Interview with Ken O’Flaherty and Jon Lambe

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Interview with Ken O’Flaherty and Jon Lambe
Ken O’Flaherty
COP26 Regional Ambassador to Asia-Pacific and South Asia
Jon Lambe
UK Ambassador to ASEAN
27 Sep 2020
Climate Change, Environment

The 26th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 26) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which was set to take place in November 2020, has been postponed to November 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In this section, COP26 Regional Ambassador to Asia-Pacific and South Asia, Ken O’Flaherty, and the United Kingdom Ambassador to ASEAN, Jon Lambe, discuss the priorities and plans of the UK, as COP26 President, in the year leading up to the conference. They also talk about possible areas of collaboration between the UK and ASEAN on climate change issues.

What is the significance of the COP26 and what are the priorities of the UK presidency for COP26?

Five years ago in Paris, world leaders, including all 10 ASEAN countries, came together to sign a historic agreement to tackle climate change. Under the Paris Agreement, the parties committed to keeping global temperature rises well below 2°C and to strive to limit the rise to 1.5°C. In November 2021, the UK, in partnership with Italy, will host the COP26 UN climate conference. This will be a critical moment to reiterate the commitments made in Paris and to mobilise more ambitious action on climate change.

The challenge is clear. Without urgent action we will not keep climate change to 1.5°C, or even 2°C. Under the UK’s Presidency of COP26, we are working hard to engage governments, businesses, and societies worldwide to deliver strong climate action, bringing together action on the clean energy transition, nature-based solutions, finance, adaptation and resilience, and transport between now and November next year.

Accelerating the clean energy transition is one of our key priorities under our Presidency, particularly as the International Energy Agency has assessed that the global transition to clean power needs to progress four times faster than at present if we are to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. This transition is particularly important in Southeast Asia, which is a major driver of the global economy with increasing energy demand, and where a large pipeline of fossil fuel—and particularly coal—projects are planned.

As the COP26 Presidency, the UK is committed to increasing momentum on climate action through enhanced ambition in Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Five years on from the Paris Agreement, COP26 is the first time that countries should reassess their NDCs. We recognise that COVID-19 has created immense challenges. However, we believe that climate ambition is an essential component to a strong, global economic recovery from the pandemic. Furthermore, the UK’s experience shows that it can generate economic growth, create employment and foster international investment whilst reducing emissions, allowing us to meet our collective Paris Agreement targets.

How is the UK planning to raise awareness on the COP26 agenda in the Southeast Asian region?

The UK is working closely with the ASEAN Secretariat, ASEAN Member States, and other regional partners to mobilise engagement on climate change. We are organising events and activities in the lead up to COP26, especially focusing on the region’s priorities.

On 24 and 25 September, the UK COP26 Presidency, in collaboration with ASEAN and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), is hosting a virtual ASEAN-COP26 Climate Dialogue on Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and Long-Term Strategies (LTS). The ASEAN-COP26 Climate Dialogue will offer a forum for senior government officials from all ASEAN Member States to share their experiences in meeting and enhancing their climate pledges under the Paris Agreement through NDC enhancement and implementation. The dialogue will provide an opportunity for ASEAN Member States to exchange lessons on developing LTS, building on the experience from practitioners and experts.

Looking forward towards COP26, we will collaborate closely with ASEAN partners on joint events covering a range of COP26 priorities, including nature-based solutions, adaptation and resilience, and accelerating the clean energy transition in Southeast Asia.

Do you think that climate action has been derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic?

While countries are rightly focusing on fighting the immediate health crisis and economic challenges posed by COVID-19, we must not lose sight of the huge challenges presented by climate change. This is why taking action to tackle climate change—domestically and with our international partners—remains a top priority for the UK Government.

COVID-19 has led to an unprecedented shutdown of large parts of the global economy with severe consequences for all countries. The UK strongly supports the message from the UN Secretary-General that governments should ensure a clean, green, and resilient recovery. As COP26 Presidency, we will uphold the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as crucial frameworks to guide this recovery. We are encouraging governments to target their economic stimulus packages towards the green tech and renewables sectors. This green recovery will create employment in the industries of the future and address the linked challenges of public health, climate change, and biodiversity.

A green recovery is not just the right thing to do in terms of climate change and reducing the health and environmental impacts of using fossil fuels. It makes strong economic sense. Our experience in the UK shows that we do not have to choose between emissions reductions and GDP growth: the UK economy has grown by 75 per cent since 1990, at the same time as cutting its emissions by 43 per cent. New solar is already cheaper than new coal in all 10 ASEAN countries. Across the world, fast-falling renewable prices are challenging the financial viability of fossil fuel investments. New technologies will accelerate this trend, meaning that fossil fuel, notably coal, power plants will have a much shorter period of financial viability.

What are the areas of cooperation between the UK and ASEAN on climate change issues? How can this cooperation be strengthened?

The UK is a long-standing partner of ASEAN, particularly on low carbon growth, sustainability, and climate change. Having recently applied to become a Dialogue Partner to ASEAN, we see this as a special opportunity to strengthen collaboration on climate and green issues in the coming years, building on existing UK cooperation with the region.

Across ASEAN, the UK’s 15 million pound ASEAN Low Carbon Energy Programme focuses on green finance and energy efficiency transitions in Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Myanmar, and the Philippines. In the Philippines, the programme has helped the government set up a market for renewable energy. In Myanmar, it is helping the Ministry of Electricity attract international finance by developing standards for solar and wind energy. Through the 13 million pound Mentari UK-Indonesia Low Carbon Energy Partnership, we are supporting Indonesia to become a renewable energy superpower by harnessing its abundant solar, wind, and other clean technology potential to drive sustainable economic growth.

We recently concluded the first window in our new 12 million pound Green Recovery Challenge Fund, which aims to support innovation in green finance and zero emissions transport across Asia. At a global scale, the UK has doubled its spending on international climate change projects to 11.6 billion pounds over 2021-2026, which will include projects across ASEAN.

Beyond these programmes, we also seek to collaborate more closely with ASEAN on sharing best practices and expertise, including our experience of developing our NDC and LTS at the upcoming ASEAN-COP26 Climate Dialogue, and sharing UK expertise in pairing climate action with economic growth.

Despite the benefits of decarbonisation, the world is not yet on track to meet the commitments of the Paris Agreement. This is why the next five years are critical for enhanced climate action. This is especially true in Southeast Asia, which has some of the most climate-vulnerable countries and will suffer some of the worst and most immediate impacts of climate change. We must work together to overcome this challenge. That is why the UK’s COP26 Presidency stresses international collaboration to deliver a green and resilient recovery. We look forward to working closely with ASEAN and its Member States to achieve an ambitious, shared outcome at COP26.