Moving away from the ‘brown economy’

Heating up: Smoke rising from a coal-powered steel plant in the eastern state of Jharkhand, India. The country’s energy grid is still heavily dependent on coal. — AP

THE recent climate talks in Egypt left us with a sobering reality: The window for keeping global warming to 1.5 deg C is closing fast, and what is on the table now is insufficient to avert some of the worst potential effects of climate change.

The Nationally Determined Contribution targets of Asian and Pacific countries will result in a 16 per cent jump in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 from 2010 levels.

What is needed, as United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pointed out, is a “giant leap on climate ambition”. Carbon neutrality needs to be at the heart of national development strategies and reflected in public and private investment decisions. And this should cascade down to each sector of the economy.

Accelerate energy transition

Moving away from the brown economy is imperative for countries in Asia and the Pacific, not only because emissions are rising, but also because dependence on fossil fuels has left economies struggling with price volatility and energy insecurity.

A clear road map is needed as the springboard for an inclusive and just energy transition in the region. The changeover to renewables requires concurrent improvements in grid infrastructure, especially cross-border grids.

The Regional Road Map on Power System Connectivity provides us with a platform in the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (Escap) to work towards an interconnected grid, including through the development of necessary regulatory frameworks to integrate power systems and mobilise investments in grid infrastructure.

The future of energy security in the region will be determined by the ability to develop green grids and trade renewable-generated electricity across borders.

Green the rides

The move to net zero will not be complete without greening the transport sector. In Asia and the Pacific, transport is primarily powered by fossil fuels and as a result accounted for 24 per cent of total carbon emissions by 2018.

Energy efficiency improvements and putting more electric vehicles on the road are the most effective ways to reduce carbon emissions by as much as 60 per cent in 2050 from 2005 levels. The Regional Action Programme for Sustainable Transport Development allows Escap to work with its members to implement and cooperate on low-carbon transport priorities, including electric mobility.

Work on the Framework Agreement on Facilitation of Cross-border Paperless Trade will help to make commerce more efficient and climate-smart, a critical element for the transition in the energy and transport sectors. By accelerating the implementation of digital trade facilitation measures for trade and development, members can better tackle new challenges like the surge in small packages due to e-commerce and the rise of the digital economy, while enjoying a reduction in transaction costs of 10 per cent to 30 per cent.

Make finance available

Finance and investment are uniquely placed to propel the transitions needed. The past five years have seen thematic bonds in the region grow tenfold. Private finance is slowly aligning with climate needs, but is not happening at the required speed and scale. It needs to be accessible to developing economies in their time of need.

Innovative financing instruments must be developed and scaled up, from debt-for-climate swaps to Sustainable Development Goal bonds, some of which Escap is helping to develop in the Pacific and in Cambodia. Growing momentum in the business sector should be sustained.

The Asia-Pacific Green Deal for Business by the Escap Sustainable Business Network, which calls on businesses to commit to aligning their operational strategies with environmental, social and economic goals, is seeing important progress and generating important discussions on how to harness innovation, new technologies and new industries in pursuit of a new green economy. We are also working to bring climate-aligned investment opportunities closer to private financiers.

Bold action needed

Climate action in Asia and the Pacific matter for the well-being of the world. The past two years have been a grim reminder of this stark interdependence – that conflicts in one continent can create hunger in another, and that emissions somewhere push sea levels higher everywhere. Never has our prosperity been more dependent on collective action and cooperation.

Escap member countries are taking note. Escap’s Committee on Environment and Development, which is due to meet from Tuesday, will look at ways to foster regional cooperation and set priorities for climate action, including on sea-level rise, air pollution and the ecosystem.

In this era of heightened risks and shared prosperity, only regional, multilateral solidarity coupled with genuine ambition on bold climate action can ensure a prosperous future for countries in Asia and the Pacific. – The Straits Times/Asia News Network

Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana is an under-secretary-general of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.

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