Mongabay Features

How to turn climate ambitions into reality: Q&A with Nigel Topping

2020 was supposed to be a landmark year for taking stock on climate and biodiversity commitments and determining how societies move forward to address the world’s most pressing problems. Instead, the COVID-19 pandemic intervened, leading to the postponement or cancellation of many events, including the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), which was pushed back a full year.

But while COP26’s delay may have stalled government to government negotiations at national levels, it didn’t prevent the event’s organizers and stakeholders from advancing efforts to address climate change, including the push to connect government targets with initiatives by sub-national governments, cities, companies, and civil society groups. To lead on this latter front, the host governments of COP25 and COP26 appointed Gonzalo Munoz and Nigel Topping as High Level Climate Action Champions for the upcoming conference. This means Munoz and Topping are charged with rallying concrete action on climate by “non-state actors”.

“Our role is quite literally to champion the ambition and actions taken by non-state actors in addressing climate change,” Topping told Mongabay during a January 2021 interview. “This means that Gonzalo and I work with partners across the world – cities, states and regions, businesses, investors, and civil society groups – to raise the awareness of, ambition for, and levels of action being taken to address climate change.”

Topping, who became the U.K. High Level Climate Action Champion in early 2020, has a lot of experience working at the nexus between business and climate policy. From the mid-2000s to 2014, he worked at the Carbon Disclosure Project (now CDP), which helped companies determine and disclose their greenhouse gas emissions, before joining the We Mean Business coalition as CEO, where he worked with the some of world’s largest and most influential businesses to take action on climate change.

Nigel Topping
Nigel Topping

In his new role, Topping started working with the Marrakech Partnership — “a global alliance of more than 320 major initiatives and coalitions” — to roll out the Climate Action Pathways, a set of milestones that aim to achieve the goals of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

“These set out the near- and long-term milestones for limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5°C in key sectors of the global economy,” Topping said. “Collectively, they provide a blueprint to coordinate climate ambition among cities, regions, businesses and investors in the run up to COP26 in Glasgow in November 2021.”

He’s also working with the Science Based Targets Network, which translates science into specific action-oriented guidance for cities and companies, and played a central role in the launch of the 1.5°C Business Playbook, which lays out a framework for enterprises to accelerate the transition to a zero carbon economy. He says there is plenty of evidence showing the transition to a zero carbon economy will be beneficial both to people and the planet.

“Research has shown again and again that tackling climate change will enable us to create millions of good, sustainable jobs, prevent premature deaths by tackling air pollution – saving billions in health costs as a result – as well as helping to conserve our natural environment,” he said.

For that reason, he believes the transition to a new economy should be something that bridges the current political divides around some environmental issues.

“Environmental issues are not polarizing when we instead see them as human issues, affecting our health, our finances, our families. We need to better communicate how these issues impact each and every individual, which is why we need everyone – from government, businesses, and civil society – to work together in new and ambitious ways, and I think that includes across the political divide as well,” he said.

“These are not – or rather should not – be partisan issues, but key social benefits that we can all work towards together. We may all disagree about how we want to get there, but I think we can agree that a healthy, resilient, net zero future is where we should be headed. And that’s a good starting point.”

Topping spoke about these issues and more during a conversation with Mongabay Founder Rhett A. Butler.


By Rhett Ayers Butler

Rhett Ayers Butler is the Founder and CEO of Mongabay, a non-profit conservation and environmental science news platform. He started Mongabay in 1999 with the mission of raising interest in and appreciation of wild lands and wildlife.