Remarks at High-level Joint Event of Regional Economic Commissions

Delivered at High-level Joint Event of Regional Economic Commissions

Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Asia-Pacific region, which I represent, is the most vulnerable region in the world to the effects of climate change and weather-related disasters. Losses suffered by the region continue to be immense. In 2016, around 5000 lives were lost, 35 million people were affected and damage rose to $77 billion, mainly from flooding and drought. Since 1970, losses have amounted to a staggering $1.3 trillion. At the same time, the region’s economic dynamism means that it is now responsible for around half of global emissions. So, it has a critical role to play in the global response to climate change and in implementing the Paris Agreement.

One of the central elements of the Paris Agreement are the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Almost all countries in our region have submitted these and have set mitigation targets to lower emissions. Together, they reflect the vastly different national circumstances across our region. And while a country-driven process is important, taken collectively, the NDCs do not yet add up to the ambition needed to achieve our global climate goals. Even under a scenario of full implementation of the NDCs, by 2030, there would still be a significant global emissions gap of around 12 billion tonnes of CO2 to reach the objectives of the Paris Agreement. In fact, to achieve these objectives, countries will need to at least double their NDC pledges. 1

Based on research undertaken by ESCAP, several priorities for the Asia-Pacific have emerged. On the mitigation side, it is evident that energy is the priority sector. Many countries plan to increase their share of renewable energy, as well as improve energy efficiency. Agriculture, forestry and other land use is another common theme in a region where just over half of the population still lives in rural areas, and farming and agricultural production provide livelihoods for a very large share of the population.

In the energy sector, countries in the Asia-Pacific region have invested more in renewable energy than any other region, totalling $115 billion or 48 per cent of global investment last year.2 Last year, critically, the region has outpaced others in achieving a long-term decline in energy intensity, falling from 9.1 to 6.0 megajoules per dollar of GDP between 1990 and 2014. However, given the limited remaining carbon budget to meet the 2°C scenario up to 2050, in the Asia-Pacific energy-related emissions, currently around 13 billion tonnes of CO2 per year, should be reduced to 10 billion tonnes of CO2.3 This is a profound challenge as countries still need to develop and grow at the same time reducing energy emissions.

On the adaptation side and building resilience to climate change, the region’s NDCs reflect the desire of countries to synergise disaster risk reduction and resilience measures to lower disaster risks and promote sustainable development. In terms of sectoral priorities, water is highlighted by 33 countries in the region reflecting the reality that many countries face limited access to water resources and seasonal shortages. There are competing uses of water especially for agriculture and power generation, while salt-water intrusion, and health issues from poor water quality pose challenges. Agriculture is another major priority for the Asia-Pacific region, with livestock systems, cropping systems, or agroforestry were mentioned as key components of the region’s adaptation strategies.

If we are to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, there are several priorities the region should focus upon. First, the region must build on its success in lowering energy intensity. End-use sectors need to be increasingly covered by efficiency standards, and support to the uptake of carbon-saving infrastructure and technologies must be enhanced.

Second, faster progress in needed to achieve an increase the share of renewable energy in the region’s energy mix. Enhanced policy support, mobilising finance, private sector engagement, pricing carbon and reversing fossil fuel subsidies are just some of the steps that can be taken by countries. In addition, the region has yet to show progress in incorporating renewables beyond the power sector, and focus is needed particularly in the transport sector and for provision of heat.
Third, the region’s NDCs show unequivocally that countries are willing to raise their ambition, conditional on receiving more financial, technological and capacity-building support. The costs of advanced low-carbon technologies remain prohibitive, especially for developing countries, and a lack of investment and financing remains a major barrier. For this, we need to adopt an inclusive approach toward all stakeholders, especially the private sector, where engagement in the region is still nascent. More effort should go into understanding the risks faced by private sector from climate change, and how these can be mitigated. Disclosure of risks will be an important foundation for moving forward, as will be engaging the financial sector to redirect financing flows in support of climate action.

Fourth, major obstacles for strengthening resilience in the region are inter alia the lack of awareness, knowledge and capacity need, weak monitoring, governance, a lack of funding or incentives for investments. Efforts to overcome these barriers should step up rapidly to be able to meet the needs of the region. Eleven countries have estimated their financial needs for their NDC adaptation measures, amounting to $613 billion. Despite efforts to increase the share of climate finance dedicated to building resilience, latest data show that progress is mixed.

Finally, the region’s emerging carbon markets and China’s imminent launch of its national ETS, and its many carbon pricing initiatives hold promise for achieving the same emissions reductions at significantly lower cost. Studies show the costs of NDCs could halve by 2050 with greater international collaboration through carbon markets. This can pave the way for greater ambition for the region.

The first steps towards regional co-operation on carbon pricing in the Asia-Pacific region have delivered the Joint Crediting Mechanism, a bilateral mechanism between Japan and eleven countries in our region. This facilitates the transmission of low carbon technologies to host countries and implement emissions reductions.

Apart from cost savings, the incentive carbon pricing provides could change both production and consumption patterns towards greater sustainability. Carbon pricing can raise valuable public revenue through the auction of permits and the collection of carbon taxes. Around $ 20 billion are raised every year, but there is much greater revenue potential to be tapped. And developing countries can benefit from selling emission reductions.

Regional commissions are important partners to support this effort to support and scale up ambition. Going forward, we will more actively convene State and non-State actors to mobilize stronger and more ambitious climate action, forge relevant regional partnerships, and promote South-South co-operation to address these five priorities. We will continue to support the development of the energy policy framework in the region to achieve SDG7. We can play an important role in strengthening regional co-operation in carbon pricing to further exploit cost savings. We will step our efforts to work with the financial sector and relevant stakeholders to ease countries’ barriers to access to finance and risk-transfer measures such as insurance.

ESCAP will remain committed to supporting continuous engagement between policymakers, practitioners, the wider UN community and other stakeholders at COP and other relevant forums such as the Asia Pacific Climate Week.

I thank you all for your contributions.

1ESCAP, 2016 and ADB, 2016.

2FS-UNEP Collaborating Centre 2017, Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2017,

3OECD/IEA and IRENA, 2017.