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 know only too well. “The worst April heatwaves in Asian history” last month was 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 socio-economic 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. Asia and the Pacific already account 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 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.
Accelerating a just and inclusive energy transition
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 the game changer. ESCAP has simulated different scenarios for grid connectivity and scaling up renewables. It shows that a green power corridor, cross-border power grid integration utilizing renewables, can help to remove the last hurdles of the transition. We are working with countries to chart a path to improved regional power grid connectivity through cooperation.
Achieving low-carbon mobility and logistics
The exceptional growth of electric vehicles has proved that electric mobility is a smart investment. And it is one that will help stave off carbon dioxide emissions from transport, which has stubbornly increased almost by 2 percent annually the past two decades.
Through the Regional Cooperation Mechanism on Low Carbon Transport, we are working with the public and private sector 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.
Building low-carbon industries through climate-smart trade and investment
The net zero transition is not complete without decarbonizing the industrial sector. The region 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 Asian and 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 is needed the most. It has not been the case for any of the least developed countries and small island developing states in the region.
Financing the transition
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 were 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.
Linking actions and elevating ambitions
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 net-zero 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.
The author is the Under-Secretary-General of the UN and Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).