Two years since the Paris Agreement: where do we stand?
Two years after the signing of the Paris Agreement, world leaders gathered in Bonn, Germany at COP23 this month to discuss five important topics: extreme weather, the United States, bolder ambition, finance and the real economy1 in relation to meeting the Paris Agreement targets.
The agreement aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to further limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius2. As of 21 November 2017, 170 parties have ratified the convention3. With COP23 happening this month, it is a good opportunity to reflect on what has transpired in the past two years.
To keep within the 2-degree limit, global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions must start to decline by 2020 at the latest4. Although the majority (68%) of sustainability specialists believe minimal progress has been made since the Paris Agreement5, global GHG emission levels appear to have stabilised in the last two years. In 2016, global emissions continued to increase slowly by about 0.5%, to about 49.3 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent. In 2015, the increase was just 0.2%, the lowest since the early 1990s. This is mainly the result of reduced coal consumption, as more countries switch to natural gas, and increased renewable power generation, in particular wind and solar power6. Unfortunately, scientists project that emissions have started to increase again in 20177.
On the political front, the United States’ “pull-out” from the Paris Agreement in June is now viewed as leverage to increase ambition worldwide. Days following President Trump’s announcement, the We Are Still In coalition was formed to show continued support to meet the Paris Agreement. The coalition set up a US Climate Action Center pavilion at COP238 where dozens of American leaders convened to discuss climate action. California Governor, Jerry Brown, also reaffirmed the US’s commitment to the Paris Agreement alongside Michael Bloomberg last week at COP239.
China has also taken this opportunity to assume a leadership role. Chinese President Xi Jinping announced China’s ambition to be the leading country combating climate change10 at the 19th Chinese Communist Party Congress. In the coming years, China plans to promote green development, tackle pollution and implement more robust regulations to protect the environment11.
Leading proponents of renewable energy in Europe including Germany, Sweden and Denmark, continue to set an example for what needs to be done to address climate change. In 2016, renewables supplied 14.6% of Germany’s total energy needs12.
Source: The GlobeScan-SustainAbility Survey – The 2017 Climate Survey
The Private Sector
Another stakeholder group essential to the success of the Paris Agreement is the private sector. More than ever, the private sector is expected to play an active role, and is believed to be the second most influential stakeholder after national governments.
Source: The GlobeScan-SustainAbilty Survey – The 2017 Climate Survey
Companies perceived as high performers in addressing climate change in 2017 are primarily technology and consumer-facing North American companies (except for Unilever, Natura and IKEA who are headquartered outside of North America). These companies all have vocal, ambitious and supportive leadership in addressing climate change. Another common trait is their effective communication frameworks, both internally and externally, to engage stakeholders and mobilise consumers. Since 2015, Unilever, Tesla and IKEA have been viewed as leading companies in addressing climate change. Several other companies (Apple, Google, Patagonia, Interface, Walmart and Natura) have also seen increased recognition for their efforts13. When compared to 2009, the presence of industrial companies (GE, Toyota, BP, Shell, Dupont) has diminished.
Source: The GlobeScan-SustainAbilty Survey – The 2017 Climate Survey
Aside from these major players, recognition should also be given to other companies who have committed to reducing their GHG emissions, including RE100 companies. RE100 is a collaborative, global initiative uniting more than 100 influential businesses committed to 100% renewable electricity, working to massively increase demand for – and delivery of – renewable energy14. Dalmia Cement, one of the biggest cement providers in India, has recently joined RE100 and has set an ambitious target of a fourfold increase in the percentage of renewables in their overall electricity consumption by 2030 compared to 201515. Mars Inc., also a member of RE100, has pledged to invest about US $1billion to slash GHG emissions in its supply chain by 67% by 205016. Outside of RE100 companies, Baidu, the largest search engine in China, also announced their plan to invest US$100 million in electric vehicles17. In the years to come, we can expect to see more companies outside of those in North America and Europe committing themselves to addressing climate change as companies see this as an opportunity to increase competitiveness18.
The Local Context
Since the Paris Agreement, the Hong Kong Government has published Hong Kong’s Climate Change Action Plan 2030+19. The plan outlines the vision and measures needed to ensure Hong Kong can achieve the updated carbon intensity reduction target of 65%-70% by 2030. To date, we can see the Government’s achievements have mostly been concentrated in boosting renewable energy usage within its own operating facilities.
- The Siu Ho Wan Sewage Treatment Works Solar Farm has the capacity to supply about 25% of electricity needs for its operation.
- The T· PARK, sludge treatment facility turns thermal energy generated from the incineration into electricity, surplus electricity can even be uploaded to the power grid.
- In February 2017, the first solar photovoltaic system was installed at a reservoir as a pilot project to generate clean energy for a water pumping station, saving the electricity expenses of the pumping station by 25%.
In terms of the private sector, we see more companies dipping their toes into the waters of energy efficiency, with leaders like Swire Properties specifically identifying climate change as a target area in their sustainability strategy SD203020. Building efficiency accounts for approximately 90% of the electricity consumption in Hong Kong, and it is indeed an area of opportunity to reduce GHG emissions21. As a city with limited opportunity to generate renewable energy due to land restrictions and environmental conditions, improving energy efficiency of buildings is the key for Hong Kong to meet its emission reduction targets.
The Way Forward
Collaboration between government and private sector to drive change, together with supporting facts from scientific institutions to track progress will continue to be essential moving forward. Since the Paris Agreement, an increasing number of governments and businesses view emission reduction as an opportunity rather than a challenge. Even though global emission levels have yet to start declining, recent commitments from governments (with exception of the US) and businesses do hint that there may still be hope. With further discussions needed to take place on the financial flow during the pre-2020 period22, it remains to be seen what actions and measures global leaders will set forth to ensure temperature rise remains “well below” 2 degrees.
1. Five things that will be top of the agenda at the COP23 climate summit – https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/11/five-things-people-will-be-talking-about-at-cop23/
4. 2020 The Climate Turning Point
6. 2020 The Climate Turning Point
8. We Are Still In – https://www.wearestillin.com/COP23
14. RE100 is a collaborative, global initiative uniting more than 100 influential businesses committed to 100% renewable electricity, working to massively increase demand for – and delivery of – renewable energy.
17. Baidu said to make US$100 million investment in Chinese electric car startup NextEV – http://www.reuters.com/brandfeatures/venture-capital/article?id=3273
21. GovHK Climate Change – https://www.gov.hk/en/residents/environment/global/climate.htm
22. COP23: Key outcomes agreed at the UN climate talks in Bonn https://www.carbonbrief.org/cop23-key-outcomes-agreed-un-climate-talks-bonn