ESG Essentials for Corporates #5: Key political climate initiatives

A Green Alliance survey about how members of the UK parliament understand and respond to climate change found that there are practical, procedural and psychological difficulties in responding to climate change, as large-scale, long-term challenges do not fit well with the daily practice of politics[1].

This article outlines the key milestones of achieving a common, global climate change and sustainability approach, and it looks in more detail at climate action organisations and networks that offer support to the public and the private sector on their journey to becoming low-carbon enterprises. 

Jargon buster

WMO: The World Meteorological Organization is the United Nations’ specialist agency for meteorology (weather and climate), operational hydrology and related geophysical sciences.

UNEP: The United Nations Environment Programme is the leading global environmental authority that sets the global environmental agenda and promotes the implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development within the UN.

IPCC: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a committee of climatologists, meteorologists, geographers and other scientists, established in 1988 by the WMO and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to assess the science related to climate change.

UNFCCC: The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is an international environmental treaty negotiated at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992. Its objective is to "stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system." 

COP: The Conference of the Parties is the decision-making body responsible for monitoring and reviewing the implementation of the UNFCC

GCF: The Green Climate Fund, set-up by the UNFCCC in 2010, is the world’s largest dedicated fund helping developing countries reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

NDCs: The Nationally Determined Contributions are at the heart of the Paris Agreement and represent what each country is contributing to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Tackling climate change – a globally organised task

Despite scientists first discovering the climate-changing effect of human-produced GHGs in the 1860s it still took more than a century for scientific concerns to grow loud enough for governments to take notice in the 1980s. A first step towards a concerted effort marked the decision of the WMO and the UNEP to set up the IPCC in 1988 to investigate scientific evidence on climate change and its impact with a view to formulate realistic response strategies[2].  

The first IPCC Assessment Report in 1990 underlined the need for international cooperation to tackle climate change and its consequences and ultimately lead to the UNFCCC in 1992, the first key international treaty to reduce global warming.  

To support the global response to the threat of climate change the UNFCCC included the commitment to facilitate between two to four intergovernmental climate change negotiations each year; the largest, with around 25,000 participants, and most important event is the Conference of the Parties (COP), held annually and hosted in different locations around the globe. Over the years, the COPs have gained global reputation due to the fact that they are the only climate forums in which the voices of the poorest countries carry equal weight to that of the wealthiest economies[3].  

Five years later the Kyoto Protocol was adopted as the first addition to the UNFCCC, committing most of the UNFCCC signatories to mandatory emission-reduction targets, which varied depending on the unique circumstances of each country. However, not all UNFCCC members were required to restrict their emission; one of the flaws of the protocol as critics pointed out. They also were sceptical about the impact of those measures due the fact that China and the US, the world’s top two emitters of greenhouse gases, were not bound by the protocol – China because of its status as a developing country then and now, and the US because it didn’t ratify the protocol.

Acknowledging its limitations, delegates at the COP18 in Doha in 2012 agreed to not only extend the Kyoto Protocol until 2020 but, more importantly, to create a new climate treaty by 2015.

2015 a breakthrough year for climate action

Indeed, 2015 saw a breakthrough in international policy shaping around sustainability and climate action. In Paris on 12 December, the 197 UNFCCC parties reached a landmark deal with the Paris Agreement, designed “to combat climate change and accelerate and intensify the actions and investments needed for a sustainable low carbon future”[4], effectively replacing the Kyoto Protocol.

Two years prior, the UNFCCC had already taken steps to enhance the ability of developing countries to adequately respond to climate change by setting up the Green Climate Fund (GCF), which channels climate finance to developing countries, and therefore putting poorer nations in a position to equally commit to the Paris Agreement as developed countries.  

The Paris Agreement marks the most comprehensive and binding initiative, instructing all signatories to put forward their best efforts – the so-called nationally determined contributions (NDCs) – to keep the global temperature rise this century well below 2oC above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5oC. To achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, the UNFCCC supports a complex architecture of management and governing bodies.

The signatories of the Paris Agreement also committed in article 2.1c to “making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development”[5], or, simply speaking, aligning finance in order to support climate action.  It marked the first time that the UNFCCC set a goal reflecting the need for greener finance, sending a clear message that all finance, public and private, has to be supportive of, and not undermine, the transition to a low-carbon society[6].

Thereupon, the Group of 20 (G20) launched a Green Finance Study Group (GFSG) one year later to “identify institutional and market barriers to green finance, and based on country experiences, develop options on how to enhance the ability of the financial system to mobilise private capital for green investment.”[7] The Group’s synthesis report suggests a number of measures – for voluntary adoption by the G20 countries – to enhance the ability of the financial system to mobilise private capital for green investment. These include amongst others:

  • Promoting and implementing voluntary principles for sustainable banking, responsible investment and green finance
  • Mobilising support for the expansion of platforms such as the Sustainable Banking Network (SBN), the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), as well as other international and domestic green finance initiatives. These capacity-building platforms could be expanded to cover more countries and financial institutions.
  • Supporting the development of local green bond markets and green bond guidelines and disclosure requirements with the help of development banks, specialised market bodies and the private sector.
  • Promoting cross-border investment in green bonds, including through bilateral collaboration between different green bond markets.

In 2018, the Sustainable Finance Study Group (SFSG) replaced the GFSG, continuing the work of its predecessor, but widening its scope to the broader concept of sustainable finance, which goes beyond financing and includes “related institutional and market arrangements that contribute to the achievement of strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth, through supporting directly and indirectly the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”[8]

Measuring climate action progress

Without reliable and robust measurements, it would be impossible to judge the progress of all 194 Paris Agreement country signatories, and to take stock of the achievements across the 169 indicators for the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Therefore the governments committed in the Paris Agreement to outlining the steps they’re taking to limit global warming, known as the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). At COP 24 in 2018 in Katowice, the governments also agreed on a framework for a regular tracking progress. To maintain momentum and showcase progress in climate action despite the COVID-19 pandemic a series of virtual events about the NDGs took place at the beginning of June 2020.

Climate networks foster concerted action

Transitioning to a low-carbon society requires work and input on all levels; globally, as well as on national, regional and local levels. No country, no city and no business can ‘go it alone’. Also, with time running out, top-down and bottom-up processes have to happen simultaneously: businesses need to share how their operations can be transformed into zero-emissions operations, and governments need to set policies, provide financial stimuli and other support to the public and private sector.

While the UNFCCC and the IPCC provide the platforms for governments to coordinate their efforts, a large number of climate change networks aiming at different target groups have emerged to support with research and advice and to allow an easy dialogue and sharing of ideas between stakeholders facing similar challenges. 

Key climate action organisations and networks include:

Central banks


Established in December 2017, the Network of Central Banks and Supervisors for Greening the Financial System helps to enhance the role of the financial system to manage risks and to mobilise capital for green and low-carbon investments.


The UN Global Compact

The United Nations Global Compact supports companies that are committed to responsible business practices and promotes activities that contribute to the sustainable development goals. It has more than 8,000 business and 4,000 non-business members worldwide.


The UK Climate Impacts programme is the key UK organisation providing research and consultancy free of charge for organisations, businesses and whole sectors to help them adapt to the changing climate.

Climate Knowledge and Innovation Community (Climate-KIC)

Supported by the European Institute of Innovation and TechnologyClimate-KIC brings together over 370 global partners from business, academia, the public and non-profit sectors to innovate and bring to market products, services and systems that help mitigate climate change.

The Climate Group

The Climate Group brings together networks of businesses and governments and acts as a catalyst to take innovation and solutions to scale.

Cities, local governments and NGOs

Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy

The largest global alliance for cities taking climate action, it brings together over 10,000 cities and local governments sharing action plans and expertise. https://www.globalcovenantofmayors.org

C40 Cities

C40 is a network of the world’s 94 megacities committed to addressing climate change by collaborating effectively, sharing knowledge and drive sustainable action.

The Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI)

ICLEI brings together more than 1,750 local and regional governments across the globe committed to sustainable urban development.

Climate Action Network (CAN)

CAN is a worldwide network of over 1,300 Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in over 120 countries working to promote government and individual action to combat climate change.

Corporate clients who would like to discuss this topic further should contact: Varun Sarda, Head of ESG Advisory.

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