Asia’s Race to Net-Zero by 2030

04 June 2021 – by Viktor Tachev

Мaps of the historical and future global temperature curve paint a disturbing picture. The earth is warming at an unseen pace. It is now 1.1°C warmer than at the start of the industrial revolution. In some Asian regions, the temperatures will be up to 5°C higher come the end of the century if things don’t change. To put it into perspective, just think of what it means for your body to have a consistent temperature of 42°C, instead of 37°C. To avoid further damaging our planet, the world joins forces in the fiercest race – the race to net-zero.

The Paris Agreement and the Race to Carbon Neutrality

The Paris Agreement from 2016 is a legally binding international treaty signed by 196 countries. Its goal is to slow down global warming and limit the temperature increase to preferably 1.5°C by 2050, compared to pre-industrial levels. To do that, countries have to go carbon neutral by reducing greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible.

Global co2 emissions during the great depression, world war 2 and the financial crisis
Source: IEA

The progress on the Paris Agreement commitments is tracked in several different ways. By 2020, the signing members had to submit their national climate plans on reducing emissions in order to achieve net zero emissions. Starting from 2024, countries will have to report their progress consistently.

The current progress in reaching net-zero emissions

According to the latest report, the world falls short on its climate commitments. To speed up the transition, organizations host different initiatives and campaigns on the macro (national) and micro (industry) levels. Later this year, the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) will unite national delegates and companies dedicated to promoting a net-zero future.

What is the role of Carbon dioxide (co2) & other greenhouse gases in achieving net zero emissions

Carbon neutrality, or net-zero, is a state where greenhouse emissions from human activity are brought down to the absolute minimum. This means manufacturing, electricity generation, and other human activities would have to stop emitting CO₂, methane, or other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Achieving net-zero will allow us to stabilize temperatures and effectively slow down global warming.

Where Does Asia Stand in the Race to Net-Zero emissions ?

Climate Action Tracker’s map of the progress the world has made on their Paris Agreement commitments reveals that the majority of the Asian countries fall in the “Highly Insufficient” category, which is way off the global target. Only the Philippines ranks in the “Compatible” category. The local policies are now keeping the country in line with the more realistic scenario of limiting global warming to 2.0°C. They also provide room to hit the targets for the optimal scenario set by the Paris Agreement.

However, the rest of the continent has a lot more to do, not only because its reputation is at stake but because Southeast Asia, in particular, is one of the most affected parts of the world by global warming.

Unfortunately, the continent doesn’t seem united in its goal to stop global warming. Role models like Myanmar and the Philippines are rare to find in a sea of countries determined to build more coal power.

Map of Global Coal Power Plants,
Source: CarbonBrief

Coal is responsible for over 0.3°C of the 1°C increase in global average annual surface temperatures above pre-industrial levels. This makes it the single largest source of global temperature increase.

What is Asia’s Outlook and Key Challenges?

Asia has no other choice than to follow the pack and pledge to the global carbon-free goals. The pressure is now coming not only from the public but also from investors and the corporate world.

According to a panel of experts from the All Nicholas Institute, the change in Asia should be driven by regional and international businesses, as well as on a national scale. Today, the equation is just partly fulfilled.   

In October 2020, over 200 of the world’s leading companies announced plans for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Among them were Asian companies such as Sinopec, PetroChina, and Asia Pacific Resources International Limited (APRIL), long associated with spotty environmental records. The pack includes even fossil fuel behemoths like Chevron and Shell. While concerns about the true intentions of the companies remain, this is a good start.

Institutional barriers

Yet, on a national scale, parts of the Asia Pacific lag in their efforts to accelerate emission reduction. In regions with a concentration of countries with increased poverty like Southeast Asia, fighting climate change is hard. At the same time, it is necessary because these exact territories are also the most affected by its implications.

According to the latest report by the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ECAP), the main reason for the stalling progress is the significant institutional barriers in many countries. Other obstacles include limited financing, lack of a clear vision and cooperation between the public and the private sectors, lack of regulatory frameworks related to emission reduction targets, and inability to effectively monitor and verify the emissions levels.

To help developing countries overcome these challenges, ECAP developed an in-depth guide for policymakers with concrete steps. According to the organization, core aspects like energy transition, climate finance, and carbon pricing are vital for ensuring our net-zero future.

While the appetite for net-zero investments is present, some investors are hesitating to pour capital unless more is made on the policy front.

Aside from the environmental and health implications of fossil fuels, purely economic reasoning also comes into play. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, by 2050, climate change will shrink the global economy by 3% unless we don’t take drastic actions today. This will be driven by drought, floodings, erosion, crop failure, and infrastructure damage. There simply isn’t a region in the world that should be more concerned than Asia, especially its Southeast part.

Net-Zero by 2030? We Need to Run, Not Stroll

Over the years, Asia has shown the world that if it has a goal, it will make it happen. The world now needs that dedication to ensure a net-zero society and limit the negative consequences of global warming. Experts’ opinions are explicit – the only viable way to achieve net-zero is by switching to clean energy.

We have the tools, technologies, and enough investors willing to ensure that. The only missing part of the puzzle is the increased efforts on the regulatory front. While policies are starting to shift, we need to increase the pace. The deadline is getting closer.

Speeding up the race towards net-zero emissions

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