1,750 institutions to contribute to Global Climate Hub

An estimated 1,750 global institutional members of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (UN SDSN), including universities and research centres, are to contribute expertise to a Global Climate Hub set up earlier this year.

Phoebe Koundouri, a professor at the Athens University of Economics and Business, reminded delegates of the hub and its importance during a high-level session on systems change and climate and sustainability innovations, which was hosted by the United Nations Climate Change Global Innovation Hub at COP27, taking place in Egypt until 18 November.

The Global Climate Hub was launched in July 2022 during a pre-COP27 event at the Academy of Athens in Greece.

The host institutions of the Global Climate Hub are the Athens University of Economics and Business and the Athena Research and Innovation Center in Information Communication and Knowledge Technologies, both of which belong to the Alliance of Excellence for Research and Innovation on Aephoria (AE4RIA).

Koundouri, who is also the chair of the UN SDSN, said the Global Climate Hub aimed at identifying pathways for climate neutrality and resilience in a systematic context where there are multiple crises, for instance, the collapse of biodiversity, as well as economic and geo-political crises.

It is focusing on providing science-driven support to governments and relevant stakeholders across the world, she pointed out at a round table discussion.

“Our goal is to mobilise the implementation of the announced pledges [the Paris Agreement and Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs] all over the globe in order to reach the 1.5 degrees [Celsius reduction in global temperatures stipulated under the Paris Agreement] within the time limit given and to support the Sustainable Development Goal [SDG] targets in very explicit ways.”

The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2022 which was collated by the UN SDSN has shown slow progress and low performance by nations across the globe in the past two years, particularly in the area of climate action. This is set to have major implications on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals projections.

The climate hub will use extensive data, knowledge and technologies provided by experts in various fields such as machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to develop country-specific action plans to be adopted and reinforced through nine different units which stem from the SDGs.

Nine work units

The Global Climate Hub will operate through nine units which include climate data platforms and digital applications, atmospheric physics and climatology, climate and energy modelling, climate, land use, water-food-energy biodiversity nexus modelling, and climate and health.

The units will also include innovation acceleration for climate neutrality and resilience, just transition.

During the presentation, Koundouri mentioned that each unit will have a specific mission and role. For example, the goal of the climate data platforms and digital applications is to better understand the science, technology and innovation landscape for climate by monitoring relevant climate research activities at global scale.

Through AI-driven infrastructure, the unit will also integrate scholarly communication sources and combine data from the global research ecosystems into indicators which will be fed into the Open Science Observatory.

“At the moment there is an existing basis that gathers and saves research papers, policy papers, raw data, analysed data and results on the different SDGs which is a solid base we will build on,” she said.

Contributors from the Inter-governmental Panel for Climate Change will support the atmospheric physics and climatology unit, which focuses on understanding climate fluctuations and analysing methods and multiple lines of evidence, focused on improving the human influence on a range of climate variables including extreme weather events.

The innovation acceleration for climate neutrality and resilience unit will work in partnership with the UN Global Innovation Hub and Uni-Fund, which has membership of Greek universities, research and development as well as technology start-ups.

Climate financing needed

During the round-table discussion, panellists exchanged perspectives on the importance of innovation for the climate neutrality transition and how various systems influence research and innovation on a wider scale.

The panellists agreed that innovation is crucial but must be supported by innovative policies, businesses and financial models.

Rachel Kyte, the dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in the United States, stated that, despite the punishing scientific reports on climate change, the annual report from the Systems Change Lab by the World Resources Institute had shown that there are changes in key areas such as technological innovations sectors.

She added that the policy environment and financial systems needed to be aligned to provide room for growth, which could feed into the technology-driven transition to climate neutrality.

“At [the] Fletcher school, we do a lot of research on innovation and climate, we also have a climate policy lab and we have countries and private companies coming for help. Institutions need to understand which policy instruments to use and in what order to speed up the pace of the adoption of technology to achieve exponential growth.

“We need exponential growth in key areas – for example, renewable energy in every market across the world at the same time. We have seen that innovation is happening, being taken up and having an impact.

“We need a fast pace of adoption everywhere, the policy know-how and a lot of support. However, the financial system is actually dragging us back at the moment and not pushing us forward,” she said.

Koundouri added that, while many financial institutions were moving towards climate action and green projects, the challenge was to translate this support into the reality which aids climate action.

During COP26, 450 financial institutions from 45 countries had pledged US$130 billion to back climate action.

“To avoid greenwashing, we need to find ways to develop financial tools, instruments and frameworks that can really support the clean resilient transition, and it is not just about financing technology,” Koundouri said.

Green jobs and skills

Dr Eesa Mohammed Bastaki, the president of the University of Dubai and Chairman of the World Green Economy Organization (WGEO) Academia and Youth platform mentioned that, while there were some challenges in transitioning to clean energy, many financial institutions had started gearing [their actions] towards climate action and sustainable development approaches by investing in climate-proof projects.

Capacity building and strong leadership were critical to fast-track finance solutions and leaders of institutions needed to understand the consequences of climate change and how to tackle the problems in a systematic way.

In addition, he introduced the World Green Economy Report, recently published by the WGEO Academia and Youth platform, which stressed the importance of more green jobs and the urgent need for upskilling, re-skilling and social inclusion in the transition to sustainable economies.

“The financial landscape has started to change to accommodate the Paris Agreement goals but the pace of the change has been insufficient. The valuation and transition of climate-friendly investments needs to be smoother and data-informed. There is a need to build the capacities of investors to be able to have the metrics, the tools and policy-understanding to build climate friendly portfolios,” he said.

“Investing in the green transition should be paired with skills adjustments and making sure no one is left behind. A just transition still requires a lot of analysis and solutions to be effectively implemented across different sectors of the economy,” he added.