Positive measures required for climate related challenges

Published : 03 Aug 2021 09:19 PM | Updated : 04 Aug 2021 12:22 AM

The United Nations Frame­work Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) launched its ‘Climate Action: NDC Scorecard’ on February 26 aimed at assessing countries’ progress in meeting climate mitigation, adaptation and financing goals. This has been 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 percent 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.

As evidenced by the recent fires and floods, the disasters are 

getting stronger. This makes it clear that governments need 

to re-strategize and develop immediate climate mitigation 

and adaptation actions that can be achievable in shorter timeframes

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. 

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 in February 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.”

We need to understand that conserving nature is not only being seen as an ecological and moral term, but also as 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 not only in economic development but also balanced preservation of the Amazon forest. This has now led Brazil to implement innovative public policy to balance nature conservation and the promotion of sustainable development.

In the meantime the European Commission has unveiled an ambitious plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent 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 introduces 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 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 incentivizes 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, aluminium, concrete and fertilizer.

The media has reported that the EU’s sustainable finance strategy is based on a pragmatic realization 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. The Ministers only recognized “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, if Ministers fail, it will be nearly impossible to see how COP26 can possibly deliver on its stated mission of keeping the 1.5-degree goal alive”.

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. 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-strategize and develop immediate climate mitigation and adaptation actions that can be achievable in shorter timeframes. Alongside re-strategizing, 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.