Five years ago this week, the gavel came down on the Paris Agreement – a landmark deal to combat climate change – after the global community reached a monumental consensus on how to move forward on the issue, after decades of tough negotiation.
This historic moment may never have happened if not for the determination and leadership from countries in Asia and the Pacific. At that time, China and the United States presented a joint climate agreement that spurred ambition from other large economies. The Philippines, with the Climate Vulnerable Forum of 43 countries, led the drive for a 1.5 degree target in the final agreement. India announced a trillion-dollar solar power initiative with France. Pacific nations were a moral lodestar for the conference, urging other countries to aim higher.
Asia-Pacific countries have a central role to play in climate actions as they are facing daunting adaptation challenges and can also significantly contribute to climate mitigation at the global level.
Every year, the region is heavily impacted by climate related disasters. With rising temperatures altering global weather patterns, climate change has caused devastation across the region. This year alone, Cyclone Harold and Hurricane Gon uprooted people’s lives across the Pacific and Southeast Asia. Consecutive droughts have devastated agriculture crops and livestock across Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam, even turning the water in Bangkok salty.
Without decisive actions, this may just get worse. The U.N. Environment Program just released its annual Emissions Gap Report, which shows the difference between where greenhouse emissions are predicted to be in 2030 and where they should be to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. The results are sobering. Even with the dip in emissions this year from COVID-19 restrictions, the world remains on track to see warming of over 3 degrees by the end of the century. This is far beyond the 1.5 degree limit that countries agreed to pursue in the Paris Agreement.
The U.N. Development Program (UNDP) and the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) are among a host of partners trying to make a difference.
We are implementing programs to support countries to undertake climate actions and achieve the commitments made through the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). The NDCs are the key instruments for each country to reduce CO2 emissions by a specific amount over a given time. They are the blueprint for a country’s climate action and will be reviewed for the first time since the Paris agreement at the global climate conference in November 2021 in Glasgow.
However, at this stage, NDCs remain insufficient to close the emissions gap. Therefore in 2020, UNDP launched its Climate Promise, the world’s largest offer of support for countries to enhance their NDCs. In this effort spanning 115 countries across the globe, UNDP is supporting 27 countries in Asia and the Pacific to enhance their targets.
These enhancements can take a variety of forms, including ending fossil fuel subsidies, taxing carbon, and incorporating carbon neutrality into all economic and fiscal measures, as well as nature-based solutions. Importantly, COVID-19 economic recovery efforts should be green and sustainable as the pandemic does not take the climate emergency away.
As we prepare for Glasgow, some encouraging actions have come from Asia-Pacific.
China will include its recently announced plan for carbon neutrality by 2060 in its NDC. South Korea’s plan for a carbon tax, large investments in renewables, and an end to coal financing will be included in their NDC, as will Japan’s intent to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and withdraw support of coal-fired power plants. Bhutan is advancing a sustainable development pathway that maintains its net zero carbon status, in addition to maintaining 60 percent of its land with forest coverage for all time. The most vulnerable countries are also showing the way. Strong leadership from Fiji and the Marshall Islands has resulted in both countries incorporating net zero emission targets into their legislations and policy documents.
This is the type of ambition the world needs to see. The 2021 climate conference is still a chance to head off the existential threat from climate change and make history again. To do so, countries from Asia and the Pacific can be leading lights and again bring ambition of the highest order to the negotiating table.
Dechen Tsering is U.N. Environment Program regional director and representative for Asia and the Pacific. Christophe Bahuet is the deputy regional director for UNDP in Asia and the Pacific.