Time to renew multilateral leadership on climate crisis
The events of the past year are a stark reminder of the need for global action on climate change and environmental protection. A global pandemic, with its likely source in increased interaction between wildlife and humans, has brought the world’s economy to its knees, put a strain on the social fabric across the globe, and claimed millions of lives so far.
In Southeast Asia and indeed across the globe, natural disasters have again taken a heavy toll. Even nations at an advanced stage of development, equipped with the best capacities and technologies, have been increasingly impacted by climate-related disasters affecting their infrastructures, food and health systems, and ecosystems.
Some commentators and decision-makers have seen this unprecedented crisis as a sign of failure of international cooperation and multilateralism, and are promoting more isolationist policies. Even before the pandemic struck, an increase in commercial and geopolitical tensions was already a concern, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region.
These approaches are fundamentally misguided. Our economies and societies have become closely interconnected, and advances in digital and transportation technologies will only reinforce this trend. Multilateral action is complex and can often be frustrating when the national interests of nearly 200 states are at stake.
But we are acutely aware by now that certain challenges are global in nature and require global solutions. Environmental and climate-change issues offer plenty of examples. The oceans, our river basins, the air we breathe, and the biodiversity we rely on for our economy, our health and our scientific progress know no borders. We also know that multilateral action can work. Joint action on threats to the ozone layer, under the 1987 Montreal Protocol, has led to a significant drop in ozone-depleting substances. The ozone layer is recovering and based on current trends, the World Meteorological Organization foresees an end to the “ozone hole” phenomenon over Antarctica by 2060.
It is worth reviewing the key success factors in this case.
First, the Montreal Protocol addressed a scientifically recognized challenge of global scale, with implications for human health. Second, it benefited from increased consumer awareness of the harmful effects of ozone-depleting substances, thanks to effective education and awareness campaigns.
Third, after some initial resistance, industry leaders invested in research and development and were able to deploy alternative technologies within a few years.
And last but not least, the Montreal Protocol came about as a result of decisive leadership from key developed nations, in a spirit of multilateralism, which included financial and technical support for developing countries to make the shift to more environmentally friendly technologies. Many of these ingredients are again present, to address larger environmental and climate change challenges.
Scientific evidence of the impacts of environmental degradation and climate change on human development is overwhelming. Global awareness of these issues is reaching unprecedented levels as impacts on health, access to water, food systems and migrations, just to name a few, are becoming more and more obvious. Particularly encouraging is the engagement of youth. In Cambodia, a recent study found that 75% of young people under 25 were motivated to take action or had already acted to fight climate change.
The private sector is gradually coming on board. Many industry leaders now recognize the opportunities of the green economy. Investments in the development and implementation of sustainable energies and other climate-friendly technologies are booming, and sustainable finance is gathering pace.
In the last few months, we have seen encouraging signs of leadership from some of the world’s leading economies, including announcements of carbon-neutrality targets by Japan and China, and the European Green New Deal.
Most recently, the decision of the United States to rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change and its commitment to achieve net zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050 have the potential to re-invigorate global action on climate change. Strong partnerships with climate-vulnerable nations must be a key component of that response.
Multilateral action allows all nations, no matter how small, to chip in and contribute to a solution. It has a multiplier effect, which makes possible results that leading world or regional powers may not be able to achieve on their own.
The Cambodian government fully appreciates the multilateral support received as the country successfully transitioned to a new era of peace and stability. We are now in a position to play an active role in these multilateral mechanisms, as demonstrated by our contribution to United Nations peacekeeping operations, and our active participation in environmental and climate-change conventions. The submission of our updated 2030 targets under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is the most recent example of this commitment, and Cambodia is currently working on its own Long Term Low Emissions Development Strategy. As mentioned recently by our prime minister at the P4G Summit in Seoul, Cambodia, as ASEAN chair for 2022, will work with all members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to implement the agreed comprehensive Covid recovery framework, including clear commitments on sustainable, resilient and climate-smart recovery.
At the global level, a successful COP26 in Glasgow will be essential to increase momentum. We call on all parties to finalize negotiations on the rulebook for the implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change. Governments and private investors alike need this clear framework to get more ambitious projects moving on the ground.
After a forced period of economic slowdown and self-reflection in 2020, this year must mark a new beginning on how the international community addresses the global environmental and climate-change crises. Cambodia stands ready to do its part. We look forward to renewed global leadership and commitment to multilateral action from our partners. Collectively, we must seize this opportunity, to help our people and our planet thrive.
Say Samal is Minister of Environment, The Royal Government of Cambodia.