Flood victims from monsoon rain use a makeshift barge to carry hay for cattle, in Jaffarabad, in Pakistan’s southwestern Baluchistan province, on September 5, 2022. The flooding is just a preview of the climate consequences that are now impossible to avoid. Photo: AP
Stephen Minas
Stephen Minas

Global cooperation needed on climate change as emissions, temperatures continue to rise after pandemic lull

  • There were hopes carbon emissions might have peaked as the Covid-19 pandemic’s disruptions led to large declines, but these have proved to be temporary
  • Even in these troubled times, it is vital to seize chances to make international trade climate-friendly and encourage affordable green energy transitions
It’s official: the Covid-19 pandemic was not the turning point for climate change that some had predicted. The lockdowns and border closures of early 2020 did force a massive reduction in daily greenhouse gas emissions, and this led some to speculate that emissions might have peaked in 2019, on the eve of the pandemic.
However, most major economies have failed to “build back better” and, today, the challenge of reducing emissions is bigger than ever.

According to data on the state of the global climate released by the UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) last week, global temperatures and sea levels continue to reach new highs while floods, droughts and heatwaves cause widespread misery.

It reported that the increase in carbon dioxide from 2020 to 2021 was equal to that observed from 2019 to 2020 but higher than the average annual growth rate over the past decade. The increase in methane emissions from 2020 to 2021 was the largest on record.
The years 2015 to 2022 were confirmed as the eight warmest on record. The average global temperature in 2022 was already about 1.15 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, surging towards the 1.5-degree threshold set by the Paris Agreement.
These are numbers with real human consequences. In its provisional report for 2022, the WMO also recalled the multiple “extreme events” – disasters, in everyday terms – that struck last year.


The surprising hurdle slowing China’s switch to green energy

The surprising hurdle slowing China’s switch to green energy
Topping the list was the unprecedented flooding in Pakistan after record rains and the decline in crop yields following record temperatures. Around 10 per cent of the population was exposed to flooding, nearly 8 million people were displaced and food prices rose more than 30 per cent.
Neither was China spared. It experienced the most extensive, longest heatwave since records began and a summer that was one of the driest on record and hotter than any previous one.

These are just a preview of the climate consequences that are now impossible to avoid and a foretaste of much worse to come if we do not collectively get our act together.

International trade is one way nations can close the gap between current greenhouse gas emissions and the much lower levels needed to avoid the worst outcomes.

How will China, largest emitter of methane globally, reduce emissions?

At the same time as the WMO’s announcement, the International Energy Agency (IEA) released its latest Energy Technology Perspectives report. One particularly striking point is its affirmation that international trade is “vital for rapid and affordable clean energy transitions” while it also urged diversification of suppliers.
In a sign of the times, the IEA cautions that, for most countries, it is “not realistic to compete effectively across all parts of the relevant clean energy technology supply chains” and that they need not do so. Countries should instead nurture competitive advantages such as skilled labour.

It’s not a new idea. In 1817, the economist David Ricardo observed that England would be better off importing wine from Portugal instead of producing wine itself. It could pay for the Portuguese wine by exporting goods such as cloth that could be made efficiently in England.

At a time when mercantilism and protectionism are back in vogue, such insights can be unwelcome. The IEA is, however, right to highlight the importance of ensuring fair and open international trade in clean energy technologies, especially given the limited resources countries are able to devote to the climate transition.


What is China doing about climate change?

What is China doing about climate change?
Of course, making trade climate-friendly is every bit as important as encouraging trade in clean energy. In October, the European Union’s Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism is due to begin operating.

Although some have reacted negatively, the mechanism is a new approach to regulating international trade to take account of climate change. It is an opportunity for countries to work together on robust carbon pricing and therefore greener trade. Even in these troubled times, there are opportunities to strengthen climate cooperation and it is vital to seize them.

The Year of the Rabbit will soon be upon us. Rabbits are known to be vigilant, witty, quick-minded and ingenious. In 2023, climate decision-makers will need all these qualities and more to avoid being caught on the hop.

Stephen Minas is an associate professor at the Peking University School of Transnational Law in Shenzhen, director of the school’s Sustainability Innovation and Law Circle and a member of the UN’s Technology Executive Committee