We face a new era of climate crisis. July 2019 was the hottest month on record, and the period from 2015 to 2019 is on track to become the five hottest years in human history.
The level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is at its highest point in human history. And climate-related devastations strike more often than ever, with droughts, cyclones, heatwaves and landslides regularly attacking our planet, causing casualties worldwide and huge economic losses to countries and individuals, particularly affecting the most vulnerable in societies.
The latest report of UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific shows natural disasters in the region are currently responsible for economic losses of up to $675 billion a year and affecting close to 150 million people.
No climate objective is too ambitious to achieve
The clock is ticking. According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we need to collectively ensure that global temperature rise does not go beyond 1.5 degree Celsius. This means we have to reduce emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Such goals might seem too ambitious, but climate change is not a standalone issue that can be ignored given the profound implications it has for all countries and all peoples, including the young generation, which will be living with the ever-increasing consequences of global warming.
Faced with this reality, it is necessary to realize that human development can only flourish if the natural world flourishes. This is the premise of the UN Sustainable Development Goals that have become more urgent looking forward to the next decade. How can the global community work together as one?
To boost ambition, reinforce strong political will and encourage concrete actions to implement the Paris climate accord, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will host the 2019 Climate Action Summit on Sept 23 during the UN General Assembly.
Developing exacting climate solutions
The summit will bring together governments, the private sector, civil society, local authorities and other international organizations to develop ambitious solutions in such areas as global transition to renewable energy; sustainable and resilient infrastructure and cities; sustainable agriculture and management of forests and oceans; resilience and adaptation to climate impacts; and alignment of public and private finance with a “net zero” economy.
The message is clear: We need concrete, realistic plans to enhance all countries’ nationally determined contributions by 2020, in line with reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent over the next decade, and to achieve “net zero” emissions by 2050.
As the world’s second-largest economy, China has played a critical part in committing to the Paris Agreement and its leadership is crucial for achieving the goals. China has made remarkable progress in developing its green economy, investing more than $125 billion in renewable energy in 2017 alone. New renewable energy jobs in China now outnumber those created in the oil and gas industries. Under the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20), China has already exceeded 3 percent of its target to reduce energy intensity by 15 percent.
China’s achievements prove a vital point
China is also the global leader in the adoption of electric buses, with an estimated 18 percent of its total bus fleet being electrified according to a Bloomberg New Energy Finance study. This demonstrates a significant increase in the importance of non-fossil fuel from previous five-year plan targets. The benefits China has reaped by fostering its renewable energy sector and the green economy also offer a prime counter-example to the mistaken belief that economic vitality and growth are incompatible with the efforts to combat climate change.
As a global challenge that does not respect national borders, climate change is an issue which requires solutions to be coordinated at the international level, with all developed countries taking up greater responsibilities and developing countries moving toward low-carbon economies. And as the world’s most populous country and one of the largest carbon emitters, China can play an even more vital role in fighting climate change by maximizing its huge potential for emission reduction and accelerating the current positive.
The UN is committed to working with the Chinese government, the private sector, NGOs, the youth and other key stakeholders to support climate change reduction efforts in China, raise awareness and build the next generation of climate leaders, as well as to help China provide more support for other developing countries.
UN and Beijing can jointly promote green economy
Under such plans as the Belt and Road Initiative, the UN and China can work closely together to make the best use of the investment in infrastructure to promote the transition from fossil fuel-intensive economy to green and low-carbon economy in developing countries and ensure the initiatives are in line with the SDGs.
South-South cooperation can also facilitate the exchange of climate solutions–bringing China’s successful practices to the developing world and customizing the methodology to best serve the local needs. Considering the scale of China’s commitments, the potential impact of these global engagements would be unparalleled. Therefore, the UN is ready to continue its partnership with China to ensure that an agenda of environmental sustainability, of climate change mitigation and resilience is placed first and foremost at the head of China’s global development initiatives and investments.
Climate change is running faster than us and we need to adopt a more ambitious approach in what we do in order to defeat climate change–as this is a race that we can and must win.
The author is UN resident coordinator in China. China Daily