The View From Asia

Surprise pledges and notes of despair on climate change

Asia News Network writers discuss the steps ahead for stalling climate change. Excerpts:

Chinese President Xi Jinping's new-era development vision promotes five development concepts: innovation, green, harmony, openness and inclusiveness.
Chinese President Xi Jinping's new-era development vision promotes five development concepts: innovation, green, harmony, openness and inclusiveness.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Xi’s carbon neutrality pledge

Hu Min and Diego Montero

China Daily, China

One might wonder about the real motivation behind President Xi Jinping's surprising pledge before the United Nations General Assembly on Sept 22 to reach carbon neutrality by 2060.

It's likely that there is some degree of geopolitical calculation behind the pledge. But the main driver is the leadership's vision of creating a "beautiful China" by promoting "ecological civilisation" and a high-quality economy driven by technological innovation.

Given this high-level and long-term political goal of China, we can expect to see the development of a slew of short-term follow-up policies.

Mr Xi's new-era development vision, announced in September last year, promotes five development concepts: innovation, green, harmony, openness and inclusiveness.

More recently, China's post-Covid-19 economic stimulus agenda has prioritised "new urbanisation and new infrastructure", to pivot the development pattern away from the traditional energy-intensive model.

The announcement of a carbon neutrality goal is consistent with this new development vision, and with global climate safety efforts.

China's move shows its commitment to the Paris Agreement and injects new momentum into the global green growth movement.

It will hopefully motivate the world's other big emitters to get back on track in accordance with the agreement - and help ensure a productive UN climate change conference in Glasgow next year.

The good news is that China's 2060 goal goes beyond what is called for by the Paris Agreement's alternative (and less ambitious) 2 deg C goal, which pushes average global carbon neutrality back to around 2070.

In his UN speech, Mr Xi also said China would enhance its nationally determined contribution (NDC) and peak greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions before 2030.

China's current NDC, which outlines the actions it will take to contribute to the Paris Agreement, states that China will peak its energy-related carbon emission around 2030. The international community has been wondering how China would enhance its NDC in the lead-up to next year's climate change conference.

The shift from "around 2030" to "before 2030" is a meaningful political signal and can be expected to trigger changes in China's domestic policies. For example, it is likely that China's new NDC will now have to target non-energy-related GHG emissions, including methane and hydro-fluorocarbon.

China's new long-term vision will add new vitality to climate policy in the next five to 10 years.

And the policies could include an absolute carbon cap in China's upcoming 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25), a coal consumption cap, a carbon market that covers all major energy-intensive industries, and practical guidelines for public finance investment in green recovery, as well as a long-overdue climate law.

None of these is new to the policymaking arena, but each has raised concerns about its effects on economic growth and jobs, and has therefore been delayed or weakened.

China's provinces and cities are already developing action plans to set and implement GHG emission peaks as part of the national peaking effort. We can expect some of these regions to set carbon neutrality goals as well.

As for industries, they will probably also need to develop sectoral action plans. China's leading corporations are also likely to consider making long-term social responsibility commitments related to carbon neutrality.

And the green finance movement, which calls for financial institutions to disclose their environmental and climate risks, will probably also receive a boost.

In addition, China also needs to continue restoring the natural environment and decarbonise people's lifestyles.

These are some of the key actions China will need to take as it embarks on the inspiring but challenging task of achieving carbon neutrality by 2060.

Call for global action

Saleemul Huq

The Daily Star, Bangladesh

The historic Paris Agreement on climate change, which was agreed by all the countries that were part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in December 2015, had two major outcomes.

The first was to try to keep global atmospheric temperature rise to below 2 deg C and, if possible, below 1.5 deg C.

The second major agreement was from developed countries to provide a minimum of

US$100 billion (S$136 billion) a year, starting from this year, to support developing countries in tackling climate change through both mitigation and adaptation.

The main vehicle for each country to report on its own plans and pledges to contribute towards these global goals was by submitting a nationally determined contribution (NDC), in which actions to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases in each country would be pledged.

It was also agreed by all the countries that these issues would be addressed and revised every five years.

Thus, all countries have until the end of this year to submit their updated NDCs from the initial one submitted in 2015, and it is vital that all countries do so within the deadline.

It is even more important that they raise their level of pledges to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases well over what they pledged in 2015 if the global goal is to be kept below 2 deg C, or even below 1.5 deg C.

If all countries fail to raise their respective ambitions by Dec 31 this year, then the next point to do so will not be before 2025, which will be far too late.

Earlier this month, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, in her capacity as head of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, launched a major global initiative called #MidnightClimateSurvival to get every country to submit their NDCs by midnight on Dec 31.

But it is uncertain how many countries will submit their NDCs on time, and even more uncertain how ambitious they will be.

But there are positive signs from China and the European Union, which have both recently announced significant ambitious pledges to become net zero emitters within the next few decades.

Dec 31 is thus a day of reckoning.

Climate injustice

Neni Cruz

Philippine Daily Inquirer, The Philippines

It does sound like a doomsday scenario.

Humanity consumes 1.75 Earths a year, using 75 per cent more resources that can be replenished.

The Philippines is the country most vulnerable to natural disasters in the Asia-Pacific, as at 2018. And time is running out on us as we continue to abuse natural resources.

It was not too long ago when the call was for sustainability and corporate social responsibility. But sadly, times have radically changed, and those buzzwords are now inadequate.

While Covid-19 has disrupted our lives and now occupies much of the world's attention, it is really climate change that will be more vicious and more destructive in the coming years.

Ultimately, it will also lead to further inequality among social classes. We are witnessing this in the frequency and increasing magnitude of typhoons the country is enduring.

In the Global Risk Index of Inform, a multi-stakeholder forum for developing quantitative analysis relevant to humanitarian crises and disasters, the Philippines was shown to have the highest hazard risk in Asia in 2018, followed by Japan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, China, and Indonesia.

What makes the country, especially the poor, most vulnerable? There's the natural hazard itself becoming more powerful with climate change, our poor institutional capacity to respond, and our poor infrastructure.

We have not had a sterling record as far as carbon emissions from coal power plants are concerned. We have slid in the use of renewable energy from 40 per cent to 25 per cent, while our use of coal has increased from 50 per cent to 75 per cent.

What can ordinary citizens do to pursue a regenerative way of living?

The advice from Mr Richard B. Tantoco, president and chief operating officer of Energy Development Corp: Go beyond thinking of doing less harm, and think of doing more good. Elevate one's actions. If you hurt something, repair it. Take a hard look at our habits of consumption; consume only what you really need.

• The View From Asia is a compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 24 news media titles.