallen by more than 0.5°C in the one million years since humans began to evolve from monkeys. The best scientific evidence shows we can’t risk temperature rise going beyond 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels without risking irretrievable eco-system collapses, and we need to halve global emissions by 2030 to remain under. Currently we see nothing like the level of action we need from national governments or big business. 

We need world governments to go much, much, further, but it also makes the work of non-state actors so much more vital.  

At C40, we make it a requirement of membership that every member city must have a robust plan in place to achieve its fair share of halving global emissions by 2030 and do its part to achieve this target. These criteria have been recognised by the United Nations – its High Level Expert Group, which was set up to set standards in net zero policies, reviewed the evidence and said that climate plans must include deep cuts in emissions before 2030. 

It is our experience that setting a goal and making a plan concentrates action, and our data shows that cities are three times more likely to be taking the necessary steps to cut emissions if they have targets and a plan in place. A recent analysis found that high impact actions in C40 cities, such as reducing traffic, procuring zero-emission buses and regulating to achieve zero-carbon buildings, have more than tripled in the last ten years. 

At C40, we don’t set these targets because it is easy – our analysis found that, despite the remarkable achievements of our cities, we still need to triple high impact actions to achieve our goals – we do it because the science demands urgent, large-scale action to prevent runaway climate breakdown and because we are building a future that we would all like to live in. A greener, more equitable and healthier future for all.  

It’s also because the single best way to attract public and private investment for climate projects is to put in place strong, clear regulation and policy. Setting targets and a plan to achieve them sets a clear direction of travel and helps to shape markets.  

We also firmly believe that you can’t talk about climate action without talking about equity. It is the countries of the Global North – USA, Canada, Europe, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan – who bear historical responsibility for 92% of the excess emissions that passed the safe planetary boundary of 350 ppm carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, while those in the countries of the Global South that are suffering the most from rising temperatures. The same is true within most countries – a small percentage of the wealthiest contribute the lion’s-share of emissions through very high levels of consumption, but it is the least well-off who live in areas with the highest air pollution and poorly insulated homes. Climate action, therefore, is about justice. 

C40’s experience demonstrates the power of collaboration. Raising ambition and working together towards shared goals makes it possible for a collective to achieve something greater than the sum of its parts. That is why Race to Zero represents such a beacon of hope globally – uniting with others helps everyone move at the speed of the fastest. We have seen this approach succeed in Denmark, and Race to Zero Cymru takes much of its inspiration from that. I’m delighted now to see it take off in Wales, and look forward to seeing what will be achieved through working together towards a brighter future for all.