What after the UN climate summit?

October 29, 2019

Photo: UN | Loey Felip

Climate change does not just change the weather conditions that we live in, it impacts the overall living on the Earth, bringing at risk the life on it, the survival of numerous species, possibly also including the human race, unless we manage to change our way of living, primarily our approach to energy production and consumption. Research which preceded this year’s UN Climate Summit indicates that globally we still do not take this risk seriously enough. In other words, we do not undertake all that we could in order to maintain the increase of average temperature below 2°C relative to the pre-industrial age. In the interview with Miroslav Tadić, the UNDP Climate Change Portfolio Manager, read about what change the UN Climate Summit produced.

The UN Secretary General has called on states’ leaders to come to the Summit with concrete plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Are individual countries ready to do enough?

The analyses presented in the Report published last year by the UN Environment indicated that the levels of reducing GHG emissions to which states have committed in their initial national contributions are not sufficient to maintain the increase in average global temperatures below 2°C until the end of the century, as was foreseen by the Paris Climate Agreement. Technically, this objective is still achievable, but only if the states additionally increase their ambitions to reduce GHG emissions. The UN Climate Summit, held in September in New York, had the goal to encourage states, as well as other actors, particularly the private sector, to move from talk to action when it comes to climate change. The result is that 65 states presented specific plans and measures to reduce GHG emissions by 2050, while about 70 states presented their intentions to increase their ambitions by 2030. Germany, for instance, plans to move to clean energy by 2030 and is ready to invest EUR 60 billion to this end. It is interesting that countries in our region, Hungary and Greece, plan to fully phase out coal from energy production by 2030. France will not be signing trade agreements with countries who are against the provisions of the Paris Climate Agreement, while Russia announced that it will ratify the Agreement.

Fighting climate change requires also the involvement of the private sector; what can we expect from big companies based on what was heard at the UN Summit?

The Summit adopted a series of initiatives proposed jointly by governments and the private sector. About 100 leaders from the business community proposed specific measures and activities, which is unprecedented in terms of businesses involvement in fighting climate change. The campaign Business Ambition for 1.5°C – Our Only Future obliges the businesses to come up with clear targets to reduce GHG emissions, based on scientific evidence. This initiative was started in July 2019 by 28 companies, and the number has tripled after the UN Climate Summit to 87 big companies, whose production and marketing processes annually produce the same quantity of GHG as 73 coal fired power plants.

In addition to that, the Summit also started the initiative of the industrial sector on making a transition from grey to green economy, in order to achieve zero net emissions of CO2 by 2050.

An Investment Platform for climate has been established aimed at increasing investments – particularly in the area of transition from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy, to accelerate the linking of investment funds and investors among themselves and also with countries and cities.

Why are cities particularly relevant in fighting climate change?

Already today more than one half of the global populations lives in cities, consuming two thirds of energy produced globally. Also, cities are responsible for about 70% of GHG emissions, which makes them the leading factor causing climate change. Investing in sustainable and climate smart cities is therefore among the key challenges, but also a response in fighting climate change. Measures are needed to make cities more resilient to the impacts of climate change which are already evident, such as floods, heat waves, storms.

This implies the need to practice climate smart city planning, by moving to sustainable energy sources in power generating systems and distant heating systems instead of relying on fossil fuels, enhancing energy efficiency of existing structures, introducing sustainable transport – by encouraging cycling and walking, electric vehicles, efficient public transport. Such cities should have more green areas in urban units, improve waste separation and recycling, and make use of new technologies such as sensors and open data to ensure automatization in providing public services to citizens in order to reduce the carbon footprint.

In the context to urban regions, there is an interesting initiative Zero Carbon Buildings for All, around which national and local governments got together, along with the construction industry, investors and civil society. It implies that by 2030 all new buildings are constructed in a way that achieves zero net CO2 emissions and eliminates CO2 emissions resulting from human activities, and to achieve this as well in existing buildings by 2050. At the UN Summit more than 100 state and private companies expressed commitment to full decarbonisation of the transport sector.

For cities to become climate resilient, financing is necessary. That is why the UN Climate Summit adopted the initiative Leadership of Urban Climate Investment led by Germany, in cooperation with other countries and international financial institutions, with the objective to support about 2,000 cities by 2030 to prepare projects in order to integrate climate risks in the urban development plans – particularly in the process of decision-making and guiding investments. Funds have already been approved for development of urban infrastructure within this initiative – grants amounting to EUR 73 million.  

What is the alternative to fossil fuels?

The current price of electricity in Serbia is about 6 Euro-cents per kW, lower than in the countries of the region, and much lower than in the EU countries, where the price is above 16 Euro-cents per kW. This means that electricity in our country is still “cheap”, and it is predominantly produced from fossil fuels. The price of electricity from fossil fuels still does not cover the “externalities”, such as the damaging effects of fossil fuels combustion to health of people and the environment (GHG emissions, other gasses, sooth and particles, which have a damaging effect on air quality).

As Serbia is progressing on the way to EU membership, it is expected that the price of electricity will be increasing. On the other hand, energy producers using renewable energy sources (RES), such as solar energy are offering more affordable prices for long-term supply. Thus, one producer of solar energy is offering consumers a fixed price of 8 Euro-cents per kW if the contract is signed for a period of 10 years. Having such trends in mind, energy from RES is becoming a viable investment, especially in the long-term. However, for it to be more widespread, it is necessary to remove barriers in the market, especially those related to the possibility for citizens to produce energy from RES.

According to some estimates, since the average consumption of electricity per household in Serbia is 350 kW per month, and since well installed solar panels can save as much as one half of annual expenditures for electricity, it is obvious that the investment of this kind is viable. The prices of solar panels are decreasing, so that at present EUR 2,000 is enough to ensure electricity for all basic household appliances, which is an investment which pays back in just a number of years.

Building power plants fired on RES the GHG effects are reduced, and the whole energy system becomes less reliant on energy shortages or imports. Investing in RES-based energy industry promotes technological innovations, which in turn contributes to market growth and new jobs.

In addition to that, energy generation from RES in Serbia is subsidised, meaning that the state guarantees to producers a safe income from selling such energy to energy distributors.

Private and public companies often do not sufficiently use the potential of available RES. For example, waste biomass from certain production processes, such as production of etheric oils, can be used for production of pellets to meet the energy needs of such companies, and waste heat resulting from certain production processes can be used for heating purposes, while waste sludge from waste water treatment can be used as an energy source and make the plant energy independent. Also, there are good examples of companies which are already applying the principles of circular economy in their operations. For example, waste materials resulting from recycling of refrigerating appliances, such as polyurethane foam, can be turned into new products which are applied as liquid fuel absorbents. Such circular operation models can enable companies to achieve significant savings and at the same time decrease environmental damage.[DS1]

How far has Serbia come in fighting climate change?

It is expected that Serbia will soon adopt its Climate Change Strategy with and Action Plan, and the first Law on Climate Change. According to assessments, the new strategic framework will enable Serbia to double its ambitions with respect to reducing GHG emissions relative to the commitments under the  Paris Climate Agreement. Serbia also has a goal to increase the share of renewable energy sources in its gross final energy consumption to 27% by 2020, and also to improve energy efficiency. In order to achieve this, specific measures and actions are being undertaken, such as increasing the quantity of energy produced from wind by constructing wind parks in the north-east of the country. With the support of UNDO, so far 6 biogas co-generation heat and power plants have been constructed and in cooperation with the Ministry of the Environment a project „Climate Smart Local Development“ is underway, providing support to innovative technological solutions and business models which contribute to reducing GHG emissions along with social, economic and environmental benefits for citizens.

In addition to that, UNDP is supporting Serbia in fulfilling its obligations under the Framework UN Convention of Climate Change and the Paris Climate Agreement. This implies primarily conducting vulnerability assessment of key sectors such as agriculture, forestry, water management, development of scenarios of expected climate change in the territory of Serbia, as well as formulating specific measures and activities to reduce GHG emissions in the sectors of energy, transport, agriculture, industry, waste management. We are assisting relevant authorities to adopt a set of measures and undertake activities for adaptation to changed climate conditions, which make the economy and the society more resilient to climate challenges and extreme weather conditions.