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Bold action on energy can deliver climate objectives and sustainable development, according to UNECE

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Ahead of the High-Level Dialogue on Energy that the UN Secretary-General is convening in September, UNECE is calling for bold, concrete actions on the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement to move the dials in the near term and to set the stage for longer-term, enduring change.

Action in three specific areas will deliver near-term climate outcomes: 1) achieving superior performance in buildings, 2) addressing growing concentrations of methane in the atmosphere, and 3) ensuring sustainable resource management, in line with the circular economy. Longer term, three further initiatives would advance implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development while mitigating climate change: 1) achieving carbon neutrality by 2030, 2) ensuring a just transition in real transformative action, and 3) enabling a hydrogen economy.

“Time is running out to deliver on the climate and sustainable development agendas”, says UNECE Executive Secretary, Olga Algayerova. “At COP26, governments must commit to the transformative action we urgently need. Ahead of the High-Level Dialogue on Energy, I call on UNECE member States to give this action portfolio careful consideration.”

UNECE’s call for action, A Commitment Trifecta, to encourages countries to consider three areas of action in the High-Level Dialogue on Energy and in any tightened commitments they wish to present at COP26 in November:

  • Buildings are central to meeting the sustainability challenge.  Done right, buildings, the built environment, and the communities they support address clean energy and climate, deliver health and quality of life, improve employment, affordability, social equity, resilience, and carbon intensities, improve water and land resource management, and provide both mobility and technology access.  The capability to meet the challenge exists today. UNECE is calling on countries to commit to high-performance buildings in their plans and targets.
  • Methane is a potent greenhouse gas with 120 times the climate forcing effect of CO2 during its shorter atmospheric lifetime. Global atmospheric concentrations of methane have grown nearly 150% from pre-industrial levels and are far above the natural range of the last 650,000 years. Global emissions from human activity are projected to increase another 20% by 2030. Reducing methane emissions offers significant climate change benefits, especially in the near term, as there is a large reduction potential and cost-effective mitigation technologies are readily available. Managing methane delivers important improvements in air quality and safety.  UNECE is calling on countries to support a declaration by the UN General Assembly of an International Decade on Methane Management and to include robust programmes for monitoring and remediating methane emissions.
  • Today’s resource patterns are unsustainable, both in terms of their environmental and societal impact, and in terms of ensuring resource availability now and in the future. Developments in resource management, including the supply of critical raw materials needed for the green energy transition, will determine the capacity of countries to realize the vision of the 2030 Agenda. UNECE calls on countries to commit to a global framework for sustainable resource management.

A companion document, A Push to Pivot, outlines three longer-term initiatives will support implementation of the 2030 Agenda while mitigating climate change:

  • National commitments made to date to address climate change are insufficient to keep global warming below a 1.5-2°C increase above pre-industrial temperatures.  Delivering carbon neutrality will require a robust combination of measures which should include improving energy efficiency and productivity, shifting to renewables and low or no carbon primary energy sources, controlling GHG emissions, removing CO2 directly from the air, deploying smart technology for systemic decarbonisation, and managing carbon sinks.
  • Coal-based infrastructure is at the heart of industrial complexes that include mines, power stations, steel production, other affiliated industries, and urban areas. The substantial industrial and urban ecosystems that have developed around coal facilities represent an important socio-economic and hence political barrier to diversifying away from coal mining.  Countries should support a just transition through industrial modernisation to address short-term political drivers, notably employment in coal mining regions, that impede real action on climate change and energy for sustainable development.
  • Deploying hydrogen could be an effective means of cutting greenhouse gas emissions and delivering the energy needed for sustainable development.  Hydrogen is not new – it has been produced and used in huge quantities for many years. In a future “hydrogen economy”, it would be used even more in transport, homes, industry, and power generation as part of an integrated, service-based society.  By 2050 hydrogen could meet up to 24% of the world’s final energy demand and, if produced from zero carbon energy sources, could deliver significant decarbonization of the energy system. Despite its vast potential to decarbonize energy, high costs and unclear policy and regulatory frameworks are obstacles to institution of a hydrogen economy. Coordinated action within and among member States is needed to enable full commercialization of hydrogen projects and infrastructure.

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