In November, we marked one year to go until the COP26 international climate summit, to be hosted in the UK. This will be a pivotal moment for the world to come together and agree on ambitious steps to prevent the catastrophic warming of our planet.
This is an issue of crucial significance not just as we navigate the current global pandemic, but for the years and decades ahead.
While the world has been dealing with the coronavirus, the dangers of global warming have continued to become more evident. Just this year, we have seen unprecedented heatwaves in Siberia, flash floods across East Africa and vast areas of the Western US ravaged by wildfires.
Here in Cambodia, this year’s heavy monsoon rains have caused severe flooding – and sadly, as we look towards the future more flooding and droughts across Southeast Asia are likely, placing global health security at risk and the global economy under increasing pressure.
As countries continue to manage the impact, they also face an important choice. Whether to invest in building back greener economies or locking in polluting emissions for decades to come. A science-led, clean and resilient recovery in Southeast Asia will generate economic growth, create employment in the industries of the future, foster international investment and ensure job security, and reduce emissions, allowing us to meet our collective Paris Agreement targets.
In particular, the economies of tomorrow will be built on sustainable, clean energy. Clean energy plays a vital role in reducing global emissions and easing the most severe climate impacts, but also offers the opportunity in boosting economies. Investing in renewable energy now can generate jobs, economic growth, energy security and decrease the price of electricity. Here in Southeast Asia, renewable energy could supply half of all power needs by 2030, and boost the economy by over four per cent, growing jobs by almost 50 per cent.
The high levels of solar irradiation in Cambodia provides one of the opportunities to produce cheap and green energy. UNDP’s report, Cambodia: De-risking Renewable Energy Investment, found that investment in just 700MW of solar energy could directly reduce around 8.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions by 2045. Investment into renewable energy helps the country decrease emissions, fulfil the growing electricity demand and meet the government’s Rectangular Strategy Phase IV’s calls for “continuing to encourage and increase investment in clean energy and renewable energy, especially solar power while reducing the production of energy from unclean sources to ensure long-term energy security”.
As incoming president of COP26, I am encouraged by what I have seen so far of governments and businesses rallying behind the goal of reaching net zero by 2050.
Whether that’s President Xi Jinping announcing China will reach carbon neutrality before 2060, states like Michigan in the US setting out plans to be carbon neutral by 2050 or more than 1,000 major companies stepping up and committing to net zero emissions by 2050. Earlier this year, Singapore took a step forward in its efforts to tackle climate change by announcing its ambition to reach net zero emissions by the second half of the century through their Long-Term Low-Emissions Development Strategy (LEDS), the first of its kind in ASEAN.
According to the Climate Action Tracker, there are now 126 countries, together responsible for over half of global emissions, with similar carbon or climate neutrality announcements.
Non-government actors are contributing too; for example, by signing up to the Race to Zero, a global campaign mobilising cities, regions, businesses and investors all committed to the same overarching goal: achieving net zero emissions by 2050 at the very latest. This is a great way for businesses and other organisations to help address climate change and, despite the challenges of the impact of covid-19, I’m nonetheless hoping to see Cambodian businesses join in the lead up to COP26.
Ambitious world leaders 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.
On December 12, the UK co-hosted a Climate Ambition Summit with the UN and France, and in partnership with Chile and Italy, to mark the fifth anniversary of the landmark Paris Agreement.
Every country subject to the Paris Agreement was invited to the virtual event which focused on action to reduce emissions and build resilience to climate impacts, whether through adaptation or through climate finance.
Ahead of the Climate Ambition Summit the UK announced its new Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), committing to reducing emissions by the fastest rate of any major economy. The new plan aims for at least 68 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the decade, compared to 1990 levels. These target are the first set by the UK following its departure from the EU, demonstrating the UK’s leadership in tackling climate change. Over the past decade, the UK has cut carbon emissions by more than any similar developed country and was the first major economy to legislate for net zero emissions by 2050.
I wish to congratulate Cambodia on increasing their commitments to combating the impact of climate change through enhancing their NDC which will be submitted this month to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Cambodia’s achievements were recognised by the invitation for Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen to speak at the Climate Ambition Summit. In recognition of these achievements, I am encouraging Cambodia to continue developing a long-term climate strategy with a pathway to net zero greenhouse gas emissions.
So now, I am calling on all countries to bring their highest ambitions to the table, for what I hope will be a key moment for our planet.
Alok Sharma is COP26 president