Upbeat mood at sustainability meet

'Unstoppable' momentum from Paris deal for states to implement climate plans: UN official

It has been one month since the world agreed to take concrete steps to try curbing catastrophic climate change, and if the mood at this week's Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week was any indication, the world is determined to make the deal stick.

There was a collective optimism at the four-day event attended by more than 33,000 political, business and community leaders in the field of energy - the first global gathering to discuss renewable energy challenges since last month's Paris climate talks.

The United Nations' top climate negotiator, Ms Christiana Figueres, struck a triumphant tone, telling The Straits Times on Monday that Paris had unleashed an "unstoppable" momentum to get countries to implement their national climate plans.

"The business case is so compelling, technologies are so convincing, this is so unstoppable," she declared. The first order of work was for countries to ratify the Paris agreement as quickly as possible before focusing on creating policy mechanisms, she added.

Despite widely discussed concerns about reaching the financing targets outlined in the deal, Ms Figueres was unfazed.

"I suspect that very soon, that US$100 billion (S$143 billion) figure will disappear into the background because there will be so much capital flowing into renewable energy that it will be way beyond US$100 billion," she said.

The reference was to the amount agreed on in Paris for developed countries to provide to developing countries for climate mitigation and adaptation.

Citing a recent Bloomberg New Energy Finance finding, she pointed out that last year was a record year for renewable energy investment; almost US$330 billion was invested globally. Roughly half of that went to China and India. Indeed, for the first time, more than half of the renewable energy investment was in emerging markets.

"Money is there," she said. " It depends on developing countries' willingness to put policies in place to attract capital - and I'm confident that they can and want to (do so)."

Ms Figueres praised Morocco, which will host this year's climate change conference. Its policies, which include a 52 per cent target to derive more than half of its energy from renewable resources by 2030, had helped the country become attractive to investors, she said.

"They have put in a policy that gives policy continuity and predictability, and through sovereign guarantees, they have been able to de-risk investment," she said. "This is not money they are taking out of their pockets - they are attracting capital markets."

Ms Figueres is not alone in her optimism. At a panel discussing climate finance, Mr Paolo Frankl, head of renewable energy at the International Energy Agency, said at a panel that low oil prices and the success of the Paris agreement could herald "the start of a new era".

He disagreed that low oil prices would disrupt growth in renewable energy investment, pointing out that the cost of providing renewable energy had fallen consistently over the years, while oil has been cheap only for the past year.

While optimistic, the private sector was more measured in its response to climate financing.

Ms Park Kyung Ah, managing director of the environmental markets group at Goldman Sachs, echoed Ms Figueres' call for countries to implement the right policies.

"Capital doesn't move on political will, it moves on tangible action and policy," she said at a panel hosted by the Financial Times and International Renewable Energy Agency.

She said that while the Paris agreement prompted US solar stocks to rise by around 5 per cent, the extension of renewable energy tax credits in the United States last December prompted a 30 per cent rise for the markets in solar.

Mr Clint Wilder, a consultant at Clean Edge, a US-based cleantech research and advisory firm, said that he was more optimistic about the world reaching its financing needs to address climate change after attending the conference, which ended on Thursday.

"I've heard so many people at this event talking about the tremendous momentum with the Paris climate agreement. People throughout the industry seem very positive... I'd say it is the most optimism I've seen at an event on climate change."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2016, with the headline 'Upbeat mood at sustainability meet'. Subscribe