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Paris climate summit 2015

Hong Kong should join Beijing’s efforts in implementing global climate change deal by retiring coal-fired power plants

With 195 countries agreeing to the pact reached in Paris, it’s time for our city to play its part

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 December, 2015, 10:41pm
UPDATED : Monday, 14 December, 2015, 10:41pm

Negotiators from 195 countries who sealed a landmark pact at the global climate talks in Paris showed they had learned well the lessons of failure at Copenhagen six years ago. Gone was the acrimony over the concept of legal obligations to cut carbon emissions that reflect the responsibility of rich nations for their historical growth. The complex challenges posed by global warming call for more inclusive and cooperative solutions. Instead of binding targets, they set a global goal of peaking greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, and striking a balance between emissions and the earth’s ability to absorb them by the second half of the century. At the same time they raised the bar of the ultimate objective, which is now to limit global warming to well below the previous target of 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. To this end, states are expected to update their plans to combat climate change, and report progress, every five years. A measure of this ambition is that under current plans temperatures would rise by 2.7 degrees.

The agreement, while a genuine achievement, is the easy part. How it impacts on climate change will depend on implementation – how willing the many and varied parties are to enter into the spirit of it, including doing more than their nominal share of heavy lifting where they can. While wealthy nations are expected to continue providing support for poorer nations to cope with climate change, more advanced developing parties are encouraged to provide such support voluntarily.

In this respect China, whose chief negotiator Xie Zhenhua (解振華) was a key player alongside American and European counterparts, hailed the agreement brokered by the French hosts as a “historic step”. On the one hand, China’s pledges to peak carbon emissions by about 2030 and provide US$3 billion in funding for developing countries embody the spirit and letter of the accord. On the other hand, as the world’s biggest carbon emitter, it stands to benefit, in terms of know-how and technology, from a promise of US$100 billion a year from developed countries by 2020 to help developing nations deal with the effects of climate change.

The pact will disappoint many who hoped for faster progress. But it has rightly been welcomed by Hong Kong’s Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing as a historic turning point, because it paves the way forward for international cooperation. Hopefully, it will not be too long before Hong Kong joins Beijing in setting a time frame for peaking carbon emissions with the retirement of coal-fired generating units from 2017.