2020 has gone and 2021 is on. For all practical purposes, 2021 is being welcomed under muted celebration, which normally is an extravagant affair with people exploding in frenzy of celebration. The year 2020 has been very challenging for everyone across the globe and 2021 begins with almost similar concerns that we had in 2020.
While vaccination has started and a considerable share of the global population will receive vaccines in 2021, we hope to rebuild broken systems soon. However, perhaps the greatest concern, according to many, is still untamed. Yes, it is climate change, which continues to pose serious threats to humanity.
Experts, analysts, activists and some policymakers of the world have been trying to convince others to draw lessons from Covid-19 to address climate change and to act before it is too late. Yet, we experience with sheer frustration the gross mismatch between expectations and reality. As we have entered the new year, which would define much of the climate actions of the next four or five years, we shall have new resolutions for climate change to make 2021 the year of transition.
Individual response shall continue:
Revisiting the year 2020, it is fair to conclude that people are much more resilient to the abrupt changes than they were thought to be. With invasion of the unseen virus Covid-19 and subsequent drastic lockdown measures, people have embraced the new normal. At individual levels, people have sacrificed many personal activities for the common goal of containing Covid-19. The pandemic has also highlighted that many of our individual activities are, in fact, non-essential and avoiding them would have quite a notable impact on climate change mitigation.
Time is of essence to analyse which activities are unnecessary and which should continue once the pandemic is over as we are racing against time to arrest climate change. Whatever emission reduction has thus far been achieved, attributable to Covid-19, would eventually rebound if people get back to the old normal.
And we need to cut down emission at a higher rate than that of last year. Why not then commit to the resolution that individuals are prepared to continue with their altered behaviour to battle even a greater challenge than Covid-19. We, on our part, shall do the best and let others follow suit.
Let's talk more about climate change action:
There is no denying that public discourse on climate change continues to contribute to the way policymaking for climate change is being shaped today. The young generation, influenced by Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, is vehemently showing dissatisfaction whenever any policy stance or initiative appears to jeopardise our mission for climate change.
Over the last few years, there has been a transformation, particularly in the way the young generation thinks about climate change and expresses their concern for their, as well as upcoming generations' future. Despite the momentum we have gained, there is still need for further improvement. For instance, some advocates for coal still try to fool people that slashing coal production would impede development of large power plants in the poorest countries. The lives of the poor and have-nots, as a result, would be stifled, they say.
It is rather evident that electricity generated from renewable energies is now cheaper than coal. The discussions on climate change, based on facts, shall therefore continue to ride out wrong information and more people shall talk on climate change.
Raising ambitions for climate change mitigation:
December 31, 2020 was the deadline for submitting the revised Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) by the countries who have ratified the Paris Agreement (PA). These NDCs, according to the PA, are supposed to be the second NDCs with higher commitments for GHG mitigation. According to the information available on the Climate Vulnerable Forum's webpage as of early morning of December 30, 2020, only 57 countries have submitted their updated NDCs. Out of the 57 NDCs, only four are 1.5 °C compatible while 34 are 2° C compatible. Regrettably, some of the submitted NDCs would lead warming to overshoot beyond 3° C and up to 4° C.
Now that COP26 will be the most significant climate summit in 2021 after the COP21 in 2015, it is necessary to calculate the emission trajectory with the mitigation ambitions of the countries under their NDCs. And for this to happen, the remaining countries shall submit their NDCs sooner rather than later. As it appears that we are unlikely to reach the 1.5° C goal with the current level of ambition, the willingness of major polluting countries is the key. And what could be a better place than COP26 at the end of 2021, which might set the course of climate actions for the next 4 or 5 years, for countries to raise ambition for mitigation.
Climate Actions shall make 2021 the year of transition:
The momentum for taking urgent actions against climate change has been growing, yet the real progress often falls short of expectations. Despite the increasing contribution of renewable energies and enhanced energy efficiency, global GHG emission was still rising at an alarming rate until we experienced the unanticipated changes led by the pandemic.
Now, with trillions of dollars to be spent on economic recovery, as fiscal stimuli, policymakers around the world have choices to make – either to spur a greener and cleaner future or to invite even a greater catastrophe than this pandemic. As energy transition is taking place and sustainability is rapidly being embraced by financial institutes across the globe, these fiscal stimuli have the possibilities to drive market-led low emission development. With the opportunity to overhaul some of the major sectors of different economies, let 2021 be the year of transition for climate actions.
Finally, there could not be a better time for individuals or countries than 2021 to make choices and ramp up efforts for climate actions as we would head to the climate summit later this year to assess our collective progress. Well, of course political willingness is the key to address climate change, but our resolutions and determination may help us to be on the path of continued action. And who knows, individual action, public discourse and market driven approach may eventually tempt the policymakers to shift to our side.
Shafiqul Alam is a Humboldt Scholar; He is an engineer and environmental economist.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.