Joint action to face climate change and Covid-19: a major path for a sustainable future

In 2020, all stakeholders should have demonstrated their ambition to implement the Paris Agreement. By the end of the year, parties communicated or updated their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) and shared their long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies. Meeting this climate ambition is more necessary than ever to keep the increase in global average temperature well below 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels and as close as possible to 1.5°C. This session highlighted the urgency for action, the commitments of the parties and the impact of the Paris Agreement on a green recovery.

Author: Sciences Po student Camila Luz summarizes the debate session of the third edition of the Paris Peace Forum

Debate title: 5-year anniversary of the Paris Agreement: how to keep the climate ambition alive and strong

Date: 12 November 2020

As the world faces two unprecedented crises – climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic – measures for cooperation were discussed and endorsed at the third edition of the Paris Peace Forum.

In the “5-year anniversary of the Paris Agreement: How to keep the climate ambition alive and strong” session, on 12 November 2020, participants advocated the end of fossil fuel subsidies and multilateral cooperation as two key measures.

Bertrand Piccard, President of Solar Impulse Foundation, served as moderator of the panel. He introduced the theme of joint action to face the two simultaneous crises in his first question to Barbara Pompili, Minister for the Ecological Transition in France.

“Covid-19 is both an economic and a climate challenge because it poses a significant risk on an economic recovery that could be highly carbonated”, the Minister said, answering Piccard’s question.

As a positive sign for a possible recovery, Pompili pointed out the triad between China, South Korea, and Japan, who, in 2020, committed to 100% carbon neutrality by 2050 for Japan and Korea and by 2060 for China. Together, these three countries emitted one-third of all global carbon emissions in 2018, according to Greenpeace.

But these signals must be followed by concrete actions. “We must go even further. We must be ambitious”, said the Minister, mentioning the example of the Japanese government, which has announced that the country’s banks will no longer fund exports on carbon production.

Pompili continued stating the need to put an end to fossil fuel subsidies, which is one of the calls of the Green New Deal. According to her, France is committed to this with a €100 billion recovery plan. Of that total, €30 billion will be directly used for ecological transition in 2021 and 2022.

On the American side, John Kerry, Former Secretary of State of the United States, agreed that fossil fuel subsidies should be ended.

“End the subsidies. Stop them. There is zero rationale for these subsidies in today’s world”, he said. Instead, subsidies for alternative and renewable energy should be provided.

John Kerry recalled that during Donald Trump’s administration, the United States withdrew from the Paris Agreement and blocked funding for alternative and renewable energy. But now, the scenario has changed.

“We have 38 states in America with the governors supporting the Paris Agreement”, he said. Kerry also indicated that the United States is preparing for the 26th United Nations Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP26), which will take place in Glasgow from 1 November to 12 November2021.

Alok Sharma, president of COP26, also participated in the session. The British politician said that despite the one-year delay of the event because of the pandemic, the level of ambition could be maintained.

Prices of renewables are falling, businesses are adopting more eco-friendly approaches, and, across the world, populations have warned that governments, especially in this time of recovery, “should build back better and build back green”. 

Sharma revealed that his aim is to bring non-state actors to Glasgow. “One of the things that we learned during this whole Covid-19 crisis is that you can communicate online; you do not have to meet physically”, he said. “We can use that technology to allow COP to be even more inclusive”.

Also on the topics of international cooperation and the use of non-polluting energies, Mohan Kumar, Chairman of Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS), introduced the matter of a symbiotic relationship between energy poverty and extreme economic poverty.

“If you want to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of no extreme poverty by 2030, you have to handle energy poverty”, he said, saying that 800 million people in the world still do not have access to any kind of energy. Of that total, 300 million are in India and many more in Sub-Saharan Africa.

According to Kumar, India is one of the main coal consumers in the world, alongside China and the United States. During the pandemic, however, the country tried to ensure all coal-fired plants were idle. And the approach was successful: India has shifted completely to renewables.

“This is of course temporary, I am not saying it is permanent, but it has had a great impact. We have established something like 200 thousand megawatts of renewables just during this pandemic period”, he said. 

Cooperation among all actors on the international stage, including the largest consumers of polluting energies and underdeveloped countries, was therefore one of the highlights of the discussion. While directing one last question to Barbara Pompili, Bertrand Piccard said that  “there is no lack of money, but rather the need to better articulate and allocate existing resources.”

The Minister for the Ecological Transition in France answered that the current health crisis has clearly demonstrated an obligation to show solidarity between countries, especially towards the less developed ones. “Only in this way can we focus on climate action”, she concluded.

By Camila Luz

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