Workers in a boat check solar panels at a photovoltaic power station built on a fishpond in Haian, in China’s eastern Jiangsu province, on July 19. Photo: AFP
Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana
Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana

To fight climate change, Asia-Pacific must turn up the power of its ingenuity and dynamism

  • G20 members of the Asia-Pacific are responsible for over half of global greenhouse gas emissions, and the region is falling further behind
  • With leaders lining up to make climate neutrality pledges, a realignment of finance and investment towards green industries and jobs is needed
As Asia-Pacific leaders head to Glasgow for the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), they can be sure that our region will be in the spotlight. Many of the countries that are most vulnerable to climate change are here. G20 members in this region are responsible for over half of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The starting point is not encouraging, however. A joint study by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), UN Environment Programme and UN Women shows that the region is falling even further behind in its efforts: greenhouse gas emissions are projected to increase by 34 per cent by 2030 compared to 2010 levels.

Getting the 30 Asia-Pacific countries that have updated their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) – basically, emissions reduction goals – to drastically raise ambitions, and securing adequate NDCs from the other 19 who have yet to submit them, will determine if the region – indeed, the world – can hope to keep the temperature increase well below 2 degrees Celsius.

There is some reason for hope. Leaders have been lining up to make their carbon neutrality pledges, shrinking the gap from commitment to action across the sectors that drive the region’s development. With major players moving away from overseas investment in coal, momentum is building for a transition to cleaner energy sources.


What is China doing about climate change?

What is China doing about climate change?
As the share of renewables in the energy mix grows, we should support increasing subregional and regional energy connectivity. However, more support to exporters is needed to wean them off lucrative coal and fossil fuel reserves, supported by long-term low emissions development strategies.
The shift to sustainable transport has been slow but electric vehicle mobility is growing. Countries are also emphasising low-carbon mobility in a new regional action plan under negotiation ahead of a ministerial conference on transport later this year. Local government commitments to carbon neutrality also support the greening of our cities.

The ESCAP Climate-smart Trade and Investment Index and carbon-border adjustment mechanisms shows that Asia-Pacific economies can make their trade and investment more climate-smart. A growing number of countries include environment-related provisions in trade agreements.

More are requiring energy efficiency labelling and standards on imports. Digitalisation of existing trade processes also helps reduce carbon dioxide emissions per transaction and should be accelerated, including through the regional UN treaty on cross-border paperless trade facilitation.

The ESCAP Sustainable Business Network is crafting an Asia-Pacific Green Business Deal, while companies are responding to greater shareholder and consumer pressure for science-based targets that align businesses with climate aspirations. Businesses of all sizes in the region could adopt this new paradigm.


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COP26 Glasgow, the UN Climate Change Conference: last chance to save the planet?

Such ambitious climate action will require a realignment of finance and investment towards the green industries and jobs of tomorrow. Innovative financial instruments and the implementation of debt-for-climate swaps can help mobilise this additional funding.

Putting a price on carbon and applying carbon pricing instruments will create liquidity to drive economic activity up and emissions down. Mandatory climate-related financial disclosure will help investors direct their investments towards solutions that will help manage risks associated with climate-related problems.

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The combination of disasters, pandemic and climate change is expanding the number of people in vulnerable situations. Countries are ill-prepared for complex overlapping crises.

The intersection of Covid-19 with natural hazards and climate change remains poorly understood and gives rise to hotspots of risk. Building resilience must combine climate mitigation efforts and investments in nature-based climate solutions.


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Moreover, it also requires increasing investments in universal social protection systems that provide adequate benefits to people and households. The active engagement of women and girls is critical to ensuring inclusive climate action and sustainable outcomes.

Without concerted action, carbon neutrality is not within the reach of the Asia-Pacific region by 2050. Our leaders simply cannot afford to go to Glasgow with insufficient ambition and return empty-handed.

Since it was founded nearly 75 years ago, ESCAP has supported the formation of strategic alliances that have lifted millions out of poverty and guided the region to enabling a better standard of life.

The time is right for such an alliance of governments, the private sector and financial institutions to help turn the full power of the region’s ingenuity and dynamism into the net zero development pathway that our future depends on.

Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana is the UN undersecretary general and executive secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)