Zero carbon race

Published January 22, 2021
The writer is an expert on climate change and development.
The writer is an expert on climate change and development.

IN a desperate move to give a new lease of life to the Paris Agreement, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has launched the Race to Zero, described as a campaign aimed at rallying support from some ‘real economy’ actors — businesses, cities, regions, and investors — for a resilient, zero carbon recovery that unlocks inclusive growth.

This coalition represents 454 cities, 23 regions, 1,397 businesses, 74 of the biggest investors, and 569 universities from 120 countries. Collectively, these actors now cover nearly 25 per cent global CO2 emissions and over 50 per cent GDP. Since the purpose of this large alliance is to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, this coalition opens the second track of non-state actors to meet the Paris Agreement’s target of stabilising global temperatures at less than two degrees Celsius.

Already, 40 countries have adopted a net-zero target that represents 14.4pc of global greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, the real story is dismal whereby more than 100 countries, including Pakistan, have failed to submit their national commitments to cut emissions within the December 2020 deadline. Further, only a handful of 71 Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs, were meaningfully ambitious. From the major economies, only the European Union and UK have taken the lead on deeper cuts on their GHG emissions by 2030: EU by 55pc and the UK by 68pc.

China and India have not submitted, but are presumably waiting to reach a prior understanding with the new American administration. Australia, Canada and Japan have simply fallen behind. China, in the meanwhile, has unveiled ambitious 2030 targets: lowering carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 65pc from 2005 level, increasing the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 25pc, and bringing the installed renewable energy capacity to more than 1,200GW. Likewise, India has committed to increase renewable energy capacity to 450GW by 2030 — a remarkable increase in five years when it was very comparable to Pakistan.

Over 100 countries, including Pakistan, have failed to submit their national commitments to cut emissions.

These commitments are significant to regain the momentum killed by the Trump administration. The outcome of the American elections as well as a global emphasis to design climate-smart stimulus packages for economic recovery has given a new window of opportunity for climate action. As one of the most vulnerable countries, fewer countries have stakes higher than Pakistan in stabilising global temperatures at less than 2°C.

At the Climate Ambitions Summit held in December 2020 to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement, Prime Minister Imran Khan made three commitments. Pakistan will a) generate 60pc of her energy from renewable resources, b) ensure that 30pc of vehicles in the country will be electric vehicles (EV), and c) not pursue coal plants and there will be no coal power plants in Pakistan. The prime minister has an opportunity to demonstrate Pakistan’s commitment and credibility by bringing specificity to these pronouncements. The revised NDC that is due for submission to UNFCC provides an opportunity. It is also time to address four omissions and assumptions.

First, Pakistan in its first NDC in 2016 had committed to reducing GHG emissions by up to 20pc from its 2030 projected levels, subject to availability of international finances to meet the abatement costs amounting to about $40 billion. The projected emissions assumed an economic growth rate of 7pc. The anticipation was that at this growth rate Pakistan’s emissions by 2025 would increase to 7pc and even higher by at least 1pc afterwards, because of CPEC. In reality, Pakistan’s actual GDP growth rate touched 5pc only once, in 2018. According to recent World Bank estimates, Pakistan will now reach a 5pc growth rate in 2025. GHG emissions projected an increase of 300pc during 2015-2030 and that needs revisiting.

Second, the first NDC had envisioned a rapid growth in emissions because of about a dozen coal power plants, planned under CPEC. This planning was against the global current of phasing out coal. A campaign spearheaded by UN secretary general seeks an embargo on new coal power plants and phasing out by 2040. Already power generation of which coal including Thar coal is a major part is resulting in mounting circular debt of Rs 2.3 trillion. Pakistan is now wriggling out of bilateral coal power deals with China. It will be important to see how projects — 8,000 MW under implementation and 20,000 MW in planning — are reflected in the revised NDC. It will also show the future scope and lifespan of Thar coal, managed by the private sector in partnership with the government of Sindh.

Third, the first NDC had not envisioned any progress on EVs. The EV policy approved in November 2019, envisions EVs to capture, by 2030, 30pc of new cars, 50pc of two- and three-wheelers, 50pc of buses, and 30pc of trucks — and this number will increase to 90pc by 2040. No specific targets are set to phase out the older fleets, but it will still be an important contribution in reducing carbon emissions. How much exactly? While the actual policy awaits clearance from the inter-ministerial committee, the revised NDC will reveal, for the first time, the actual pace of action.

Fourth, the first NDC declared that Pakistan will focus only on adaptation. A closer look at the carbon emissions shows that compared to an estimated 45.5pc emissions from energy and 5.4pc from industrial processes, almost half of all emissions are from other sectors: 42.7pc from agriculture, 6.2pc from land use and land-use change, and 3.8pc from waste. In other words, almost half of the country’s emissions can be targeted by undertaking climate-smart development policies. This includes not allowing housing societies to encroach on agricultural lands. The revised NDC will show how far the prime minister’s initiative for five million affordable low-cost housing units or flagship projects such as the Ravi riverfront urban development addresses land use and land-use change.

The economies that have initiated a move towards net-zero emissions record a faster growth rate. The prime minister’s economic advisers could brief him that the growth can be decarbonised, and jobs created in a post-pandemic world.

The writer is an expert on climate change and development.

Published in Dawn, January 22nd, 2021



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