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Green economy ‘not to be feared, but an opportunity to be embraced’

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A green economy is “not one to be feared but an opportunity to be embraced”, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on Monday, in a keynote speech to delegates at the opening of the COP25 UN climate conference in Madrid on Monday.

The tasks are many, timelines are tight, every item is important

Mr. Guterres outlined the work programme for what will be a busy two-week event covering multiple aspects of the climate crisis, including capacity-building, deforestation, indigenous peoples, cities, finance, technology, and gender. “The tasks are many”, he said, “our timelines are tight, and every item is important”.

The conference must convey a firm determination to change course, demonstrate that the world is seriously committed to stopping the “war against nature”, and has the political will to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, he continued.

COP25 marks the beginning of a 12 month process to review countries’ “Nationally Determined Contributions” or NDCs (the commitments made under the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement), and ensure that they are ambitious enough to defeat the climate emergency.

Overcome divisions, put a price on carbon

Encouraging signs of progress, noted Mr. Guterres, came out of the UN’s Climate Action Summit, held in September, which saw initiatives proposed by small island nations and least-developed countries, major cities and regional economies, as well as the private and financial sectors.

The stated intention of some 70 countries to submit enhanced NDCs in 2020 – with 65 countries and major economies committing to work for net zero emissions by 2050 – while governments and investors are backing away from fossil fuels, were also cited as positive signs.

The UN chief called for leaders to end division over climate change, and reach consensus on carbon pricing, a crucial tool for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Doing so, he said, will “get markets up and running, mobilize the private sector, and ensure that the rules are the same for everyone.”

Is this the generation that ‘fiddled while the planet burned?’

However, failing to decide on a price for carbon will, warned Mr. Guterres, risk fragmenting the carbon markets, sending a negative message that can undermine efforts to solve the climate crisis.

Throughout his speech, the Secretary-General was crystal clear about the urgent, existential level of the climate crisis. Failure to act, he said, will be the path of surrender: “Do we really want to be remembered as the generation that buried its head in the sand, that fiddled while the planet burned?”

The signs of potential disaster are unmissable, he declared. For example, the current concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is comparable to that seen between 3 and 5 million years ago, when the temperature was between 2 and 3 degrees Celsius warmer than now and sea levels were 10 to 20 metres higher than today.

Other indicators include the fact that the last five years have been the hottest on record, and have seen extreme weather events and associated disasters, from hurricanes to drought to floods to wildfires. Ice caps are melting at a rapid rate, sea levels are rising, and oceans are acidifying, threatening all marine life.

Meanwhile, coal plants continue to be planned and built, and large, important parts of the global economy – from agriculture to transportation, from urban planning and construction to cement, steel and other carbon-intensive industries – are still run in ways that are unsustainable.

“There is no time and no reason to delay”, concluded Mr. Guterres. “We have the tools, we have the science, we have the resources. Let us show we also have the political will that people demand from us. To do anything less will be a betrayal of our entire human family and all the generations to come”.

Time for politicians to lead, not follow

Speaking at a roundtable with Heads of State and government attending COP25, Mr. Guterres urged them to lead, and not follow, at a time when public opinion over the environment is evolving very quickly, and cities, regions and the business community are taking action to tackle the climate crisis.

The Secretary-General reminded them that at the recent G20 meeting of the world’s leading economies in Osaka, a group of asset management companies, representing some $34 trillion dollars had asked political leaders to enhance climate action, end subsidies to fossil fuels, and put a price on carbon.

The private sector, he added, is increasingly demonstrating a strong commitment to move forward, and complaining that it’s governments who are lagging behind: regulation is inadequate, fiscal systems are not favourable, subsidies are still going to fossil fuels, and companies face obstacles to climate action.

With a head of steam building for action, it is for political leaders to “to be able to take profit of this movement and to lead, for us to be able to defeat climate change”.

Climate crisis mostly effecting ‘those least responsible for it’

The Secretary-General also addressed a forum of “climate vulnerable” countries, where he pointed out the “great injustice” of climate change: its effects fall most on those least responsible for it.

He cited examples, including Mozambique and the Caribbean, ravaged by storms that cause devastation, in terms of lives lost, communities uprooted, and economies crippled; and drought in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa.

Nevertheless, some of the most vulnerable nations are in the forefront of climate action, showing leadership at September’s Climate Action Summit: Mr. Guterres expressed his hope that their example will be followed by the world’s big emitters.

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EU Politics

Commission invests €1 billion in innovative clean technology projects

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The Commission is launching the first call for proposals under the Innovation Fund , one of the world’s largest programmes for the demonstration of innovative low-carbon technologies, financed by revenues from the auction of emission allowances from the EU’s Emissions Trading System. The Innovation Fund will finance breakthrough technologies for renewable energy, energy-intensive industries, energy storage, and carbon capture, use and storage. It will provide a boost to the green recovery by creating local future-proof jobs, paving the way to climate neutrality and reinforcing European technological leadership on a global scale.

Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans said: “This call for proposals comes at just the right time. The EU will invest €1 billion in promising, market-ready projects such as clean hydrogen or other low-carbon solutions for energy-intensive industries like steel, cement and chemicals. We will also support energy storage, grid solutions, and carbon capture and storage. These large-scale investments will help restart the EU economy and create a green recovery that leads us to climate neutrality in 2050.”

For the period 2020-2030, the Innovation Fund will allocate around €10 billion from the auctioning of allowances under the EU Emissions Trading System, in addition to undisbursed revenues from the Innovation Fund’s predecessor, the NER 300 programme.

The first call will provide grant funding of €1 billion to large-scale projects for clean technologies to help them overcome the risks linked to commercialisation and large-scale demonstration. This support will help new technologies to reach the market. For promising projects which are not yet ready for market, a separate budget of €8 million is set aside for project development assistance.

The call is open for projects in eligible sectors from all EU Member States, Iceland and Norway. The funds can be used in cooperation with other public funding initiatives, such as State aid or other EU funding programmes. Projects will be evaluated according to their potential to avoid greenhouse gas emission, innovation potential, financial and technical maturity, and potential for scaling up and cost efficiency. The deadline for submission of applications  is 29 October 2020. Projects can apply via the EU Funding and Tenders portal where more details on the overall procedure are available.

Background

The Innovation Fund aims to create the right financial incentives for companies and public authorities to invest now in the next generation of low-carbon technologies and give EU companies a first-mover advantage to become global technology leaders.

The Innovation Fund will be implemented by the Executive Agency for Networks and Innovation (INEA), while the European Investment Bank will provide project development assistance to promising projects that are not ready for full application.

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Environment

Electric mobility could boost green jobs as part of the COVID-19 recovery in Latin America

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The transition to electric mobility could help Latin America and Caribbean countries to reduce emissions and fulfill their commitments under the Paris Agreement on climate change, while generating green jobs as part of their recovery plans from the COVID-19 crisis, according to a new study.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report, “Electric Mobility 2019: Status and Opportunities for Regional Collaboration in Latin America and the Caribbean,” analyzes the latest developments in 20 countries in the region and highlights the growing leadership of cities, companies, and civil associations in promoting new e-mobility technologies.

Though still a recent development, electrification of the public transport sector is happening at high speed in several countries in the region, says the study financed by the European Commission through the EUROCLIMA + Programme and the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID) and renewable energy company Acciona.

Chile stands outs with the largest fleet of electric buses in the region, with more than 400 units, while Colombia is expected to incorporate almost 500 electric buses in Bogotá, its capital. Other Colombian cities, like Cali and Medellín, have join Ecuador’s Guayaquil and Brazil’s Sao Paulo in introducing electric buses.

Increased efficiency, lower operation and maintenance costs of electric buses, as well as growing public concern around the impacts of road transport-related emissions on human health and the environment are the main drivers behind this transition in public transport, according to the study.

The transport sector is responsible for 15 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in Latin America and the Caribbean and is one of the main drivers of poor air quality in cities, which causes more than 300,000 premature deaths a year in the Americas, according to the World Health Organization.

“In recent months we have seen a reduction of air pollution in cities in the region due to lockdowns to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But these improvements are only temporary. We must undertake a structural change so that our transportation systems contribute to the sustainability of our cities,” says Leo Heileman, UNEP Regional Director in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The report calls on decision-makers to prioritize the electrification of public transport, especially when updating the old bus fleets that run through the large cities in the region. There is fear of a “technology lock-in” over the next 7 to 15 years if authorities choose to renew old fleets with new internal combustion vehicles that will continue to pollute the air and cause severe health damages.

Some countries are already paving the way to ensure a transition to sustainable transport. Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Panamá have designed national strategies on electric mobility, while Argentina, Dominican Republic, México, Paraguay are finalizing their own plans, according to the report.

More than 6,000 new light-duty electric vehicles (EVs) were registered in Latin America and the Caribbean, between January 2016 and September 2019, according to the report. The need for charging infrastructure has boosted new ventures and services. For example, e-corridors, already running in Brazil, Chile, México, and Uruguay, allow users to extend the autonomy of their EVs by making use of public fast charging point networks.   

Shared mobility businesses focusing on electric bicycles and skateboards are also being developed in at least nine countries in the region.

The development of electric vehicle charging infrastructure has the potential to foster new investments and jobs, which are key to COVID-19 recovery efforts in the region. 

The report calls on governments to develop a clear medium- and long-term roadmap that provides legal certainty for private investment and highlights the role of sustainable mobility in power grid expansion plans, in line with climate commitments under the Paris Agreement.

The 2015 Agreement, signed to date by nearly 200 countries, aims to keep the global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The report was produced with inputs from the Latin American Association for Sustainable Mobility (ALAMOS) and contributions from the Center for Urban Sustainability in Costa Rica.

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ADB Becomes Observer for the Network for Greening the Financial System

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The Asian Development Bank (ADB) joined the Central Banks and Supervisors Network for Greening the Financial System (NGFS) as an observer on 23 June.

NGFS, launched at the Paris One Planet Summit on 12 December 2017, is a group of central banks and supervisors willing to share best practices and contribute to the development of environment and climate risk management in the financial sector, while mobilizing mainstream finance to support the transition toward a sustainable economy.

“NGFS is a valuable network to share ADB’s approaches and experience in addressing climate risk management in the financial sector,” said ADB Chief Economist Yasuyuki Sawada. “We look forward to learning from and contributing to the network as we continue our pursuit of a more green and sustainable future.”

“ADB’s operational experience in implementing climate finance targets as well as its expertise in mobilizing innovative finance to support the transition of emerging Asian countries into sustainable economies will be of great value in supporting the work of NGFS,” said NGFS Chair Frank Elderson.

ADB joins the ranks of the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation, the International Monetary Fund, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development as NGFS observers.

ADB’s inclusion to the NGFS is aligned with the goals in its corporate strategy, the Strategy 2030, particularly in tackling climate change, building climate and disaster resilience, and enhancing environmental sustainability; fostering regional cooperation and integration; and strengthening governance and institutional capacity.

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