The year 2007 will go down in history as the year that climate change took center stage in almost every major development forum around the world. As noted by the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, climate change has become the defining issue of our time, set to transform the very way we live and the way our economies are structured.
In the past two weeks, world leaders gathered for the summit in Bali where initial negotiations on a new international climate agenda have recently concluded. What the world needs is a breakthrough: a comprehensive climate change agreement that all nations can embrace. We must set an agenda - a roadmap to a better future, accompanied by a tight time-line that reaches a deal by 2009.
World leaders, experts and civil society representatives met in Bali to start discussing a "post-Kyoto" framework for future emission reduction, which would take effect in 2012 when Kyoto expires. The second major point of discussion was on technology transfer - with calls for new arrangements to help support the proposed shift to a low carbon world economy.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the scientific body that recently shared the Nobel peace prize, if no action is taken on reducing emissions in the near future, the planet's temperature could rise by 4.5 C or more.
While such figures may not seem that much, consider this: the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the global average and could lead to rapid melting of large ice sheets including the massive ice sheets which overlay much of Greenland. The risk of these sheets slipping into the ocean by century's end is real, and would utterly transform the world we know today.
The world ecosystems act in a non-linear manner, and there is increasing concern that we are nearing a tipping point, when rapid changes could begin to take shape at an accelerated rate.
Of particular importance are the findings of the IPCC, and UNDP's global 2007/2008 Human Development Report, that the poor, who have the lightest carbon footprint and bear little responsibility for the ecological debt borne by the planet, are the most vulnerable and will be hit the hardest by global warming
These are very alarming facts, but we must not miss their optimistic bottom line: We can turn the tide of global warming - in ways that are both affordable and promote prosperity.
Much is made of the fact that China is poised to surpass the United States as the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in a decade.
Less well known, however, are its increasing efforts to confront environmental challenges. China will invest $10 billion in renewable energy this year alone, second only to Germany. At a recent summit of East Asian leaders in Singapore, Premier Wen Jiabao pledged to reduce energy consumption (per unit of GDP) by 20 percent over five years - not so far removed, in spirit, from Europe's commitment to a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.
In China, the year 2007 saw the launch of China's first-ever National Climate Change Program. The recently issued national climate change policies and the momentum of the Bali conference now provide a major opportunity for the country. For example, China is already a world leader in solar and wind power. With the right incentive framework and an expansion of "green investment" into China, the future may see China producing technologies that help the world not only China, to meet its green technology needs.
What is needed now is to quickly scale up financing, technology transfer and public-private partnerships to get the job done. South-South cooperation is therefore critical. China, India and other emerging economies can together find solutions.
There are already good cases of local entrepreneurs taking the lead to innovate and bring to the market new solutions. The challenge now is to identify these models, scale up these activities and expand their reach into the market.
This is very much the role of the United Nations. As the UN moves ahead toward the follow-up from Bali, the UN family in China is also working closely with the government and our private and civil society partners to identify China specific challenges to mitigation and adaptation, and new technologies and financing to address these issues.
The momentum from Bali holds a great opportunity for the future. China's ability over the next several years to innovate and show leadership on climate change can become a great source of economic opportunity, and can help find global solutions to our common challenges.
Simple things can make a big difference if done at scale. Shifting from regular lighting to energy efficient lighting or from regular refrigerators and air conditioners to energy efficient ones - these can make a huge impact.
The UN is pleased to have worked over the past decade in China on such matters and is now in the process of supporting further activities like these with our partners at National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the State Environment Protection Administration (SEPA) and various local partners. Of particular importance is the strong role we see for the private sector, both Chinese and international.
As a follow-up to Bali, and to support these efforts in the future, the United Nations in China will soon launch with key government partners a new UN-China Climate Change Partnership Framework (CCPF).
This will be a landmark partnership between nine UN agencies and about a dozen ministries and private sector partners to bring to bear the best knowledge and technologies to the table.
One important part of our work will be to bring together global partners to identify post-Kyoto strategies and solutions. There is a wealth of practical solutions out there that needs to be piloted and then scaled up where possible.
Technology will be key. There are new cutting-edge "green technologies" that can be applied to these challenges, new approaches and best practices that the UN can share with China. Bringing knowledge and new technology solutions stand as core elements of our new UN Climate Change Partnership Framework initiative.
The UN will bring together leaders and innovators in this field to share knowledge, within China and between China and other emerging economies, and explore practical solutions in the form of new green investment mechanisms and new green technology transfer mechanisms.
The program will explore steps towards a lower-carbon economy, ways to mainstream climate change into sustainable production and consumption models, and how to innovate energy use through practical solutions like green lighting and distributed localized energy production.
We also have to engage citizens on these issues through expanded awareness raising activities. UNDP was pleased to partner in July with Al Gore's Live Earth concert in Shanghai to bring attention to climate change issues.
We are happy to now be launching a series of awareness raising activities with NDRC, SEPA and local partners to bring to citizens across the country ways in which they can make a real difference in their daily lives. There is a growing sense that citizens can themselves make a difference and that they have a strong role to play.
The author is the United Nations resident coordinator and UNDP resident representative in China.
(China Daily December 20, 2007)