January 13, 2020

Stories to Watch 2020

The article below was built based on STORIES TO WATCH, an initiative by the WORLD RESOURCES INSTITUTE (WRI) that overviews trends, people and moments that will matter in the year to come.

This particular moment in time also marks the beginning of a new decade, following one where countless unprecedented events took place. Striking natural (and unnatural) disasters, from floods to draughts to fires occurred and, in the middle of it all, an incredible sense of the awake of a global collective action, that eventually faded away. (Will this be its decade, we ask?)

In this summary, WRI, through the voice of its President and CEO Andrew Steer, focuses on 8 stories, 3 of them about issues on which global decisions are expected to be taken throughout the year, and 5 about the different actors that need to work together in order to achieve the necessary progress. The focus? Collective action of the crossroads as the only path towards resolving the challenges we face as we start this new period that WRI characterizes as the “make it or break it decade”.

Here are the stories to watch:


The 3 issues are completely interconnected, as solving one would directly contribute to solving the other two:


Currently getting over heated, acidified, polluted and over-fished, to levels worse than expected. Furthermore, 2/3 of the oceans remain unregulated and unmanaged, and the targets that had been defined for 2020, such as ending illegal fishing, harmful fishing subsidies and protecting 10% of the ocean, are off track.

On this subject, the 2020 Ocean Summit this June, in Lisbon, along with the High Panel for a Sustainable Ocean, are key events to create a new narrative for the oceans, a stepping stone for a High Seas Agreement and to contribute to a more relevant role for the seas in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC’s) when in climate negotiations.


Over 1 million species threatened, 60% fewer animals than in 1960, and the AICHI targets (Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020) off track.

2020 Biodiversity COP, to take place in Kunming, China, will be fundamental in setting a new path. As new targets are expected, questions arise, such as if they will generate accountability, address issues such as footprint, geography and equitable sharing, and will governments commit to protecting 30% of land and sea?


The past decade has been the hottest on record, 2019 the second warmest year in history, and emissions are still rising when they should be declining.

Within this scenario, will countries make ambitious commitments? Though 73 countries have commited to go Net Zero, along with cities, businesses and investors, stay tuned for the enhanced National Climate Commitments (NCC) by 2030, aimed at short term goals for the evolution of this issue.

To watch now are the nature-based solutions, evolving rapidily on the international agenda, the adaption summit to take place in Amsterdam in October and how finance ministres role into the climate framework will evolve.


According to the WRI, for the 3 issues above to be solved the following actors need to act and, most of all, interact:


As G20, hosted by Saudi Arabia and G7, hosted by the US, are to take place though are not likely to be the stage to tackle the issues above, the question is who will lead? 79 Countries have commited to raise their ambitions before COP26, from the UK, to South Africa, though they only account for 10,5% of the emissions. So will major emitters stand up?

  • Will China, the world’s biggest emitter (23%), raise its ambition on Climate Change before Glasgow? Though the biggest invertor in renewables, its usage of coal is increasing as its economy is slowing down.
  • India, the world’s 4th emmiter, with outstanding levels of air pollution, though not addressing the issue directly, is working on renewables and electrical vehicles, showing nonetheless contracdictory measures on coal.
  • European Union (the 3rd emmitter) just announced its promissing Green Deal. Attention in 2020 will be on Germany’s change of leadership, on how EU will look without the UK and on the outcome of the China-EU Summit taking place in October.
  • And the US, the world’s 2nd emitter, whose president attact on environment continues (95 rollbacks) is (almost) compensated by 3.800 states, cities, businesses and so on, that together account for 68% of the DGP and 51% of the country’s emissions, that have commited to stay in the Paris agreement.

Despite federal drawbacks, in 2019, GHG emissions and coal generation in the US declined 2% and 18% respectively.

But the story to watch will be the policies as we go into the year and how will climate play in the primaries, as a new President of the United States will be elected the same week the COP26 is taking place.


The Finance sector worldwide is waking up to climate change, becoming its most recent advocate as major players are starting to get engaged in various ways. The impact of the cost of natural disasters to insurance companies (650 billions USD in the past 3 years), and more heavyweights (European and Asian) getting away from fossil fuels, are a few of the signs showing that this new key actor is taking action. Nevertheless, fossil fuel companies are still the biggest target for investment.

  • Will financial regulators push for more green, less brown, as issues such as risk weighting, disclosure and stress testing on climate related risks are discussed (Bank of England, for example, has already committed to the latter)?
  • Will development banks align portfolios with the Paris Agreement (some already are)?
  • Will Finance ministres, already talking with eachother and building working groups on carbon pricing and green fiscal policies, influence NDC’s and become an advocate for a low-carbon and resilient future?

DAVOS will meet next week, under the theme “Shareholder vs Stakeholder”, inviting companies to rethink what their purpose is, representing a big shift in the way businessess operate.

More 750 companies have committed to the Science Based Targets, which as a whole represents a commitment from these players to decarbonize throughout its entire value chain the equivalent of 4 GtCO2 (7% of global emissions) over the next 30 years. Will this number rise to 1000 before COP26?

New technologies and solutions arise but consumerism levels continue to drain natural resources at a pace 1.75 faster than the planet renews them. Furthermore, commitments regarding deforestation are also behind (5m hectares sacrificied for commodities each year).

  • Will more industries reach a tipping point? About 20% of companies in sectors such as Food & Beverage, Apparell, hospitality and IT & Telecom are already making a move towards more ambitious targets, but to watch this year is if other key industries, such as fossil fuels, cement, metals and aviation, will also take the leap.
  • Will companies go beyond Climate? Another story to watch is wether what science based targets mean for standard gas emissions, will do the same for water, oceans, biodiversity and land/forests.
    • Will trade associations change their ways? Various companies have, but trade associations haven’t followed the trend.
  • Technology moves fast, and both software and hardware solutions are to be watched
  • Will cities and companies electrify their fleets? China, for example, already has 96% of all the electric buses in the world and Latin America says it wants to be the next China. All together, these initiaves will bring prices down.
  • Is battery storage the next disruptor? Prices are falling, but not fast enough yet.
  • To watch also are the hard to abate sectors, from airlines to heavy weight transport. Efforts are already undergoing, that show that for 0.5 of global GDP, it is possible to decarbonize these sectors. China, again, is a good example of the work conducted on this matter. Stay tuned to Davos, as matters such as decarbonization of steal and ocean shipping will be discussed.
  • Next frontier? various technologies are currently being developed, from the first zero-emission gas power plant to the world’s largest direct air capture, to the hydrogen economy.8. WILL PEOPLE TURN THE TIDE?

People power has been playing a role for decades, particularly in 70’s, influencing various acts, and now more than ever.

Growing Social movements, from Fridays for future to Green New Deal, are growing across the world, culminating in 7m people, inspired by Greta Thunberg, marching in 185 countries. Indigenous people are standing together, workers are joining the Climate Movement, and even trade unions are acknowledging this matter. All this as the 50th Earth Day is celebrated. But all this is happening within a time of social unrest, as inequality and climate change crisis go hand in hand.

So here are the stories to watch on this matter?

  • Will civil space, shrinking in some countries, be protected?
  • Will climate plans address just transition?
  • How will governments respond? EU, Argentina, Bangladesh, Canada and the UK have declared, among others, climate emergencies. Some of these, like the UK, have placed legislation to back it up.
  • Will activism lead to political change?

To finish stories to watch 2020, WRI reinforces the importance of collective action. For us to embark on a successful decade, for the issues above to be addressed, we need an ambition loop, where actors influence each other, thus causing a positive tipping point.

And so the ultimate shift for 2020 will be in this fundamental question: from are we doing better to are we doing enough?


Watch the whole video in the link below:


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