Paris climate deal will offer world the opportunity for change
Vincent Piket says not just government officials but businesses and civil society, too, must help fulfil pledges made at the UN climate change conference
The UN climate change conference in Paris is now under way. We have the chance to turn a new page in the history of global climate action.
The conference is a crucial event: reaching a deal in Paris will send an important signal to the world, that what unites the global community is stronger than what divides us and that we have the strength to act together. United we stand, divided we fall.
Climate change is not only an impending catastrophe for our planet, it is also a threat multiplier that contributes to political and social instability, hits the most vulnerable disproportionately and affects the global economy. We cannot miss the chance to take this historic step to curb global emissions.
Where are we on the road to delivering what the planet needs? What defines “success”?
The European Union wants an ambitious deal in every area, including mitigation, adaptation and finance. Naturally, there are differences between countries in terms of capacity. But it is vital that all major economies and emitters are on board.
The intended nationally determined contributions are a game changer in this climate conference. Under the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, which runs until 2020, only 38 countries, representing around 12 per cent of global emissions, have binding targets. Today, about 180 countries covering more than 95 per cent of global emissions have put forward their intended contributions, including all G20 countries. From major oil producers to small Pacific islands, all are contributing. However, mere pledges are not enough and we must ensure they are implemented.
The Paris agreement must signal governments’ determination to sufficiently reduce emissions, in order to keep temperature increases below the agreed 2 degrees Celsius limit by the end of the century.
This clear signal requires three key elements. First, a global vision for a long-term goal that will tell us how and when we need to increase our ambition to meet our targets.
Second, a regular review to raise the collective ambition. This is essential since initial contributions will not suffice.
Third, a robust transparency and accountability system to ensure that all stakeholders can trust that promises will be delivered.
The agreement must also help poorer countries adapt to climate change effects. The EU, together with developed countries, will continue to support the most vulnerable countries. In 2014 alone, the EU and its member states provided €14.5 billion (HK$120 billion) to help the poorest countries reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the consequences of climate change. In 2014-2020, at least 20 per cent of the EU budget will be spent on climate action.
Finance will be critical to the global low-carbon transition. Public financial institutions have an important role in unlocking more private finance, which will be the key to scaling up investments in climate-smart development.
Hong Kong, one of the financial hubs of the world, should look into how it can play an important role in financial innovation, thus bringing “green finance” into the mainstream.
The role of businesses, cities and other stakeholders is also critical in the transition to a low-carbon world. It is not enough for the states alone to pledge their commitment. We must ensure that all stakeholders – businesses, cities, civil society organisations – do their part.
Judging from the last G20 leaders’ summit, where negotiators struggled to agree on the 2-degree objective or the regular review, achieving a consensus in Paris will not be easy. However, the conference presents an opportunity the world cannot afford to miss.
Indeed, climate change is not only a threat, but also an opportunity: in economic terms, the Paris deal will significantly accelerate the uptake of renewable energies and low-carbon technologies globally. The International Energy Agency estimates that the implementation of the contributions put forward by different countries will bring US$13.5 trillion of investment in renewables and energy efficiency over the next 15 years. Meeting the Chinese and Indian targets alone will triple global renewable energy production. The EU has proven over the past 20 years that economic growth can be decoupled from greenhouse gas emissions.
Analyses have shown time and again that an efficient low-carbon future is key to economic success. We hope that Hong Kong will seize the opportunity to lead and innovate through ambitious initiatives and policymaking. Hong Kong has the potential to be a key player in evolving towards low-carbon economies, although it is not a stand-alone party to the UN climate summit. Hong Kong also has the funds, expertise and entrepreneurship to become a low-carbon smart city.
Hong Kong and the EU can and should be partners to help secure our low-carbon future. The EU is keen to share experience and know-how with Hong Kong on climate action and green development.
We must build on the growing momentum from all stakeholders – politicians, faith leaders, business leaders and the public – to come together to agree on an ambitious global climate pact.
As a determined climate leader, the EU is ready for an ambitious deal in Paris and to work with the global community to fight climate change and preserve the planet for the next generations.
Vincent Piket is head of the EU Office to Hong Kong and Macau