Speaking at the Seoul Climate and Energy Summit in the Repubic of Korea, the spokesperson of UN Climate Change, Nick Nuttall, spoke about risk and opportunity in the new climate economy. Read his address here:
His Excellency Duck-Soo Han, chairman of the Climate Change Center and former Prime Minister Ungyu Paik, Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy, Republic of Korea, Won-Soon Park, Mayor of the Seoul Metropolitan Government, Distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen, colleagues and friends,
Thank you so much for inviting Patricia Espinosa, the Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change, to speak at the Seoul Climate and Energy Summit in the heart of one of the world’s most dynamic economies.
Ms Espinosa sends her apologizes for not being here and dispatched me instead to make some remarks as her Spokesperson.
I am no stranger to your beautiful country. In my former life with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the Republic of Korea was an early partner in the Green New Deal/Green Economy initiative launched in the aftermath of the financial and economic crisis of 2008.
In 2004, I enjoyed your warm hospitality on the cultural island of Jeju when your country became the first in Asia to host UNEP’s Global Ministerial Environment Forum.
Today I would like to outline a perspective on what has been achieved since the landmark adoption of the Paris Climate Change Agreement in 2015.
Where the process is now heading and what are the challenges emerging on the radar—and to urge everyone here to embrace these challenges at speed and at scale.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Paris Agreement was a mini-miracle.
After some two decades of some of the most complex and often frustrating negotiations, the world finally came together to agree to a new development path for every man, woman and child.
The Agreement has broken all records since—it came into force less than 12 months after its adoption.
And to date 166 out of over 190 Parties to the Agreement, as we call governments, have ratified it.
Paris’s appeal has not diminished, rather it gets stronger every day.
Carbon markets are expanding—last week the regions and states of Quebec, California and Ontario announced they were linking theirs to create a big market in North America.
Here in the Republic of Korea, your emissions trading system is now well underway—a key policy towards meeting a national target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 30 per cent by 2020.
The world-wide penetration of renewable energies continues apace as the costs of technology fall.
On the flight here, I picked up a copy of the Financial Times. It quoted the bank JP Morgan saying that the price of solar panels has fallen 50 per cent in less than two years.
The bank also said in some windy countries, wind power is a half or one third the price of coal or natural gas fired power plants.
Ratings agency Moody’s says the charge is now being led by emerging economies.
They point to the extraordinary growth of renewables not just in China, but in places like India, Mexico, Chile and Abu Dhabi.
The Republic of Korea is a part of this transformation—President, Moon Jae-in has outlined his support for a quadrupling of renewable energy.
It’s not been all plain sailing.
In May, the President of the United States announced that he would withdraw his nation from the Paris Agreement.
But, what in the past might have been a death sentence on such as Agreement, was swiftly matched by an unprecedented show of solidarity by nearly all other countries including here in the Republic of Korea.
And the response of solidarity goes further and deeper across all economies and sectors.
One of the hallmarks of the Paris Agreement has been the extraordinary support of what we call non-party stakeholders—that is cities, states, regions and territories, the private sector, investors and ordinary citizens.
The sheer scale of that support was evidenced again last year in Marrakech, Morocco at the last UN climate conference and it continues to build.
The Under2Coalition now numbering a total of 187 states and regions in 38 countries and six continents, have pledged to reduce their emissions by 80 to 95 per cent by 2050.
The Under2 Coalition represents more than 1.2 billion people and $28.8 trillion in GDP – equivalent to 16 percent of the global population and 39 percent of the global economy.
Many companies have pledged to go 100 per cent renewables across their operations.
Last week more joined this initiative—called RE100—just before and during Climate Week in New York including Estee lauder, Kellogg’s and DBS Bank.
This week BHP Biliton, the big mining company, described 2017 as the ‘tipping year’ for the electric car—even Jaguar in the UK has succumbed to what seems now an unstoppable trend by recently announcing it would be building E-cars.
During Climate Week in NY I attended a meeting of the newly formed Hydrogen Council whose members include Hyundai, Daimler, General Motors and fuel companies like Shell.
They are convinced hydrogen is close to being ready to substitute for petrol and diesel especially in the truck and heavy goods vehicle market.
There are some industries—heavy emitters, like the steel and cement industries—who have been less than prominent in terms of climate action.
But this may be set to change.
The Prime Minister of Sweden announced on the margins of the UN General Assembly, also last week in New York, that they were investing heavily in delivering a fossil fuel free steel industry.
Three steel companies including one of the world’s biggest Vattenfall are developing electrification of furnaces and hydrogen fueled-plant.
Ladies and gentlemen, the sheer volume of announcements and scale of activities post Paris are almost impossible to capture in a speech.
Back at my organization I have a team of around five spending six hours a day trying to post on our web site the volume of optimistic and positive news.
But here let me turn to the reality check—because behind the positivity is a more sobering reality.
One brought into sharp focus by recent extreme weather events that have damaged and devastated parts of the eastern Caribbean, the United States and indeed Asia.
The fact is that climate change is happening now, not in some remote future, and its causing economic damage and misery to millions.
The main aim of the Paris Agreement is to keep a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees C and better to no more than 1.5 degrees C.
Well, ladies and gentlemen we all know that the national climate action plans or NDCs in the jargon, currently on the table do not achieve the Agreement’s top goal.
The direction of the world may have been set—and the signals are that transition to a low carbon economy is now irreversible.
But it needs to happen far faster an encompass all parts of the globe.
In order to having a running chance of achieving the Paris temperature goals, global emissions need to peak ideally by 2020 and then see a massive ratcheting.
Early in the second half of the century those emissions need to be so low, that healthy forests, soils and coastal ecosystems like mangroves, sea grasses and salt marshes, can absorb what’s left.
It is nothing short of restoring the balance of planet Earth to what prevailed before the Industrial Revolution but in a 21st C setting cleaner, greener and more efficient energy use supported by the restoration and improved management of our natural or nature-based infrastructure.
That is quite a challenge, hopefully an exciting one—but a challenge nevertheless.
There is going to have to be a step change in the aligning of policy, technology and finance in order to achieve this.
Let me mention just a few things.
The Paris Agreement itself is an extraordinary document, rich in intent, purpose and promise.
But, like a brand-new laptop or concept car, it needs a clear, robust and usable operating system and manual.
Everyone needs to know precisely what they are doing and trust that everyone else is delivering in line with their commitments.
In Bonn, Germany in November we will host the next round of intergovernmental negotiations precisely with this operating manual in mind—nations need to advance on this to pass the finishing line in 2018.
Secondly ambition—national climate action plans need to set ever higher ambition.
In Bonn the first informal discussions will take in advance of a special dialogue set for 2018.
This ideally will be about nations outlining their successes but also their failures in implementing Paris with a view to ramping up the next round of NDCs.
Perhaps however the biggest obstacle to empowering Paris is finance. The world today is very rich—an estimated $300 trillion-worth of assets are under management by banks, pension funds, sovereign wealth funds and so on.
Yet to date only around one per cent of this is broadly going into what one might call the ‘green space’—in other words in supporting climate action and indeed the even boarder Sustainable Development Goals.
Many, many projects including big infrastructure projects are being approved and built right now without any alignment with the Paris Agreement and the emissions trajectories needed to get on track.
There are positive signs here—the multi-billion-dollar growth of green bonds has been outstanding and I know we will hear more about this during today’s conference.
Meanwhile however many cities keen to assist are finding it difficult to find funding for urban greening because many do not have credit ratings—and even if they can get them, laws in some countries forbid cities to raise funds from the capital markets.
In the end, we are talking about reforming and evolving the world’s entire financial architecture so that it better prices risk and rewards long term investments is a challenge.
But there is positive news here too—take a recent report by UN Environment. It cites that measures taken by finance ministries, central banks and regulators to promote sustainable finance have risen to 217 and now exist in nearly 60 countries.
These range from actions to steer finance towards clean energy, through assessments of climate risk for insurance companies and on to roadmaps that set out how to green an entire financial system as China announced last year.
Sometimes it may be just about new kinds of approaches—two weeks ago I was in London for the launch of a new initiative called the Climate Finance Accelerator.
Here three countries—Mexico, Columbia and Nigeria—were put in a room with the project deal makers of key banks: HSBC, Deutsch Bank and BNP Paribas.
The countries unveiled the many projects they have chosen to support their climate action plans and the banks’ dealmakers subject them to intense scrutiny and ‘stress testing’.
It took about a day for these two worlds—government civil servants and bank deal makers- to actually talk to each other in the same language and secure mutual understanding.
But once they got over that, results were amazing and by the end of the week several projects like a nation-wide electric taxi project in Mexico, was revised and re-worked to the point at which the banks thought they were financeable.
Maybe this marriage=brokering model could be replicated around the world to cover all countries—perhaps next year you could try it here in Seoul.
Ladies and gentlemen, let me conclude—there is much, much more that can be said.
I haven’t even addressed the urgency of building resilience in countries and coastlines vulnerable to climate change.
But let me say that this too will be high on the agenda of the upcoming UN climate conference in Bonn following the events in the Caribbean and not least because the first small island developing state—Fiji-- will be presiding over the conference.
I am sure the issue of more creative insurance to assist the vulnerable will be a major theme at the November meeting.
The science tells us that the Paris Agreement came late—it should have happened earlier. But we have it now, thank goodness.
Climate action is unprecedented but still behind the curve.
The main risk now is not inaction—that has been consigned to the history books. It is action that is too slow and too conservative to make a swift and decisive difference.
What is needed is speed and ever higher levels of ambition and creativity—and yes a bit more of an appetite for risk taking-- that also evolves and expands to the encompass the poorer countries and economies of our world.
Your conference here in Seoul is a contribution to that new future, that New Economy and it plays a part towards realizing the full potential of the Paris Agreement to deliver a better chance to a world of soon over 10 billion people.