Race to zero in Asia-Pacific: Our hopes in climate fight
The latest synthesis report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change makes for grim reading: Every fraction of a degree of warming comes with escalated threats, from deadly heat waves to severe hurricanes and droughts, affecting all economies and communities. It is a reality that the people of Asia and the Pacific region know only too well. "The worst April heat waves in Asian history" last month were just a taste of the worsening climate impacts we will continue to face in the years to come. Our latest report highlights that the sea level is creeping up in parts of the region at a slightly higher rate than the global mean, leaving low-lying atolls at existential threat. Annual socioeconomic loss due to climate change is mounting and likely to double in the worst-case climate scenario. Inequity is yet another threat as climate change sweeps across the region. The Asia-Pacific region already accounts for more than half of global greenhouse gas emissions and the share is growing. But there is another picture of hope in our region: 39 countries have committed to achieving carbon neutrality and net zero between 2050 and 2060. The cost of renewable energy is falling almost everywhere, with installed capacity growing more than three-fold in the past decade. Electric vehicles are entering the market en masse as countries such as China, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea and Thailand have made electric mobility a priority. This momentum needs to accelerate like a bullet train. Because nothing short of a breakthrough in hard-to-abate sectors will give us a good chance of stopping catastrophic global warming. The recent energy crisis has kicked renewable energy into a new phase of even faster growth thanks to its energy security benefits. There is an opportunity now to leverage this momentum and turn it into a revolutionary moment. Cross-border electricity grids can be a game changer. The UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific has simulated different scenarios for grid connectivity and scaling up renewables. It shows that a green power corridor and cross-border power grid integration utilizing renewables can help remove the last hurdles of the transition. We are working with countries to chart a path to improved regional power grid connectivity through cooperation. The exceptional growth of electric vehicles has proved that electric mobility is a smart investment. It is one that will help stave off carbon dioxide emissions from transport, which has stubbornly increased almost by 2 percent annually over the past two decades. Through the Regional Cooperation Mechanism on Low Carbon Transport, we are working with the public and private sectors to lock in the changeover to low-carbon mobility, clean energy technologies and logistics. This is complemented by peer learning and experience sharing under the Asia-Pacific Initiative on Electric Mobility to accelerate the penetration of electric vehicles and upgrading public transport fleets. The net zero transition is not complete without decarbonizing the industrial sector. The Asia-Pacific accounts for nearly three quarters of global greenhouse gas emissions in manufacturing and construction. Binding climate considerations in regional trade agreements can be a powerful tool. While climate-related provisions have entered regional trade agreements involving Asia-Pacific economies, they offer few concrete and binding commitments. To unlock further benefits, they will need to be broader in scope, deeper in stringency and more precise in obligations. As foreign investment goes green, it should also go where it's needed the most. It has not been the case for any of the least developed countries and small island developing states in the region. The transition can be only possible by investing in low and zero-emission technologies and industries. Current domestic and international financial flows fall well short of the needed amount. The issuance of green, social and sustainability bonds is rapidly growing, reaching $210 billion in 2021, but it was dominated by developed and a few developing countries. Both public and private financial institutions need to be incentivized to invest in new green technologies and make the uptake of such technologies less risky. The code red to go green is ever so clear. Every government needs to raise their stake in this crisis. Every business needs to transform. Every individual needs to act. A journey to net zero should accelerate with a fresh look at our shared purpose. At ESCAP, we are working to bring together the pieces and build the missing links at the regional level to support the netzero transition work at the national level. The upcoming Commission session will bring countries together for the first time in an intergovernmental setting to identify common accelerators for climate action and to chart a more ambitious pathway. This is the start of an arduous journey that requires cooperation, understanding and determination. And I believe we have what it takes to get there together.