Commentary: Five years since Paris Agreement, world must get ambitious on climate action
The Climate Ambition Summit outcomes were encouraging. But a step change in ambition is still needed ahead for the world to mitigate the impacts of the climate crisis facing us all, says COP26 President and UK Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Alok Sharma.
LONDON: To mark the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement, the UK co-hosted a global Climate Ambition Summit alongside the United Nations and France, supported by Chile and Italy last Saturday (Dec 12).
Demonstrating the will, determination and ambition to come together to save our planet, 75 leaders announced new commitments to climate action, including 45 nationally determined contributions (NDCs), 24 net-zero commitments including from Singapore, China, Japan and South Korea, and 20 adaptation and resilience plans.
At the Summit, Prime Minister Johnson announced the UK’s new NDC to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 68 per cent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.
I was pleased that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong joined other world leaders to share Singapore’s plans to achieve net-zero emissions by the second half of the century, quadruple solar energy by 2025 and phase out petrol and diesel cars by 2040, through its long-term low emissions development strategy (LEDS).
I commend and welcome Singapore’s commitment to invest in low-carbon solutions and promote green finance through a US$2 billion (S$2.65 billion) green investments programme.
In his message to delegates, Prime Minister Lee called on all countries, big and small, to join hands and do our share. When he said that a global challenge like climate change required a global response, we in the UK firmly agree.
At the end of the Summit it was clear that, by early next year, countries representing around 65 per cent of global CO2 emissions and 70 per cent of the world’s economy, will have committed to reaching net-zero emissions or carbon neutrality.
As the incoming President of COP26 – the next UN Climate Change Conference of Parties to be held in Glasgow in November 2021, I am hugely encouraged by the significant milestones reached by the global community.
But as our scientists, climate experts and those facing this existential crisis on the ground well know – a step change in ambition is still needed ahead for the world to mitigate the impacts of the climate crisis facing us all.
HEIGHTENED GLOBAL WILL
At the United Nations General Assembly in September, President Xi Jinping announced that China will reach carbon neutrality before 2060. Japan and South Korea have also announced their ambition to reach net-zero by 2050.
Earlier this year, Singapore took a step forward in its efforts to tackle climate change by announcing its LEDS, the first of its kind in Southeast Asia.
And I welcome US President-elect Joe Biden’s comments that climate change would be a top priority for his government and the incoming administration’s commitment to rejoining the Paris Agreement.
Leaders of governments and businesses around the world are quickly recognising that setting clear targets not only offer certainty to investors and companies, it is also necessary if countries are to achieve their commitments agreed to under the Paris Agreement.
The transition to a zero-carbon economy is accelerating and is the growth story of the future. According to London-based consultancy Systemiq, the low carbon economy has the potential to create up to 35 million new jobs by 2030.
Playing our part in such clean energy transitions, the British government will no longer provide any new direct financial or promotional support for the fossil fuel energy sector overseas. This is part of the UK’s commitment to be an even stauncher partner to those seeking to make the transition to a cleaner energy future.
With natural gas at 95 per cent of its energy baseload and the country on track to achieve 75 per cent of its existing solar deployment targets by 2025, Singapore’s move towards a broader and cleaner energy mix is commendable.
I’m proud to draw attention to the recent agreement between the UK’s government regulator for gas and electricity Ofgem and Singapore’s Energy Market Authority to share lessons on grid decarbonisation as both our countries strive for an emissions-free tomorrow.
PARTNERING FOR A GREEN RECOVERY
Singapore has an important role to play in supporting regional energy transitions, both as a regional financial centre, a global travel hub and an innovative first-adopter with a known willingness to share its expertise and learning with its neighbours.
The UK recognises this and we are proud of the many ways in which our countries are seeking to work together to drive this global win-win outcome.
In November, we conducted the first annual UK-Singapore Climate Dialogue that, over the course of the three-day virtual event, saw senior representatives from both sides demonstrate the strong appetite for partnerships in climate-focused research, trade, policy and innovation in mobility, energy, finance and beyond.
But climate change is not an issue that we in government can solve alone. It will take all of us to act, and act decisively.
Nine future-focused Singaporean organisations including Singtel, City Developments and Olam International have joined the UNFCCC Race to Zero campaign, led by UK’s High-Level Climate Champions Nigel Topping and Gonzalo Munoz.
The list now includes over 1,000 major companies around the world such as BP, Shell, Barclays and HSBC who are committed to net-zero emissions by 2050. I urge all to join this collective commitment – from large MNCs to ambitious start-ups and even individual neighbourhood entrepreneurs, every single effort counts.
Along with our businesses, universities in both our countries are also collaborating to identify the most pressing challenges and find sustainable solutions.
UK’s Imperial College and the Singapore Management University have collaborated on the first Green Finance Centre of Excellence in Singapore.
UKRI and NRF came together to jointly award £6 million (S$10.8 million) to four innovative research collaborations between top universities in the UK and in Singapore to study the impacts and solutions to marine plastic pollution in Southeast Asia – home to some of the most beautiful, important and critically endangered marine ecosystems.
It is clear that Singapore – like the UK - not only takes the climate crisis seriously, it also has the ingenuity to find ways to adapt and mitigate the impacts on its land, people and its economy.
THE ROAD AHEAD
World leaders and businesses have made a really positive start, but there is more to be done. Tackling and adapting to climate change, as we are all coming to realise, cannot wait.
The coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated that our fates are intertwined. The progress on vaccines has shown what we can accomplish when the world unites against a common threat. And this should give us all hope.
As the world races to manage the unprecedented impacts of COVID-19, we face an important choice in our road to a global recovery: Whether to invest in building back greener economies or locking in polluting emissions for decades to come.
Because in decades to come, each and every one of us, will need to be able to look future generations square in the eye, and say, that together, when the urgency of our time demanded it, we built a better world, for their sakes, and for their future generations.
Listen to an expert discuss how nations can come together to fight climate change after China's announcement on reaching net-zero emissions by 2060:
Alok Sharma is COP26 President and UK Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.