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From climate negotiations to climate solutions

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Today, climate change represents one of the world's most serious threats to mankind. Its multiple and cascading effects put the survival of human beings, animals, and ecosystems at risk. Certain parts of the Earth have already become uninhabitable to humans, animals, and plants.

In Paris, five years ago, the international community agreed to embark upon an ambitious journey to limit global warming to between 1.5C and 2C. Containing the temperature increase means limiting climate disruption and reducing the occurrence of natural disasters.

Today, the Earth's average temperature is already 1.1C warmer than the pre-industrial levels, and every increase of a tenth of a degree Celsius is having a huge impact.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) just released a disheartening report. If we do not step up our ambitions the global temperature could rise by no less than 2.7C by 2100 — a gloomy outlook.

The nations of the world are now facing two decades during which they must make major efforts to phase out coal, oil, and gas and replace them with renewable energy generated from wind, sun, hydrogen, and other eco-friendly sources. Failing to act decisively during these two decades would be disastrous because, after that it will be too late to save the planet.

Yet the news is not all grim. As climate scientist Professor Kimberly Nicholas framed it: “It's warming. It is us. We're sure. It's bad. But we can fix it.” Science tells us that a zero-carbon society is possible — a society of new green jobs and growth that can limit warming to 1.5C is not fiction.

The European Union (EU) has already shown that it is feasible to decouple growth from carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Since 1990, our gross domestic product (GDP) has grown by over 60 per cent, while net greenhouse gas emissions have fallen by a quarter.

In July this year we released a new legislative package to implement the European Green Deal and deliver a 55 per cent net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 on the path to climate neutrality by 2050. This transition of how we generate and use energy, move around, build and heat houses, and use land is designed in the fairest way possible, ensuring no one is left behind. Otherwise, it will not work.

Obviously, the EU cannot do it alone. Today, the EU represents just eight per cent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. We have to inspire others, convince even the most reluctant partners to join the path to climate neutrality by strengthening their climate mitigation and adaptation plans.

We all need a systemic and exponential change away from fossil fuels. It is good for our health, our households, our crops, our water, our jobs, and our economies. Every action counts — how we vote, what we eat, how we travel. Just how damaging climate change will be is in our hands.

As a member of the small island developing states (SIDS) group, Jamaica knows well that climate change has a very tangible impact in terms of natural disasters, loss of biodiversity, sea level rise, coral bleaching, economic development, and food safety. Jamaica's efforts to tackle climate change are well noted, including the recent launch of the country's Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) Implementation Plan outlining its strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the effects of climate change.

Jamaica and the EU are long-standing partners, and we have joined forces to fight climate change. For example, under one of many ongoing environmental protection programmes, the EU and its member states are providing €16.55 million or approximately $2.3 billion to the Government of Jamaica to help strengthen sustainable forest management. This is being done by modernising the regulatory framework, enhancing the enforcement capacity of the Forestry Department, and by supplying cutting-edge tools.

The programme is also supporting actions on the ground to assist forest-dependent communities, including upscaling existing alternative livelihoods, such as beekeeping, ecotourism and training, and strengthening public awareness/education regarding issues like forest fires. This, we hope, will further the country's social and economic development, contribute to climate mitigation, and help build up climate resilience.

For good reason, the forthcoming UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), to be held in Glasgow later this year, is being called 'The Defining Conference for Mankind'. Each State must increase its commitments to cut global emissions and make that major leap between ambitions and actions. We need to close the gaps related to ambition, commitment, financing, and action, because that is the only way to still keep the climate crisis under control. This will require the support of world leaders and pressure from citizens, including those in Jamaica.

The cost of inaction is immeasurable. It is a fantasy to believe we can afford not to act.

Marianne Van Steen is ambassador of the European Union; Hugo Verbist is ambassador of Belgium; Diego Bermejo is ambassador of Spain; Dr Stefan Keil is ambassador of Germany; and Olivier Guyonvarch is ambassador of France.