The extreme heat and drought that the region experienced this summer is a bleak reminder that current commitments under the Paris Agreement and those made last year at COP26 are nowhere near what is needed to limit global warming to below 1.5°C. Inaction is a policy choice that will lead to greater, possibly insurmountable, challenges in the future. As we prepare for COP27, UNECE is releasing a report showing that despite the current energy and geopolitical crises, technology and policy solutions exist for the region to attain carbon neutrality by 2050. But this will require bold and sustained action from governments, the private sector and regulators start without further delay and maximize the use of all low- and zero-carbon technologies.
Energy efficiency improvements, renewable energy, high-efficiency fossil fuel technologies with carbon capture, use, and storage, nuclear power, hydrogen and integrated and sustainable management of natural resources are all part of the solution to attain carbon neutrality.
The development of technologies will require new regulatory frameworks to support immediate commercialization of the most advanced solutions. Policy frameworks should also incorporate legally binding commitments for increased international technology transfer, harmonized standards, and definitions for ‘green’ hydrogen and energy efficiency All decisions should be assessed against existing and upcoming net-zero and climate neutrality targets, with all energy infrastructure built to be net-zero compliant. Integrating innovative energy technologies, alongside the transformation of energy markets and downstream industries, is a challenge and an opportunity.
Approximately 80% of the primary energy mix in the UNECE region is currently fossil fuel based. Although different countries will support various technologies in diverse ways, their energy decisions should take into account the comparative carbon emissions over the entire life cycle of all generation technologies and supporting infrastructure, as highlighted in our recently published life-cycle assessment of electricity sources.
Infrastructure development must also address potential impacts on the environment and societies more broadly. The Multilateral Environmental Agreements negotiated under UNECE auspices, including the Espoo Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context and its Protocol on Strategic Environmental Assessment, offer proven tools to help states identify and mitigate such risks, including across national borders. Public participation in the decision-making process, supported by the Aarhus Convention, is also a fundamental part of sustainable solutions.
International cooperation is essential to support all countries in the UNECE region to build resilient energy systems and accelerate the energy transition towards carbon neutrality. UNECE is committed to continue to offer a platform for its member States to engage in inclusive and transparent dialogue, exchange best practices, and learn from each other to reach the Sustainable Development Goals.
The investment required to achieve a low-carbon economy will have its financial return and avoid the incalculable cost of economic, social, and human disruptions caused by a climate catastrophe.
Governments must embrace policy frameworks in support of carbon neutrality and create a level-playing field to finance the transition toward carbon-neutral energy systems, as part of a just transition that supports those most affected. This also means preparing society and fostering the needed changes in consumer behaviour towards energy sobriety and circular economy patterns.
As secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said, “climate change is the defining challenge of our time”. We must all play our part.