Climate crisis: In the wake of a critical summit

MEHMET EMIN BIRPINAR
Published 18.10.2019 02:01
Climate crisis: In the wake of a critical summit

Increasingly rapid and severe climate change calls for the international community to generate urgent measures and take tangible steps at earliest possible moment

In line with the "A race we can win!" motto, the secretary-general of the U.N. called upon world leaders gathered for the Climate Action Summit held on Sept. 23, 2019 to promptly take concrete actions against the climate crisis. History has repeated itself once again.

As the negotiations for the Paris Agreement were well underway in 2014, the secretary-general of the U.N. hosted the Climate Action Summit. This time, he drew attention to the matter at a time very close to 2020 that parties are expected to put forward more ambitious actions through their new or updated nationally determined contributions (NDCs).

It is highly likely that we will see further editions of such high-level summits on a frequent basis. The reason is that humanity has engaged in a challenging race against itself to save the world's future from the impacts of climate change.

The only way to win is to phase out anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and actions that lead to climate change. There is no choice other than taking measures to avoid the already-growing adverse effects of climate change, and adapting to the change. However, scientific evidence shows that the adverse effects of climate change are likely to persist for centuries even if we go in for decarbonization today.

In fact, the international community has been, for so long, well aware of the obligation to win the race. With such awareness, the community has been exerting intensive efforts under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) adopted in 1992. The Paris Agreement, which entered into force in a short while after its adoption by a unanimous vote in 2015, is billed as the most realistic token of the will to win the race.

Poor record since 2015

However, humanity's track record has not been promising since 2015 as well. Released by the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP), the Emission Gap Report 2018 notes that the NDCs, which were submitted by the countries to reduce emissions in line with the Paris Agreement, are extremely insufficient in their current version to achieve the goal to keep global warming under 1.5° or 2° Celsius.

What is worse is that the report highlights the global green gas emissions have started to rise since 2017 following a few years of recession, and notes that emissions must be reduced by 25% to 55% by 2030 in comparison to the figures of 2017.

What seems to be in a rising trend is not just global emissions. U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has reported that the last July was the hottest month ever. As temperatures keep breaking records, there is a significant rise in the frequency and severity of climate-related disasters around the whole world. Unfortunately, Turkey has also suffered from a significant number of deaths and property damages caused by floods this year.

In short, there is no sign of winning the race despite all those negotiations held under the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement. UNFCCC procedures, which are required to be completed to put theory into practice, are highly cumbersome.

UNFCCC's political aspect does not suffice to offer some positive signs. It is obvious that success calls for a more decisive political will and putting that will into immediate action. That is why the Secretary General of the UN took action and assumed a historic responsibility, saying that we can win this race.

Path to the summit

In an effort to take concrete actions against climate change, nine interdependent tracks were designated for the U.N. Climate Action Summit. The coordination of each track was disseminated among various countries and international organizations. Throughout the preparatory process started nearly one year ahead of the summit, necessary steps to be taken under each track have been identified with the involvement of the governments, international organizations, private sector, academics and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

In fact, the whole process has once again established the fact that the instruments for climate action must be utilized as a whole in cooperation with all stakeholders. This is because it is impossible to adapt to climate change without emissions reduction or to succeed without development and promotion of necessary technologies by scientists and private sector to facilitate efforts of local governments.

Mitigation, one of the nine tracks of the Summit, was focused on nationally determined contributions, long-term strategies and decarbonization plans submitted by major emitters in particular as a part of the Paris Agreement to expedite the process to put the Paris Agreement into practice.

The current scientific evidence shows that it is possible and imperative to achieve decarbonization by 2050. Moreover, the transition to cleaner means of production by making the mitigation goals more ambitious brings about economic and social benefits, too.

The adaptation issue

Adaptation to climate change and resilience was another track discussed. The adverse effects of climate change including disasters in particular make their presence felt all around the world, and they are estimated to become more severe. That is why there is a need for immediate global commitments on climate adaptation. It goes without saying that the most vulnerable and poorest countries are of a higher priority.

Under the track focusing on nature-based solutions for climate action, some steps have been taken to spread collaboration and action to scale up nature-based solutions for both mitigation and adaptation and to protect biodiversity. Forests and terrestrial ecosystems, smart agricultural practices and a revival of life in rivers, lakes and oceans, and access of the entire global population to nature have been designated as central priorities.

The private sector's role

In the industrial transition track, the private sector has been named as a key partner. The private sector has major expectations from the governments, including policy-makers in particular, to offer inputs in the best way that they can for the climate action. The private sector expects some long-term and stable plans and strong messages to make investments.

In addition, some incentive mechanisms must be introduced and rolled out for the private sector to make climate-friendly investments, especially in renewable energy. To offer more affordable solutions, it is imperative to provide a sufficient support for technology transfer and innovation. It is evident that the private sector needs loans from financial institutions to make investments. Therefore, it becomes more and more essential to introduce facilitative instruments to make it a win-win situation for both sides in an effort to make the cooperation between the private sector and financial institutions more sustainable.

Energy transition track focused on phasing out fossil fuels, boosting investments in renewable energy and achieving a carbon-neutral world. Development of innovative approaches in all industries affiliated to energy sector is one of the major subject matters.

One of the goals to be achieved under this track is to focus on renewable and domestic resources for the poorest segments of the society around the world where 840 million people have no access to electricity, and provide all with access to electricity.

The social and political drivers track focused on how to combine economic and social factors for transition to a green and sustainable economy. A fair transition for all countries and all segments of the society, creating green and decent jobs and securing social justice, promotion of industries through establishment of mechanisms for workers' rights and social security, women's rights, and the prevention of health problems caused by environmental risks in a world where one out of four children dies because of pollution have been designated as priorities for action.

Under the track of the youth and public mobilization for climate action, a youth summit was held with the participation of youth climate champions from more than 140 countries/regions. Young people offered their solutions for climate action, and gave messages to the world leaders. The track was a token of the fact that we need to put our trust in the youth's ability, and make sure that mechanisms are in place to boost their position to take part in decision-making.

Finance is key

Of course, finance is an absolute must for the climate action. There is a general consensus over the fact that multi-lateral development banks need to play a more influential role in climate financing, and allocate more funds for adaptation to climate change. While the Green Climate Fund is intended to mobilize $100 billion annually, the commitments are not even equivalent to one-tenth of that amount. The total sum of the projects in progress is nearly $2.5 billion.

So, it is essential that the developed countries fulfill their commitments under the Green Climate Fund. One of the major actors for financial initiatives is the private sector. That is why the private sector needs to be involved in discussions. The climate economy has become something that cannot be considered independently of the overall economy. So, the financial system must grow into a system where climate change is taken into account while the banking sector inevitably needs to review their transformation options accordingly.

Turkey's stance at the summit

In his official letter to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres invited Turkey to co-lead the Infrastructure, Cities and Local Climate Action track based on Turkey's experiences in these areas. Turkey accepted this invitation, and carried out preparations for the track in a participatory fashion in cooperation with Kenya and U.N. Habitat.

Hosting more than half of the global population, and 80% of global economic activities, cities have become the focus of climate action. It is estimated that nearly 70% of the global population will be living in urban areas by 2050. This calls for infrastructure investments worth $53 trillion by 2030. More than 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions is caused by urban activities including buildings and transportation. This means that two-thirds of the energy generated around the world is consumed by cities.

Given their population and economic dynamics, the cities, which produce greenhouse gas emissions that lead to climate change, are also the places most vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change such as floods, heat and cold waves, extreme rainfalls, and sea level rise. The population density and poor infrastructure in the neighborhoods of low-income people make those effects even worse.

It is essential to consider climate change one of the most important parameters in every step of the process ranging from urban planning and construction to administration. Making transport, buildings, urban greenery zones, water and waste management more sustainable and resilient will not only contribute to the climate action but also bring about side benefits such as poverty alleviation, improvement of healthcare conditions, increasing the number of decent jobs, and economic growth.

From this standpoint, we have taken a variety of initiatives with focus on buildings, transport, local financing and climate resilience of the urban poor.

The Zero Carbon Buildings for All initiative aimed to draw up a road map for the decarbonization of new buildings by 2030, and of current ones by 2050, and mobilize investments worth $1 trillion at the global scale by 2030.

With the objective to promote sustainable urban transportation systems, the Action towards Climate-Friendly Transport initiative was focused on electric vehicles and public transportation in transition to a low-carbon, affordable, safe, clean and reliable means of transportation.

The Leadership on Urban Climate Investments initiative was focused on creating a strong global architecture for local climate finance, increasing bankable projects and improved financing options in consideration of challenges facing local actors for access to funds needed to make sustainable urban infrastructure investments.

In his address delivered at the summit, President Erdoğan urged all countries and other stakeholders to join and support the aforementioned initiatives. The president also responded to the call made by the secretary-general on leaders to announce their concrete goals and actions for climate action, and shared with the rest of the world Turkey's goals for energy, transportation and other sectors including the zero waste initiative taken under the auspices of first lady Emine Erdoğan.

Against the climate crisis

In conclusion, the political leaders of nearly 70 U.N. member states including Turkey, and mayors of various global cities, private sector representatives and heads of financial institutions took the stage and announced to the whole world their plans for the climate action. Only time will tell how their future actions contribute to the global efforts for climate change.

In fact, the summit offered a more important outcome. Young people were there, taking a true stance against the climate crisis for a while now and holding adults causing the crisis accountable.

They were the most influential participants of the summit both outside and inside the headquarters. Held right after the inaugural address of the secretary-general of the U.N., the Youth Dialogue reminded the decision-makers of the fact that young people are not part of the climate crisis, and instead they are ready to be part of the solution, and thus take actions. Growing into an environmental symbol for the youth movement, Greta highlighted the fact that the eyes of the future generation are upon us.

It is obvious that young people will be following up not only the commitments given at the summit but also those to be given in the future from now on.

The fact that young people, the next generations, are so concerned about the climate crisis is the biggest driving force behind the climate action. Even their awareness about how people do not have command over the nature and instead are a part of it is quite promising when they will be decision makers in the future. This is indeed the most promising signal for humanity's chances of winning the race against climate change.

* Deputy Minister at the Republic of Turkey's Ministry of Environment and Urbanization, Chief Climate Change Envoy

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