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There is No Border for Climate Cooperation

         Dr. Frank Rijsberman
         Dr. Frank Rijsberman

International climate scientists agree that to keep global warming to within 1.5 degrees Celsius, and avoid climate impacts with disastrous consequences, the world needs to reach net zero carbon by 2050. In addition, they have indicated that a credible milestone to be on track for 2050 would require that global emissions need to be reduced by 45-50 percent by 2030. Despite having reached the most far-reaching climate accord in Paris in 2015, the international community has not made much progress toward this goal as recent UN reports show.

The good news is that there has been an avalanche of promises and commitments in the last two years. The large majority of countries have adopted net zero targets during that time, most of them by 2050.

South Korea has made rapid and very impressive progress. From a position somewhere at the back of the pack of countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Korea is catching up with the front-runners. The National Assembly confirmed Korea’s 2050 net-zero target into law in August last year. President Moon followed up with a commitment to stop financing coal-fired power plants in April this year, and in May he committed to significantly green Korea’s foreign aid.

The final piece of the puzzle the international community was urging Korea to put in place was a more ambitious nationally determined contribution, which President Moon will formally commit to at COP26, with an increase to 40 percent. The next step will be to find solutions that the government -- and the private sector -- can put in place to deliver on these ambitious commitments in the short time that remains before 2030.

The international community will look to Korea on two important fronts. First, the question is whether Korea will be a leader in Asia to help convince other Asian countries to step up climate action. One of the key obstacles to a carbon neutral world is the use of coal, and Asian economies have increased coal use in recent years. Replacing that coal with clean energy is a top priority and hopefully Korea can lead the way in Asia.

Second, developing countries are looking to advanced economies such as Korea to support their climate action with funding and technology. It is therefore significant that Korea has committed to increase the green share of its official development assistance. At the Global Green Growth Institute, we were also more than pleased when President Moon announced at the P4G Summit in Seoul in May, and repeated at the UN General Assembly in September, that Korea will establish a Green New Deal Fund at GGGI to support a green recovery from the pandemic, and accelerated climate action in developing countries.

GGGI has supported 29 developing countries to come up with their own more ambitious nationally determined contributions for the Paris Agreement, and then to develop green investment projects that can implement such climate promises. Over 2015-20, GGGI helped develop and mobilize green and climate finance for green investment projects worth over $2 billion, and we are currently working on a pipeline of such projects with a value of $5 billion.

For the green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critically important that green investment projects that accelerate climate action, such as renewable energy, or reforestation, are also excellent opportunities to create green jobs. A recent study published by GGGI shows that the implementation of the renewable energy targets in 29 GGGI member country nationally determined contributions will create 10 million job-years, and the implementation of the forestry related targets in 14 GGGI member countries will create 35 million job-years -- at a cost far lower than equivalent fossil fuel alternatives.

While Korea therefore has an important international role to play, there are also contributions other countries can make for Korea. Estimates from the Korean government are that it will not be possible to achieve the entire 40 percent greenhouse gas emission reduction by 2030 through domestic reductions alone. However, the Paris Agreement allows countries like Korea to collaborate with other countries to reduce emissions or capture carbon through reforestation to sell these as carbon credits, which Korea is expected to purchase to meet its commitments.

Organizations like GGGI have been preparing for the new international carbon market under Article 6, expected to be finalized at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland next month, by working with developing countries to help them put the right governance, policies and data systems (monitoring, reporting and verification systems, or MRVs) in place to be able to make such carbon trades once allowed. GGGI also is exploring whether it can facilitate such transactions through establishment of a GGGI Carbon Transaction Platform.

Such a platform would enable the Korean government and Korean private sector companies that have made their own commitments toward net zero, and some of whom will also look to buy carbon credits internationally, to obtain these through GGGI.

In short, the climate crisis is one that affects us all, truly a crisis that does not respect borders, but the solutions also require international collaboration across borders. Solving the climate crisis will depend on all countries working together, each contributing their own nationally determined contributions, but also working with others to share resources, technology and even carbon credits.

The climate crisis is a phenomenon that during my professional career has changed from something we thought would affect our grandchildren or great grandchildren, to a crisis that affects many millions of people around the globe today.

Already there are more than 25 million climate refugees, escaping from floods and droughts, every year. It will require bold leadership and urgent action, such as taken in Korea this year, to avert an even worse crisis that threatens the future of human civilization.

We are living through a decisive decade for climate action, and our only hope is that countries, governments, the private sector, and civil society will learn to work together effectively to accelerate the green transition and radical climate action.

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The writer is the director general at the Global Green Growth Institute, based in Seoul. The views reflected in the article are his own. --Ed.
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