The Financial Express

More constructive steps needed for climate action

| Updated: August 06, 2021 20:13:38

More constructive steps needed for climate action

Projected reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are apparently falling short of what is required for achieving the targets of the Paris Agreement. This has led the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to launch its 'Climate Action: NDC Scorecard' on February 26. The report is supposed to assess countries' progress in meeting climate mitigation, adaptation and financing goals. This, according to Alison Kentish, is being done so that the NDC can assist nations to build resilience to climate change.  Those plans will subsequently be critical towards fulfilling the goals of the Paris Agreement, in particular-- the significant target of keeping global average temperatures well below 2 degrees celsius above the preindustrial levels.

The report has since indicated that "for limiting global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, carbon dioxide emissions need to decrease by about 25 per cent from the 2010 level by 2030 and reach net zero around 2070". It seems that "the estimated reductions fall far short of what is required." This has led climatologists to suggest that all Parties need to further strengthen their mitigation commitments under the Paris Agreement.

It is a fact that many countries have registered mitigation measures in industry, agriculture and waste as priorities to achieving their targets. Some have also resorted to another pillar of mitigation through the adoption of renewable energy generation. This has been undertaken to provide clean power to populations and also facilitate transition to more efficient modes of transport. In this context, Adaptation Plans are being prepared to be consistent with already agreed Sustainable Development Goals-- primarily related to food security, disaster risk management, coastal protection and poverty reduction. These measures have assumed significance within a matrix where the world is still fighting the Covid pandemic and trying its best to find a common recovery effort.

It is, however, important to note here that, as of now, despite efforts being undertaken in this regard, relevant data from some of the world's largest greenhouse gas emitters are absent from this report. This includes India, the United States and China.

It would also be pertinent to refer here to a comment made by Marco Lambertini, Director General at the World Wide Fund for Nature earlier this year following the Fifth Session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-5) convened by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) -- "we are currently witnessing a catastrophic decline in our planet's ecosystems and biodiversity, and an accelerating destabilization of the climate." He has also correctly underlined saying, "what is new is that this awareness is beginning to reach mainstream political, corporate and public debate and the narrative is also shifting. Conserving nature is not only being seen as an ecological and moral issue, but also an economic, development, health and equity issue. This is a true cultural revolution in our civilization." We need to remember that tackling environmental sustainability is one step towards reducing poverty and its different dimensions.

Interestingly, despite criticism from various environmental economists from different parts of the world regarding the manner in which Brazil is handling this problem, Marcus Henrique Morais Paranaguá, Brazil's Deputy Minister for Climate and International Relations has pointed out that Brazilians believe in not only in economic development but also balanced preservation of the Amazon forest. He has stressed that "the Amazon forest alone occupies 49 per cent of our territory and over 60 per cent of our territory is covered today with natural vegetation." This has now led "Brazil to implement innovative public policy to balance nature conservation and the promotion of sustainable development." Many have, however, refrained from accepting that the Brazil Administration is taking all the required steps associated with an equitable and nature-positive framework.

In the meantime the European Commission has unveiled an ambitious plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55 per cent from 1990 levels by 2030. EC President Ursula von der Leyen presented the EU's new climate policy with EU Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni beside her in Brussels, Belgium, in mid-July. This will involve sweeping new legislation aimed at turning green goals into concrete action. The proposals by the EU's executive branch, the European Commission, range from the de facto phasing out of gasoline and diesel cars by 2035 to new national limits on gases from heating buildings. It has been undertaken to become an example for the world's other big economies to follow. In this context Ursula von der Leyen has astutely stated that "the infernos and hurricanes we have seen over the last few weeks are only a very small window into what our future could look like." It is this probability that has persuaded Europe to be the first continent to declare to be climate neutral in 2050. Such an effort has obviously been treated with respect against the backdrop of dramatic weather events-- the recent flooding that has resulted in havoc and nearly 200 deaths in Germany, Netherlands and Belgium.

The European plan involves a do up of the bloc's emissions trading scheme under which companies will have to pay for carbon dioxide they emit and also introduce taxes on shipping and aviation fuels for the first time. The new legislation will involve about a dozen major proposals - most of them building on laws already in place to meet the EU's old goal of a 40 percent cut in gas emissions by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. It will however have to be endorsed by the 27 EU member States.

We need to recall that world leaders agreed in 2015 in Paris to keep the increase of global warming to below 2 degrees celsius (3.6 degrees fahrenheit), and ideally no more than 1.5 degrees C (2.7F) by the end of the century. Scientists and climatologists are however observing after the spate of wild forest fires in different parts of the world that both goals might be missed by a wide margin unless drastic steps are taken to begin cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

This is pertinent and appears to have led the EU to propose their latest measure. Von der Leyen has reflected on this by a clear statement-- "the principle is simple - emission of CO2 must have a price, a price on CO2 that incentivises consumers, producers and innovators to choose the clean technologies, to go toward the clean and sustainable products."  However, given the nature of the proposed legislation, it is quite possible that it will face anti-lobbying from different industrial conglomerates over the next few months. Such opposition will be most likely from member countries like coal-reliant Poland and nuclear-dependent France. They, in all likelihood, will try to subvert this effort by pointing out that imposition of duties on foreign companies will increase the price of certain goods - notably steel, aluminum, concrete and fertiliser.

The media has reported that the EU's sustainable finance strategy is based on a pragmatic realisation that the scale of investment required for achieving the desired goal will need a sustainable financial framework supported by private financial flows. They are hoping that harnessing of banks and markets will funnel hundreds of billions of Euros annually into sustainable investments and financial instruments.

EU authorities and the European Central Bank are expected to calibrate the right pace for the transition by setting intermediate targets for the financial sector. Such a framework will be pertinent for assessing the effect on pension funds, asset management and those who have become reliant on insurance. The European Commission has consequently confirmed that it will publish taxonomy rules later this year for agriculture, certain industries and possibly nuclear energy. It will also consider new legislation to support energy sources that could help cut emissions, including gas power plants.

As mentioned above, we have noticed some positive steps in terms of institutional thinking.

However, G 20 Ministers who met in the fourth week of July in Naples, Italy appear to have failed to agree on timetables needed to reach net-zero global emissions by 2050 and keep global warming at 1.5 degrees celsius. United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry was present in the meeting. This has been seen as another setback. Instead, the Ministers only recognised "the impacts of climate change at 1.5°C are much lower than at 2°C." That obviously was not enough. This all happened while flood battered Germany agreed to roll out a US Dollar 470 million relief package to those affected by the devastating floods in that country.

Strategic climate analyst Tom Evans has made a suitable comment-- "failure to agree a G-20 climate communique will be a stark warning for COP26- where Ministers have failed, it will be nearly impossible to see how COP26 can possibly deliver on its stated mission of keeping the 1.5-degree goal alive".

Those monitoring the evolving dimensions of climate change and the required measures for reducing the impact have highlighted the difficulty of reaching agreement on climate at the highest levels. They have observed that some countries have agreed to stop funding the use of coal overseas but have at the same time failed to halt its domestic use. Progress has been blocked by last-minute nerves, political tensions and a shortfall of funding.

Both the recent summit of G-7 leaders in London and that of the G-20 were seen as staging posts along the path to the Glasgow talks. However, time for a pro-active ambitious positive scenario appears to be receding and running out.

While the Biden Administration has taken some executive actions to tackle climate change at home and abroad, through upgrading and building infrastructure, and committing to halve US greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, we have not seen as yet any particular impact. Experts are stating that it will take possibly another nine years to halve greenhouse emissions. However, as evidenced by the recent fires and floods, the disasters are getting stronger. This makes it clear that governments need to re-strategise and develop immediate climate mitigation and adaptation actions that can be achievable in shorter timeframes. Alongside re-strategising, all government ministries and agencies and sectors also need to re-examine how vulnerable these sectors are to climate change.


Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance.

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