Paving the way to a carbon-neutral future

By Zhang Liying
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, April 21, 2021
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A picture illustrates the concept of "carbon neutrality." [Photo/VCG]

To mitigate the effects likely to arise from a dangerous overheating of our planet, countries worldwide are stepping up efforts to cope with the predicted incoming climate emergency and pursue green development. These countries, who together emit more than 65% of all harmful greenhouse gasses globally and represent 70% of the world's economy, have announced their commitments to carbon neutrality.

Delegates at the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) Annual Conference 2021 asked what should be put high on the agenda for fighting against climate change and how will mankind meet the challenges in limiting emissions? Via these questions, they shared their views on how best to pave the way to a carbon-neutral future.

A global partnership where major emitters lead

Former United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that the international community has begun a journey to overcome the approaching climate crisis, emphasizing the importance of global partnership in tackling the challenge.

"The journey is a marathon, not a sprint. Therefore, we should take wisdom from a famous African proverb which says, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together,'" Ban said.

Ban noted that no single country or individual in this world, and no matter how rich and resourceful they may be, can solely address climate change, stating, "We have to put all hands on deck and form a global partnership."

Echoing Ban's views, Janos Pasztor, executive director of the Carnegie Climate Governance Initiative, said even major emitters on their own cannot solve the climate emergency and that every country needs to do their part.

"However, major emitters can have a role," Pasztor said. "They can provide clear leadership to push or pull others, the non-major emitters, and to demonstrate that a multilateral approach to addressing the emergency can work."

These countries have the resources as well as the financial and technological capacities to promote climate research and development, and offer examples of how to reduce carbon emissions, he continued.

Pasztor, who once served as UN assistant secretary-general on climate change, said major emitters can support international cooperation on climate change in wide-ranging fields, including biodiversity, land use, food security, and other sustainable objectives.

Shifting from a tradeoff scenario to mutual enforcement

While recognizing the urgency of global concerted action, many countries remain concerned about the impact on their economic growth should they allocate resources to deal with climate change, as pointed out by Jin Liqun, president of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

"A lot of people deem the climate issue as a kind of tradeoff, which means either you emit or you slow down the economy," Jin said. He added that this deeply embedded mindset has adversely affected international efforts to promote investment for a transition from high-carbon to low-carbon to zero-carbon.

He urged a shift from the tradeoff scenario to mutual enforcement, meaning that investment in clean energy and the transition from high-carbon to zero-carbon would drive growth rather than slow it down.

"If you frame investment in the green economy as a kind of expenditure, you would probably be hesitant. But if you think of putting resources towards green, renewable energy as a kind of investment, you have the right to look forward to the future gains," Jin explained.

Ban also noted that the mentality of posing tradeoffs between economic development and environmental protection is outdated. "Today we live in an era where the response to climate change serves as a new important strategy for economic development," he said.

"Future generations are calling on us, the present generation, to take all the actions for a green transition," Ban said. "Indeed, climate action and carbon-neutral initiatives are no longer an option, but a must."

Technological innovation acts as a key driver

As it has done in other dimensions of human progress, technology plays a crucial role in the world's decarbonization initiatives.

Zhu Min, former deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), said technological innovation is the most important force driving all changes related to carbon neutrality.

Pasztor listed the areas where technological advancement is most needed, including in air transport and industrial processes, such as cement, iron, and steel production.

"Advancement will also be needed in trans-sectoral areas, such as technologies that will support consumers in their shift to low, zero, and negative carbon lifestyles and food systems," he added.

To accelerate the development of needed technologies, Jin suggested adjusting patent terms to make better use of this economic incentive for innovation while simultaneously avoiding its negative effects.

After some companies create new technologies, they keep them to themselves to reap the benefits of the patents without letting others further develop them. This protectionism can even cause companies to damage their own interests, Jin explained.

He urged the international community to consider shortening patent terms while protecting the interests of tech companies and investors.

This year's BFA annual conference runs from April 18 to 21 in Boao, a coastal town in south China's Hainan province. It is the world's first large-scale offline international conference held this year.

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