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Participants explore NDCs challenges at UN’s June Momentum event

“Where do we stand with Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs): Enhancing action on climate change in 2020” was the theme of a key virtual high-level event held on Tuesday, June 9, 2020 as part of the June Momentum initiative by UN Climate Change.

Carolina Schmidt
Chilean Minister of Environment and President of COP25, Carolina Schmidt

NDCs are at the heart of the Paris Climate Change Agreement and embody efforts by each country to reduce national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. Each NDC reflects the country’s ambition, taking into account its domestic circumstances and capabilities.

The 2015 decision adopting the Paris Agreement referred clearly to 2020 as the year when Parties would submit their new or updated NDCs, and also as the year marking the launch of five-year NDC cycles.

As such, 2020 is a key year for climate change ambition. But 2020 is turning out to be a momentous year in more ways than one. Parties are expected to communicate new or updated NDCs, yet this is now happening against the backdrop of a major global crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. To date, 13 countries have submitted new or updated NDCs that are recorded in the NDC registry.

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The virtual high-level event, opened by Ms. Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change and Chile’s Minister of Environment and President of COP25, Ms Carolina Schmidt, aimed to zoom in on the challenges and experiences, but also on the opportunities that countries now face in their NDC processes.

In her opening remarks, Ms. Espinosa expressed her devastation at the loss of life throughout the world due to COVID-19.

“The pandemic is an additional, unexpected challenge for all of us. But we must remember that climate change remains the most significant challenge to humanity over the long term,” she said.

Ms. Espinosa emphasised that recovering from COVID-19 and addressing climate change are not mutually exclusive.

She said: “We can combine the recovery process with strategies and actions to address climate change. If this is done right, the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis can steer us to a more inclusive and sustainable climate path.”

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This theme was echoed by Ms Carolina Schmidt who urged countries to enhance their NDCs to help their societies recover from the pandemic in cleaner and more sustainable ways.

During the ensuing panel discussions, all speakers referred to the opportunity to recover and rebuild better and more sustainably.

Many participants underlined that there is no choice between pursuing growth and tackling climate change. Pursuing low emissions pathways will in fact speed up economic recovery and growth following COVID-19.

This emerging awareness is encouraging given that the current level of ambition would likely result in an increase of global average temperatures of 3C or more, significantly higher than the temperature limits of less than 2C and as close to 1.5C as possible contained in the Paris Agreement. 

Yet the international community has the political will, collective capacity and expertise to close the ambition gap, as well as steer the world towards an economic recovery that is mindful of the objectives of the Paris Agreement.

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Mr Yannick Glemarec, Executive Director of the Green Climate Fund (GCF), succinctly described the emerging opportunity when he stated: “To ensure that countries maintain momentum on NDCs in 2020, it is critical that NDCs are leveraged to ‘green’ national recovery measures. This can be achieved in two ways: First, by integrating priorities in NDCs which promote green resilient recovery into stimulus packages to secure financing; and second, by crafting new green resilient recovery measures to enhance NDCs.”   

While some developed countries have embraced the greening of their economic recovery packages, this may pose a challenge to developing countries. As a result, the GCF, the UNDP and others are making support available to developing countries for this purpose.

The UN Climate Change says it stands ready to support countries in their NDC process.

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