Countries urged to follow through on Paris pledges despite pandemic jolt
The United Nations climate change chief has called on all signatories to the Paris Agreement to submit upgraded emissions reduction plans this year, even as the pandemic causes widespread economic and political disruptions.
Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said the action is not only possible but essential to address both the "climate emergency" and the COVID-19 pandemic simultaneously.
"The pandemic has really altered the lives of people individually across the world," Espinosa told China Daily in an interview ahead of a high-level meeting of the UN General Assembly that marks the 75th anniversary of the intergovernmental organization this week.
"But at the same time, it is very clear that the climate emergency has not taken time off. So the top priority has been to continue work despite the pandemic. Why? Because of the sense of urgency, we have no time to lose."
As part of a five-year cycle, nations that signed the Paris Agreement on climate change are expected to deliver revised national determined contributions, or NDCs, by the end of 2020. These are core instruments within the agreement, as they outline the efforts each country will make to cut emissions and adapt to the impact of climate change.
Numerous countries are expected to miss this year's deadline for NDCs, as the pandemic has disrupted policymaking across the globe.
"We have been reaching out to countries to try to find out their plans," Espinosa said. "What I can tell you is that earlier in the year, before the pandemic, I was optimistic that we could have maybe reached two-thirds of the countries with revised NDCs by the end of this year.
"The truth is that in our outreach during the pandemic it has become evident that in many places, those processes have been slowed down."
Several studies have estimated a 5 to 10 percent reduction in global emissions this year due to widespread lockdown measures. But emissions are expected to rebound as nations get back on track and make up for lost productivity. Espinosa is urging governments to take climate change into account when crafting COVID-19 recovery plans.
Green and sustainable
"The UN secretary-general has encouraged countries to green their recovery plans and make them sustainable in order to address the economic consequences of the pandemic," Espinosa said.
"I have been stressing the fact that we cannot say we are going towards a recovery if that process is not also addressing climate change. We cannot go towards a scenario of business as usual that we know is unsustainable."
Espinosa said she is eager to see China submit an "ambitious NDC" that will "set an example" to other nations.
"China is a very important partner in our process," Espinosa said. "China has become one of the biggest global emitters, however at the same time China has been one of the leaders that have driven the process forward to where we are now. They have helped exercise leadership to get where we are. In many ways, without China's support I don't think we would have been able to get the Paris Agreement."
Espinosa said she is hopeful that China will bring forward its commitment to peaking emissions by 2030, and that the country will continue to explore ways to accelerate the phasing out of coal.
"China's leadership is absolutely crucial for us to be able to successfully go forward," she said. "China has really become a driver in renewable energy at a global level. It has demonstrated this incredible capacity to do things that other countries are not able to achieve in a very short period of time."
According to the UN Environment Programme, China invested $758 billion in renewable energy capacity between 2010 and mid-2019, more than any country or region and representing 29 percent of the global total of $2.6 trillion. China's contribution alone during that period was just shy of the worldwide total for the previous decade.
"And this is very encouraging. It is inspiring developments," Espinosa said. "So I really look at China as a leader in order to bring the process forward in a very important way."