Europe ‘unprepared’ for climate risks, AI threats to climate change, greening public spending, and more

By on 21/03/2024 | Updated on 21/03/2024
Image: Anasmeister on Unsplash (Athens wildfires, 2021)

Welcome to a new Global Government Forum newsletter looking at how governments around the world are working to achieve greater sustainability and meet climate targets at a time when this has never been more critical.

We hope you enjoy this first edition, and please look out for more leading analysis of the work of governments around the world in future GGF newsletters.

And please share your thoughts, projects and news stories with our editorial team.

Europe ‘unprepared’ for rapidly growing climate risks

Europe’s policies and adaptation actions are not keeping pace with rapidly growing climate risks, according to a new report. A separate report concluded that the UK’s adaptation plans are also ‘falling short’.

Heat is on: Europe is the fastest-warming continent in the world, and climate risks are threatening its energy and food security, ecosystems, infrastructure, water resources, financial stability, and people’s health, according to a new assessment published by the European Environment Agency (EEA).

Crisis point: The report notes that while national climate risk assessments are increasingly used to inform adaptation policy development, implementation is “lagging behind” the rapid increase in risk levels. The analysis finds that many of these risks have already reached “critical levels” and could become “catastrophic” without urgent and decisive action. Acting now is especially important as many climate resilience policies have “long lead times”.

Risk zones: The report identifies regions that are ‘hotspots’ for multiple climate risks. Southern Europe is particularly at risk from wildfires and the impacts of heat and water scarcity on agricultural production, outdoor work and human health. Flooding, erosion and saltwater intrusion threaten Europe’s low-lying coastal regions, including many densely populated cities.

No more time to lose: “Europe faces urgent climate risks that are growing faster than our societal preparedness,” said Leena Ylä-Mononen, EEA executive director. “To ensure the resilience of our societies, European and national policymakers must act now to reduce climate risks both by rapid emission cuts and by strong adaptation policies and actions.”

Government collaboration needed: The EEA said most major climate risks identified in the report are considered ‘co-owned’ by the EU, its member states or other government levels. Therefore, the report stresses the need for co-operation and the involvement of regional and local levels. 

UK risks: Meanwhile, a separate report from the Climate Change Committee (CCC) found that the UK’s plans for climate adaptation are also “falling short” of what is needed. The CCC examined the national adaptation programme published by ministers last July, setting out how people and infrastructure could be protected from the increasing extreme weather resulting from climate change. The programme improved on previous versions but the UK’s current approach to adaptation is “not working”, the CCC said.

Make adaptation a priority: The report pinpoints critical issues to be resolved. On governance, it said the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs had failed to make adaptation a priority and it is not resourced adequately, particularly in local government. The government has also not funded adaptation efforts sufficiently, or provided the incentives for private sector investment, the CCC said, noting that in addition, better monitoring and evaluation is needed.

Integrating climate action and government budgeting focuses minds, say European leaders

During a recent Global Government Forum webinar, senior representatives from Sweden, Estonia and the European Commission discussed attracting green investment and how sustainability can be embedded in government spending decisions.

In the loop: Mattias Frumerie, climate ambassador and head of the delegation to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Sweden’s Ministry of Climate and Enterprise, emphasised the importance of the “positive feedback loop” that policy, technology and finance have on one another in climate reform. Crucially, he said that Sweden has begun to implement climate action in the budget-setting process. Any proposal that is presented to the Ministry of Finance must include impact analyses that look at the job growth, gender and climate impacts. He said this is a “way of sensitising ourselves – not only us within the Ministry of Climate and Enterprise, but also across ministries” to consider how a particular budget proposal impacts climate.

Economy meets environment in Estonia: The ‘Estonia 2035’ development strategy document is a parliament-adopted initiative that resulted from the ideas and collaboration of 70,000 Estonians. Since its passage in October 2020, Estonia 2035 has facilitated developments across five key principles: people, society, economy, living environment and governance. Eili Lepik, head of the green reform department in Estonia’s Ministry of Finance, said it is the first collaboration between environmental and economic sectors to aim for a “socially responsible target – that the economy not only should be strong and innovative, but it should be also responsible toward people and toward environments”.

‘Difficult facts’: Alessandra Sgobbi, head of unit for international affairs and climate finance and directorate-general for climate action in the European Commission, highlighted the importance of openness and transparency in order to gain public support for climate policies. “What is needed from governments is to not hide some of the difficult facts,” she said, noting that while climate policies will change the livelihoods of some, there should be policies that not only soften the negative impacts, but also ensure constituents understand the end goals.

Watch in full: The ‘Making green the colour of government money: how to fund net zero’ can be viewed in full here.

AI and climate: friends or foes?

While artificial intelligence has been touted as an important tool in addressing the climate crisis – from reducing traffic emissions and monitoring melting icebergs to tracking pollution and mapping deforestation – a new report from a coalition of environmental organisations also highlights the climate risks that AI poses. These are important considerations for policymakers who are considering both the adoption of AI internally and the wider rules governing its use.

Who’s it by? Climate Action Against Disinformation (CAAD) is a coalition of over 50 climate and anti-disinformation organisations including Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Kairos Fellowship and Global Action Plan.

What does it say? The ‘AI Threats to Climate Change’report highlights issues such as AI’s role in rising energy and water use and how generative AI could increase the spread of climate disinformation. For example, the report cites estimates from the International Energy Agency that on an industry-wide level, energy use from data centres that power AI will double in just the next two years, consuming as much energy as Japan. These data centres and AI systems also use large amounts of water in operations and are often located in areas that already face water shortages, it says.

Now what? CAAD has outlined three priority recommendations for tech companies and regulators to implement, including:

  • Transparency: Companies must report on energy use and emissions produced, assess environmental and social justice implications of developing their technologies and explain how their AI models produce information.
  • Safety: Companies must demonstrate that their products are safe for people and the environment and explain how their algorithms are safeguarded against discrimination, bias and disinformation. Governments must develop common standards on AI safety reporting and work with the International Panel on Climate Change to develop coordinated global oversight.
  • Accountability: Governments should enforce rules on investigating and mitigating the climate impacts of AI with clear, strong penalties for non-compliance. Companies and their executives must be held accountable for any harms that occur as a result of their products.

Threat multiplier: “The skyrocketing use of electricity and water, combined with its ability to rapidly spread disinformation, makes AI one of the greatest emerging climate threat-multipliers,” said Charlie Cray, senior strategist at Greenpeace USA. “Governments and companies must stop pretending that increasing equipment efficiencies and directing AI tools towards weather disaster responses are enough to mitigate AI’s contribution to the climate emergency.”

Australia releases first national climate risk assessment

The Australian government has released the first phase of the National Climate Risk Assessment and a consultation paper seeking input on how Australia can best prepare for and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

11 priorities: The first phase report identifies 56 nationally significant climate risks facing Australia. Eleven risks have been assessed as priorities and will be examined in the second phase of work. These cover the natural environment; primary industries and food; regional and remote communities; health and social support; infrastructure; defence and national security; communities and settlement; water security; supply chains; economy, trade and finance; and governance. For example, the report highlights risks to emergency services, critical infrastructure and food supplies and highlights the dangers of new communicable diseases as well as impacts on financial systems and household budgets.

Public consultation: The government has also released a public consultation paper to inform the development of a National Adaptation Plan. The plan will establish a comprehensive framework for adapting to climate risks identified in the National Climate Risk Assessment.

Big and small challenges: Assistant minister for climate change and energy, Jenny McAllister, said: “Australians know that the climate has changed. They feel it on hotter days and experience it in extreme weather events which occur more frequently. This work will help us better prepare for the small and big challenges that climate change brings.”

Next steps: The final stage of the two-phase risk assessment process will deliver a more detailed analysis of the 11 priority risks by the end of 2024, to inform the National Adaptation Plan.

Upcoming webinar – ‘An equitable path to net zero: economic transformations and just transitions’

27 June, 2024: Register now

As part of the Global Government Leaders’ Forum, during this webinar a panel of civil servants will explore how governments can build and maintain public support for the green transition. It will address issues such as how to enable a green transition while tackling poverty, how workforces and businesses in carbon-intensive industries can be supported to find new forms of income, and how public bodies can decarbonise their own operations.

And finally: Five minutes with Jeremy Pocklington, the UK’s energy security and net zero permanent secretary

Jeremy Pocklington, permanent secretary in the UK’s Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, discusses new business models for green investment, technology and the future of the civil service, and more.

Read the interview

Thanks for reading this first Global Government Forum sustainability newsletter. We’d love to hear about sustainability projects you are working on that you’d like to share with your peers. Please get in touch with the team.

About Sarah Wray

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *