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Kim Campbell on Reducing the Risk of Climate Overshoot

The overarching commitment of the Paris Agreement in 2015 was to limit global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. However, missing this target is increasingly possible. This probability inspired the formation of the Climate Overshoot Commission, an independent group of global leaders, who, in a September 2023 report, are uniquely targeting strategies to reduce risks should global warming targets be exceeded. The Commission, made up of former heads of government, ministers, academic experts, and directors of intergovernmental organizations and environmental groups, met for the first time at a convening at the Bellagio Center in June 2022.

Kim Campbell is one of the 13 commissioners. She is a politician, diplomat, lawyer, and writer who served as the 19th Prime Minister of Canada in 1993. She is a Founding Member of the Club de Madrid and the Council of Women World Leaders, and has also served as Global President of the International Women’s Forum and founding principal of the Peter Lougheed Leadership College at the University of Alberta.

How is your work helping to address the climate crisis?

The Climate Overshoot Commission exists in order to keep the 1.5C objective of the Paris Agreement alive. But overshoot is looming, and warming is projected to look closer to 2.7C by the end of the century. If this is the case – and considering the significant impacts of global warming we’re already facing at around 1.1C – there will be ever more devastating consequences, from climate mobility to food insecurity.

Countries can unilaterally start deploying their own responses to these crises but, as we saw during Covid-19, we really have to think on the scale of global governance in order to avoid negative consequences for neighboring or lower-income countries. The Commission exists because the international community needs to be prepared to act in a coordinated way, taking into account human and non-human life on the planet.

Because of this, the Commission has come together to ask, “What are our options to prevent overshoot, or at least minimize the risks?” In our report, we recommend incentives that will advance mitigation efforts across the world. As our chair Pascal Lamy would say, we have left no stone unturned in this research. We’ve looked into policy solutions, such as incentivizing carbon dioxide removal; technological solutions, including the inherent risks and potential benefits of solar radiation management; and natural solutions like biochar. But the report also considers the responsibilities of the polluters from the fossil fuel industry.

We are uniquely placed to put our recommendations right on the tables of the decision makers. The report has been launched ahead of the U.N. Climate Ambition Summit and the sequence of climate debates leading up to COP28 in Dubai. This is important because the Commission is a policy influence tool and a door opener – we are opening up the discussion about overshoot at the very highest levels, which will allow groups with specialized technical expertise to have an easier way forward.

  • Because of this, the Commission has come together to ask, “What are our options to prevent overshoot, or at least minimize the risks?
    Kim Campbell

What breakthroughs need to happen for us to both avoid the worst impacts of climate change and prepare communities to adapt to the new challenges that will arise?

We can’t give in to an inevitably hotter world. Every 0.1C matters. The global climate impact at 1.5C warming would mean a sea-level rise in 2100 of 40cm, and at 2C that increases to 50cm. Aside from informing ourselves about the issue and paying attention, I think we all can, first of all, focus on reducing our own carbon footprint as much as we can. But as citizens we should also encourage our governments to promote thoughtful innovation, such as light-colored paving stones in urban areas to reduce heat accumulation, or policies that redirect employment into green economy industries.

Year-on-year since the 2015 Paris Agreement, the reduction of emissions hasn’t been at the right level, and so for every year since, the challenge has continued to grow. Taking into account the emissions today, there is already such a stock of carbon in the air it will have an effect for the next 100 or 200 years, and it will particularly affect those in low- and middle-income countries. Removing this carbon remains the highest priority, but in doing so, COP28 must put affected communities at the heart of its negotiations. There need to be discussions on how to build a stronger framework to support the countries that most suffer from the consequences of the climate crisis.

  • There need to be discussions on how to build a stronger framework to support the countries that suffer most from the consequences of the climate crisis.
    Kim Campbell

What keeps you up at night about achieving these goals? What makes you optimistic?

Climate overshoot is a dramatic signal of our collective failure to act. The political significance of this is hard to predict: it may be seen as a terrible defeat, or it may encourage people to redouble their efforts to try and achieve 1.5C. But I’m most worried that the global appetite for risk may change. As the dangers linked to increasing temperatures continue to build, people may decide to bet on new, unproven Earth-cooling technologies rather than choose the slower path of further research.

But I’m hopeful that the Commission’s report will clarify these risks and contribute to a productive dialogue within the international community. The issue of climate change is so big, and expertise is so siloed. This is a world-threatening issue, and each nation is looking into their own mandate. But the Commission is looking at the risks of overshoot across the spectrum, be it on climate mobility, health, governance, or irreversible changes.

The report is asking us to do everything we can to be ready. It asks us to not just think about the present, but to also prepare for the big existential risks of overshoot, and to open the debate at the highest levels of collaboration now. Hopefully we can keep to 1.5C, but if we can’t, this report will contribute to limiting overshoot in time. And the more efforts we make, the more we can come back under the Paris Agreement objective.

Learn more: For more information, visit the September 2023 report, read about the Commission’s work via the Paris Peace Forum, or learn about its first meeting at the Bellagio Center in 2022. You can also find out more about the Paris Agreement.

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