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UNEP chief sets four critical points to achieve green prosperity
Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Inger Anderson said that there are four critical points to successfully realize green prosperity and ecological civilization.
Addressing the annual forum of the International Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED) in Beijing, she said these four points include accelerating energy transitions and renewable energy, backing sustainable transport, focusing on non-carbon greenhouse gases (GHGs), and investing in nature, food system reforms and circularity to implement the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) rapidly.
“As noted yesterday in my opening speech, China leads the world in renewable energy. The CCICED policy paper notes that China will likely install more solar and wind power in 2023 alone than the entire renewable energy capacity of the European Union (EU) or the United States (U.S.). Estimates suggest as much as 200 GW of renewable power could be installed in 2024. This is astounding and very impressive,” Anderson said.
“At the same time, however, we have seen an increase in new fossil fuel-based electricity generation capacity since 2021. The CCICED policy paper notes that while many older and inefficient coal plants have been retired, the net effect of recent approvals of new plants is an estimated 10 percent rise in China’s coal generation – equivalent to 100 new plants,” she added.
In light of the faster-than-planned expansion of renewable energy, coupled with the forthcoming power market reforms, the CCICED policy paper recommends a review of recently approved coal-fired electricity generation, since newly installed renewables are on track to supplement the declining output from hydropower.
Equally, the shift to clean energy must come alongside energy efficiency, which can bring down emissions faster and avoid long-term grid overload. Energy efficiency improvements in China can be more than doubled with measures such as Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPs). Ambitious MEPs are in place in China for room air conditioners and electric motors; China can show global leadership by applying the same standards to export markets.
“These are recommendations UNEP backs. Indeed, we recommend that all countries find ways to learn from and emulate China’s impressive roll-out of renewable energy. And UNEP recommends countries review their hydrocarbon-based energy sources with a view to phasing them out, because climate change is a clear and present threat to human, societal and economic health,” she said.
As for backing sustainable transport, “the transition to zero emissions mobility is essential to meet climate targets and make our cities breathable again. China is playing a leadership role in the transition to electric mobility. China’s fleet is electrifying at record pace – not only light duty vehicles, but two wheelers, buses and trucks,” she said.
The CCICED recommends that China improve the policy package for promoting new energy vehicles: through incentives, new energy vehicle infrastructure and sales targets for heavy-duty vehicles. This is certainly something China should do. But many countries have just only started their transition. The Global South will add more than one billion vehicles to its fleet in the coming decades. We can’t afford these to be fossil fuel vehicles.
“The UNEP’s global electric mobility program is supporting more than 50 developing countries. These countries are now developing program to switch to electric motorcycles, introducing electric bus fleets, and reforming taxation system to promote electric mobility. “=As well as accelerating its own transition to sustainable transport, I ask China to work closer with UNEP to support these countries,” she said.
Non-carbon GHG emissions are a substantial driver of climate change and have significant impacts on air quality and urban livability. So, reducing gases such as methane, hydrofluorocarbons and nitrous oxide is key.
“We at UNEP are the proud hosts of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition and the International Methane Emissions Observatory. We are also hosting the support to the Global Methane Pledge. With an estimated 58.4 million tonnes of methane emitted in 2021 (as estimated by the IEA) this area represents a true opportunity for China. We at UNEP were honoured to be invited by China to provide policy recommendations to reduce GHGs for the 14th Five Year Plan (2021-2025). We are also aware that China has produced a draft National Methane Action Plan, which is currently pending the State Council approval,” she said.
So, there is a substantial opportunity to move forward on non-carbon GHGs, which would deliver early and relatively quick climate returns. UNEP considers this an area in which the CCICED can expand its work. China may also wish to consider joining the UNEP Climate and Clean Air Coalition, as well as the Global Methane Pledge, to reduce methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030. This pledge has 150 countries signed up already. China might also consider joining the Global Cooling Pledge, an initiative supported by COP28 host, the UAE. China could even join these ahead of COP28.
“As we discussed in the open forum on the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), transformations are needed to deliver finance, rethink food systems, restore ecosystems and deliver across the whole framework. I will not repeat my points here. Suffice to say that investing in this area will bring massive positive benefits for the climate as well as for nature,” she said.
“China’s leadership in these areas, and more, can be a game changer for green prosperity. As a major emitter, China can up its ambition and deliver stronger action on climate, nature and pollution. But global leadership from China can deliver even more. The CCICED’s workplan, taskforces and special policy studies for the next cycle will help to deliver this leadership. And we at UNEP, through the CCICED and other avenues, will be there to support every step of the way,” she concluded.