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[Analytics] Decarbonisation: Emission-free economic recovery

China will need to double down on the promotion of clean, renewable energy sources to offset its carbon emissions. Photo: Xinhua. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

In the post-COVID world, green economic recovery has garnered significant attention as a win-win strategy to avoid the worst risks of the climate crisis. Climate change is the defining crisis of our time caused by the heating of the planet due to the ever-increasing carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Syed Ali specially for the Financial Express.

In the post-COVID era, we need a cohesive trifecta of national, regional, and global decarbonisation plans with transparent reporting, monitoring, and evaluation mechanisms. Lack thereof will vastly stymie development goals such as poverty alleviation, access to drinking water, electricity, and shelter in the emerging and developing economies, subsequently creating new multi-dimensional complications in every productive segment of our society. However, following a time-based multi-sectorial and multilateral plan eliminating carbon emissions may reverse and restore the climate change-induced damages on our lived environments.

In accordance with the Paris Agreement target; warming of the planet beyond 2°C (pre-industrial levels) will cause severe and irreversible environmental damages. The warming of the planet is caused due to Carbon’s propensity to hold heat for a longer duration; increasing global temperature irreversibly. This increase in global temperatures signifies serious risks for ecological systems along with significant adverse impacts on all the living organisms including our own species. As a result of climate change we are witnessing; widespread environmental catastrophes; urban droughts, disrupted climate cycles affecting agricultural yields, soil erosion, rising sea levels, super-cyclones, forest fires, acidification of oceans, and similar events threatening the very existence of life on our planet.

Ameliorating such environmental deterioration requires a national plan of action for the decarbonisation of our production and supply chain infrastructure. The decarbonisation plan entails a long-term strategy focusing on weaning off greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions primarily carbon dioxide because of its large share (76%) within the atmosphere. As of now, only 29 countries have submitted their ‘long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies to the UNFCCC secretariat in accordance with the Paris agreement that obliged all parties to submit their plans by 2020. Additionally, this year will witness two important events in climate diplomacy; COP 26 in Glasgow UK and the review of the Paris agreement’s member states ‘nationally determined contributions’ (NDC) submitted to UNFCCC.

According to the Emission gaps report (2020) of the UNEP, the world is headed for a catastrophic 3°c temperature rise way beyond the Paris agreements under the 2 °C goal. Therefore, this makes the COP 26 a ‘make or break’ summit to rejuvenate the global consensus on emission reduction. Unfortunately, the list of countries with a long-term decarbonisation strategy does not include the top emitters China, the USA, and India respectively, responsible for more than half of the global CO2 emissions. Singapore is the only Asian country out of the total 29 countries to have submitted a long-term emission reduction strategy to decarbonize its economy.

India is the 5th most vulnerable country to climate risks with its extreme poor being the worst affected. In 2020, out of the ten most expensive climate change events, two were in India; Amphan the super cyclone, and the October floods in the NE region of India, profusely costing the economy. Even worse, India is home to 9 out of the 10 most polluted cities in the world and this trend extends to the entire South Asian continent that has 49 out of 50 most polluted cities in the world. Pollution is a growing Asian problem, which needs an urgent regional plan that can contribute towards reducing global temperatures. At this juncture, a holistic and forceful decarbonization strategy explicitly formulating milestones to scaling clean transportation, infrastructure, energy, and agriculture at low costs through innovation is urgently needed.

With the re-entry of the USA in the Paris agreement, substantial steps have been made towards emission reduction. The USA has committed to reducing 26-28 % of its emissions by 2030 and net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. India has constituted an apex committee for the Implementation of the Paris agreement. China in its recent 14th ‘ five-year plan has laid out the roadmap for ‘carbon neutrality by 2060, with an immediate reduction of 18% and 13.5% CO2 and energy intensity, respectively from 2021 to 2025 levels.

Quantifying the amount of innovation required to replace all polluting technologies with cleaner sources is a daunting task. Innovation is at the center of our fight against climate change and for this reason, we need proactive International alliances on climate innovation across sectors especially the scientific community. During the Paris agreement (2016), a coalition of 24 countries + European Commission launched the ‘Mission Innovation’ to foster and support the financing of greener technologies, and double the public investment in R&D of clean energy. Most importantly, we need to focus on climate literacy to extract human ingenuity from wherever possible similar to the development of COVID-vaccine in record time. As Bill Gates articulates in his recent book, ‘How to avoid a climate disaster’, “Solving global warming would be “the most amazing thing humanity has done”.

The author is an independent analyst on Latin American and Sustainability affairs.

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