WWF’s Living Planet Report 2022 has once again shown that the shocking decline in wildlife populations by 69% since 1970 is linked precisely to such systemic disturbances caused by human activities.
Particularly frightening are the potential consequences of the current "double emergency' - biodiversity loss and climate crisis. These consequences will be experienced both for the biosphere and by people, especially the most vulnerable communities. Both climate change mitigation, following the need to ramp up implementation of COP15 Paris agreement, and the critical need to enhance adaptation of ecosystems are central to the Climate COP27 discussions that started last Sunday and that are awaiting delegates from all sectors and corners of the world, including from CEE countries.
Two new UN reports released days ago confirm alarming trends regarding the climate crisis and the potential consequences. They show that humanity and individual countries are not doing enough to avoid the irreparable climate destabilization that will occur if the rising emissions are not reversed within this decade. And while there are multiple pathways for limiting global warming to 1.5°C, all share common features and are accessible to our region alike including decarbonizing electricity, protecting forest carbon stocks, restoring wetlands and peatlands, electrifying buildings and industry, using energy more efficiently, and others.
The thirteenth edition of the UN's annual report that assesses the efforts of the countries to eliminate their greenhouse gas emissions, brings an unequivocal title - "The Closing Window," referring to the window in which the world could achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement - namely, global warming beyond the 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold scientists consider a risk. According to leading scientists behind the UNEP report, national pledges made by countries to date will lead to an aggregate warming of the planet of between 2.4 and 2,6 °C as a result of an implementation gap, defined as the difference between projected emissions under current policies and projected emissions under full implementation of the NDCs. This implementation gap is 1.8 GtCO2e annually by 2030 for the G20 members.
© 2022 United Nations Environment Programme
Although many countries have adopted new climate neutrality targets, which, if implemented in addition to conditional and unconditional National Determined Contributions of COP parties, would reduce emissions to 1.8°C, the concrete actions in terms of implementation are still missing, along with higher pledges from both developed and developing countries. In the CEE regions, commitments for climate neutrality are still largely missing - In the region so far only Slovakia and Hungary have committed to climate neutrality. The current energy market crisis has created a fertile ground for the industry lobby to demand downscaling on coal-phase out commitments.
As the ‘gap’ analysis recommends, the most important sectoral action should happen in the energy sector, with the UN citing research that suggests that in order to achieve the Paris Agreement goal, the energy transition needs to happen 6 times faster and coal emissions need to cease by 2030.
The second report, published by UNEP on 10 October, describes "too few and too slow" (according to the report's subtitle) actions that countries are taking on adaptation to the climate crisis. Here, a major emphasis falls on long-term planning - having comprehensive and up-to-date adaptation strategies and plans of the countries, along with stable finance.
It is staggering that, by 2020, only USD 29 trillion has been earmarked for international adaptation programmes targeting the most vulnerable parts of the world's most vulnerable countries, compared to the countries' agreed aid to developing countries from 100 billion a year. According to the UN, the need for investment in adaptation globally will only increase, reaching $160-340 billion in 2030 or $315-565 billion in 2050 - depending on the extent to which we are able to manage the climate crisis. These numbers should be echoed at COP 27 where loss and damage1 is one of the major topics of negotiations between delegates.
These sums may seem completely unachievable, but as we have seen in the last two years, countries are able to allocate similar resources for emergency measures to deal with the consequences of pandemics and wars. Meanwhile, according to the International Energy Agency, the annual volume of fossil fuel subsidies continues to be close to 1 trillion USD.
The UN report on adaptation pays particular attention to the role of nature-based solutions in adaptation to climate risks, such as drawing attention to the potential of restored river ecosystems to prevent new river floods in Europe. According to scientists quoted by the UN, these solutions are relatively cheap compared to technological alternatives, and create many additional environmental and social benefits.
What should CEE governments do?
While CEE countries are part of the EU block and their emissions reductions are counted towards the block’s NDC, implementation of commitments has still to be operationalised. Specifically, CEE countries should → stick to their commitments of phasing out coal according to dates set up in National Resilience and Recovery Plans → avoid a further lock in of new fossil fuels intensive infrastructure through the conversion of coal plants to gas → enable the just transition of coal regions through commitment to phase out targets and secure financial allocations for the transition → ambitiously plan decarbonisation pathways beyond 2030 as part of Long Term Strategies → end types of fossil field subsidies, including through mechanisms such as the Modernisation Funds and redirect resources also to climate adaptation and resilience → develop truly sustainable and low-emission renewable technologies, moving away for dependency of forest biomass, especially in the heating sector → promote behavior change for sustaining efforts.
You can read more about WWF's expectations from the Sharm El-Sheikh meeting here.
For more information:
- Ana-Maria Seman, Regional Climate and Infrastructure Lead, WWF-CEE, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Apostol Dyankov, Climate & Energy Program Manager, WWF Bulgaria, email@example.com
1 Loss and damage normally refers to the destructive impacts of climate change that cannot be avoided either by mitigation (avoiding and reducing greenhouse gas emissions) or adaptation (adjusting to current and future climate change impacts). Definition by Chatman House
Thumbnail images: © WWF COP