A district in Tbilisi washed away by a flash flood in June 2014. Photo: David Khizanishvili/UNDP.

 

In December 2015, in an unprecedented show of global unity, the world achieved a massive breakthrough as it signed the Paris Climate Agreement, vowing to limit temperature rises to 2 degrees maximum above 1990 levels.

To date, 176 countries have ratified the Agreement and submitted their plans (known as Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs) to limit emissions and adapt to climate change. The next climate summit, to be held in Poland later this year, will focus on accelerating the implementation of the agreement. Because temperatures are rising much faster than we anticipated, what matters now is urgent action.

Europe and Central Asia - the region I work on - relies on fossil fuel for over 80 percent of its energy needs. Its economies are two to five times more energy intensive than European Union (EU) countries. That’s because the region has a legacy of outdated infrastructure, uses fossil fuel subsidies, and suffers from a lack of energy efficient and alternative energy technology.

Let’s not deny it: there’s a huge effort underway to tackle these issues. Our region, just like the rest of the world, has embarked on the process of reducing its carbon footprint. Seventeen countries where UNDP operates have signed the Paris Agreement and prepared NDCs.

But are they setting the bar high enough, early enough, to avert catastrophic climate change? Globally, according to an independent climate tracker, current climate pledges are insufficient to keep global temperature below a projected 2ºC increase. The tracker projects an above 3ºC increases by 2100, based on current NDC pledges. Every climate disaster that unfolds in our region is a sign that climate mitigation and adaptation need a renewed sense of urgency.

NDCs themselves need an urgent upgrade. While limiting carbon emissions is a top priority, potential of renewable energy is not adequately reflected in the plans. Further, only 10 countries in the region have included climate change adaptation in their initial NDCs, and very few have outlined strategies to address climate risks, including extreme weather events. The good news is they are a work in progress and can be updated.

Thankfully, there are positive examples to look up to. Kazakhstan has been pursuing an ambitious transition to the green economy, as outlined in its 2050 Strategy. Its NDC aims for a 15-25 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 1990, by increasing the share of renewable energy in electricity, from today’s single numbers to 50 percent by 2050.

So what will it take for everyone to up their game? Outside our region, Morocco, Argentina, and even China and India have increased their ambitions, taking into account trends like cheaper efficient and renewable energy.

The good news is countries are starting to learn from each other, as exemplified by a recent dialogue I attended in Tbilisi, Georgia. Some of the good practices include removing fossil fuel subsidies while temporarily protecting industries that depend on them, and using every opportunity to take renewables and energy efficiency on board.

But I would argue the whole exercise needs to be matched with adequate plans for climate financing, which would provide real incentives for a breakthrough. These include accessing multilateral funds, matching climate projects with available financing, and tapping into capital markets.

It’s getting very late to tackle climate change. But if our compass is pointing in the right direction, we’ll be able make some real progress.

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