In a sign of how climate change has captured the world’s attention in recent times, the COP26 climate summit in November 2021 attracted a record 38,500 delegates, including many world leaders who gathered in Glasgow to discuss how best to steer humanity away from future disaster.
While the proceedings were messy at times, and some of the outcomes were criticised for falling short of expectations, our view remains that the summit marked an important step forward in strengthening the international consensus necessary to meet the scale of the climate change threat.
Unlike many other difficult issues that governments face today such as how to deal with resurgent Covid-19 outbreaks, global warming and climate change can be addressed effectively only with coordinated global action over a long term horizon. That requires broad, multilateral consensus on the responses needed to rewire the global economy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero.
The key outcomes from COP26 reinforced our view that strong political momentum is building around climate change, and that a powerful shift in policy and regulation worldwide to cut carbon emissions across all kinds of economic activity will progressively reshape the global economy for years to come.
A welcome surprise: US and China find common ground
In an unexpected development at COP26, the US and China published a joint climate declaration, stating that they “are intent on seizing this critical moment to engage in expanded individual and combined efforts to accelerate the transition to a global net zero economy” – a welcome sign of mutual cooperation amid ongoing tensions between the two countries.
“In the area of climate change, there is more agreement between the US and China than divergence, making it an area with huge potential for our cooperation,” said Xie Zhenhua, China's special envoy for climate change. “As two major powers, both China and the US shoulder international responsibilities and obligations. We need to think big.”
“The US and China have no shortage of differences, but on climate, cooperation is the only way to get things done,” said John Kerry, US special envoy for climate change. “We cannot reach our goals without countries working together, and China and the US in particular, as the two largest emitters in the world, both have to help show the way.”
The US said it intends to fully decarbonise its electricity sector by 2035, while China said it would phase down coal consumption during its 15th Five Year Plan spanning 2026-2030 and make best efforts to accelerate this work.
Also at the summit, India Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that the country would aim to reach carbon neutrality by 2070 and build 500 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity by 2030 to ensure that half of India’s electricity generation comes from renewable sources.
With India’s announcement, leaders of the world’s biggest economies have now publicly committed to decarbonising their economies over the coming decades. Globally, around 90% of emissions are now covered by net zero targets, according to Climate Action Tracker.
The shape of things to come – large gaps remain that must be plugged
We expect the focus will now quickly shift to how global policymakers plan to deliver on their targets to reach net zero emissions. Businesses and investors will want to see detailed roadmaps on how governments intend to achieve these long term climate goals and adapt their economies to build climate resilience. Without detailed pathways to achieve them, the net zero targets would lack credibility.
A critical component of these plans will be measurable, intermediate targets for emissions reduction well before mid-century – essential to ensure that the ultimate goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C by the end of the century remains within reach, known as “keeping 1.5°C alive”.
Indeed, many countries do not yet have intermediate targets consistent with their own net-zero pledges, which undermines the credibility of those promises and the world’s collective ability to limit global warming to 1.5°C.
Based on current commitments, global warming is estimated to reach 2.7°C at the end of the century if all countries’ unconditional 2030 pledges are fully implemented and 2.6°C if conditional pledges are also implemented, according to the latest analysis in the 2021 Emissions Gap Report published on 26 October 2021 by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), just before the COP26 summit.
Exhibit 1: To reach net zero emissions by mid-century, key intermediate targets must first be met
Source: Energy Transitions Commission.
Note: Chart shows model pathways for net CO2 emissions that cap global warming at 1.5°C with limited or no overshoot (in green) as well as pathways with higher overshoot (in blue).
Even if all countries’ net-zero emissions pledges are fully implemented, global average temperatures would still rise by around 2.2°C, well above the 1.5°C target, according to the report.
“There is an urgent need for more G20 members – and indeed all countries – to pledge net zero emissions, all countries to increase the robustness of their net-zero pledges, and all net-zero targets to be backed up by near-term actions that give confidence that the net-zero targets can ultimately be achieved,” the report said.
To address this gap, government leaders agreed at the COP26 summit that their ministers will now meet annually starting next year to discuss how to accelerate emissions reduction efforts by 2030.
All countries are also requested to revisit and strengthen their decarbonisation targets by the November 2022 COP27 summit in Egypt. This marks a step forward from the 2015 Paris Agreement, which called on countries to update their pledges only once every five years, and signals greater collective urgency in tackling the climate change threat.
Driving this sense of urgency is mounting scientific evidence that the time left for action is limited, and that the current promises by governments to cut emissions still fall far short of what is needed to limit global warming to 1.5°C.
Exhibit 2: Current decarbonisation commitments remain insufficient to limit global warming to 1.5°C, signalling greater policy shifts ahead
Source: UN Emissions Gap Report 2021
Note: NDC = nationally determined contributions, each country’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
A statement issued at the COP26 summit highlighted that “carbon budgets consistent with achieving the Paris Agreement temperature goal are now small and being rapidly depleted”.
The latest assessment of available scientific knowledge on climate change published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in August concluded that for a fair (50%) chance of limiting the Earth’s warming to 1.5°C, the remaining carbon budget is estimated to be only 500 GtCO2. (See What to Expect as the World Gets Warmer.)
This is equivalent to just 12.5 years’ worth of emissions at the current pace, based on the estimated 2020 global emissions of 40 GtCO2 by the Global Carbon Project, or less than 10 years’ worth based on the 59.1 GtCO2 emitted in 2019, according to the UNEP’s 2020 Emissions Gap Report.
A strong rebound in emissions is expected in 2021, the UNEP said in its latest (2021) Emissions Gap Report. Preliminary estimates suggest fossil energy CO2 emissions, excluding cement, could rise 4.8% in 2021, and overall global emissions in 2021 are expected to be only slightly lower than the record levels seen in 2019.
New opportunities lie ahead as policy shifts to increase climate ambition
The large remaining emissions gaps – and the narrowing time window available for keeping the 1.5°C target within reach – suggest that policymakers worldwide are likely to strengthen climate policy further over the next few years.
Many key initiatives to accelerate the shift to net zero are already in progress, including efforts to redirect global capital flows towards activities that support climate goals.
Most recently, on 9 November 2021, the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) launched a new lending facility, known as the Carbon Emission Reduction Facility, offering low-cost funds to financial institutions to support the development of clean energy, energy conservation, environmental protection and carbon reduction technology.
“The launch of the facility sends a clear policy signal. It is designed to enhance financial institutions’ awareness of the importance of green transition, encourage more social capital to support the green and low-carbon industries, and to advocate the philosophy of green living, green production and circular economy, which will help achieve the carbon peaking and carbon neutrality goals,” the PBOC said.
The new facility is also likely to encourage the development and refinement of climate reporting in China, as financial institutions will be required to disclose information on lending aimed at cutting carbon emissions, and the amount of emissions reduction supported by such lending.
China has also started building the world’s largest green hydrogen project, to be powered entirely by solar energy.
Other initiatives are also in progress that are likely to shape global climate policy for years to come.
China and the EU are working together to identify a list of economic activities that are recognised by both as green activities. An initial Common Ground Taxonomy focusing on activities that contribute to climate change mitigation across six sectors – energy, manufacturing, construction, transportation, solid waste management and forestry – was published on 4 November 2021.
The document reflects key highlights in both China’s and EU green taxonomies and is expected to support China-EU green finance cooperation and mobilise cross-border climate financing by lowering the green certification cost for cross-border transactions, the PBOC said. It could also be used as a reference by market participants for issuing or trading green financial products.
In October, the White House published a report outlining a government-wide strategy to enhance the US economy’s climate resilience and manage climate-related risks. The strategy outlined in the report is consistent with our view at the start of 2021 that President Joe Biden would likely take a whole-of-government approach to fighting climate change. (See US Re-enters Global Fight Against Climate Change.)
And in Europe, a massive, system-wide transformation of the European Union economy is underway to cut net greenhouse gas emissions across all 27 EU member states by 55% or more by 2030 from 1990 levels, and to net zero by 2050. (See Big Strides Forward on Climate Action.)
As we look ahead into 2022 and beyond, we reiterate our longstanding view that global efforts to strengthen climate ambition and pursue sustainable, climate-resilient development paths will drive profound structural changes to the global economy for years to come.
Even as political leaders continue to grapple with other challenges such as resurgent Covid-19 outbreaks, the longer term policy trajectory is unmistakeable – the world is heading towards a low-carbon economy, because it must.
While the path ahead looks far from smooth, we fully expect efforts to pursue sustainable and climate-friendly economic growth will progressively reshape the world economy over the coming decades, ushering in a new era of opportunities for businesses that successfully adapt to this brave new world.
This will create both significant disruption and new opportunities for businesses as supporting regulations and policy incentives are progressively rolled out globally.
(See What to Expect as the World Gets Warmer, Big Strides Forward on Climate Action, The Narrow Path to Net Zero, Climate Commitments Intensify Globally, Climate Action: At A Tipping Point, US Re-enters Global Fight Against Climate Change and Climate Change – The Low-Carbon Transition).
Increasingly, we see new opportunities emerging in clean energy technologies such as hydrogen, which is attractive as a low-carbon energy source to decarbonise a wide range of economic activity such as power generation, transport, and heating and power for buildings.
We continue to advocate a prudent strategy of adding diversified exposure to a wide range of potential beneficiaries of the global transition to a carbon neutral economy, given the all-encompassing nature of decarbonisation efforts worldwide, and the fast-evolving but uneven deployment of supporting policies and regulations across the world.Disclaimer applicable to recommendation
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