The past two years have been a roller coaster ride in respect to securing a new global treaty to combat climate change. Some even despair that the window for action is closing fast.
However, giving up is not an option. The latest round of climate negotiations, held last month in Cancun, Mexico, put the world’s efforts on climate change back on track — albeit at a pace and on a scale that will undoubtedly leave many onlookers frustrated.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s government in Mexico and the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention deserve credit for gains in a range of important areas, including forestry, a new Green Fund to assist developing nations and the anchoring of the emission-reduction pledges made at the December 2009 climate-change conference in Copenhagen.
However, as the UN Environment Program and climate modelers made clear in the run-up to the Cancun meeting, a significant emissions gap exists between what is being promised by countries and what is needed to keep the rise in global temperature below 2oC, let alone move toward the 1.5o threshold needed to protect low-lying island states.
Despite some gains, that gap — which, under the most optimistic scenario, amounts to the combined emissions of all the world’s cars, buses and trucks — remains firmly in place post-Cancun. Indeed, no one should underestimate the magnitude of the challenge now facing South Africa, the host of next year’s talks, in terms of midwifing a new legally binding agreement to bridge this gap and securing the finance needed to bring the Green Fund into operation.
Yet, while the official summit in Cancun struggled to a conclusion, an unofficial one being held a few minutes away also concluded. This parallel summit brought together progressive heads of state, regional and local government, business and civil society, and underscored just how far and how fast some sectors of society will make the transition to a low-carbon future and build the green and clean-tech economies of the twenty-first century.
Calderon’s policies echo this momentum: By some estimates, he is transforming his country into the world’s fastest-growing wind-power market. Moreover, Mexico will also phase out old, inefficient light bulbs by 2014. And it has just retired 850,000 inefficient household refrigerators in favor of modern, energy-efficient models, with millions more earmarked over the coming years. Mexican homeowners who install energy-saving systems such as solar water heaters are becoming eligible for lower-rate “green mortgages.”
Mexico is not alone in adopting a national strategy for the transition to a low-carbon, resource-efficient green economy. Uruguay, for example, announced a strategy to generate half its electricity from renewable sources by 2015.
Sixty regional and local governments, responsible for 15 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions, are also taking action. Quebec and Sao Paolo, to cite just two examples, are aiming for cuts of 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.
Big companies, from banks to airlines, are contributing as well. The US retailer Walmart, for example, plans to cut emissions equivalent to 3.8 million cars, in part by implementing energy-efficiency measures at its Chinese stores.
Indeed, the world is witnessing an extraordinary mobilization of national-level projects and policies that are shifting economies onto a low-carbon path. In Kenya, a new feed-in tariff is triggering an expansion of wind and geothermal power. Indonesia is not only addressing deforestation, but will begin phasing out fossil-fuel subsidies for private cars next month. Many countries and companies are forging ahead, signaling a determination not to be held hostage by the slowest at the official negotiating table.
All this may lead some to wonder why time-consuming international negotiations and UN climate summits are needed at all.
But the fact is that this groundswell has in large part been catalyzed by the existing targets, timetables and innovative mechanisms of the UN climate treaties, and not least by the momentum generated around the often-criticized 2009 Copenhagen summit.
This momentum would continue to grow with a new global treaty that not only brings certainty to carbon markets and triggers accelerated investments in clean-tech industries, but that also ensures that more vulnerable countries are not marginalized. The challenge today is to unite these goals in a mutually reinforcing way.
Only then will the world have a fighting chance to keep the global temperature rise in this century under 2oC, build resilience against a changed climate and truly transform the energy structures of the past — and thus the development prospects for 6 billion people in the future.
Achim Steiner is UN under-secretary-general and executive director of the UN Environment Program.
COPYRIGHT: PROJECT SYNDICATE
Having returned to the UK late last year and with a Taiwanese spouse remaining in Taiwan, I have been afforded the chance to compare and contrast the UK and Taiwanese governments’ responses to the COVID-19 crisis. My early conclusions are that Taiwan benefits from a rational, competent government, which quickly recognizes, adapts to and confronts large-scale disasters. It is led by a government that does more than just talk of respecting democracy and human rights, one that is scrutinized and responds to criticism, one that is concerned about public opinion, and one that is used to dealing with emergencies on
The “Wuhan pneumonia” outbreak has become a pandemic, but many countries have yet to come to grips with the worsening severity of this medical crisis. Historian Robert Peckham has studied how the ecology of deadly diseases has changed from the late 19th century until today and, in his 2016 book titled Epidemics in Modern Asia highlights the intrinsic link between global connectivity and emerging infections. The frequency of outbreaks — from SARS in 2003 to swine flu in 2009 and today’s COVID-19 — and their rapid rate of transmission owe much to globalization. Better and cheaper transportation and communications technology have empowered
Early last month, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) was elected party chairman, winning with a seven-to-three majority over pro-Beijing former Taipei mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌), a two-time KMT vice chairman. Chiang’s victory has been interpreted as a generational change and the beginning of major party reform. In his inauguration speech on March 9, Chiang did not mention the so-called “1992 consensus.” Analysts believe that his most urgent task is to attract more young people to the party and win voter trust, and that he does not care about Beijing’s reaction. After joining the party chairmanship by-election, Chiang made his