Asia and Pacific countries have made major commitments to implement the UN’s Paris Agreement of 2015, in particular through Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).
ESCAP, UNEP and Greenwerk have just released preliminary findings of the assessment of progress of NDC implementation in Asia-Pacific which provides a methodology for understanding the ambition of the NDC commitments, as well as an initial assessment of what factors might be enabling certain countries to progress and holding others back from implementing the commitments they have already made, and recommendations for how to increase such ambition.
Though initially stalled by the COVID-19 lockdowns during the first half of 2020, the cumulative GHG emissions in Asia-Pacific have risen to just below 35 GtCO2 by the end of the year and are almost equal to the regional record of 36.7 GtCO2 in 2019.
Projected GHG emissions growth to 50 GtCO2 by 2060 reveals that the NDC commitments of the countries in the Asia-Pacific region are falling short to support Paris Agreement targets.
However, seven countries in the region submitted updated NDCs in 2020, and eight countries in Asia and the Pacific region, including Bhutan, China, Fiji, Japan, Marshall Islands, New Zealand, Singapore, Republic of Korea have now announced 2050 carbon neutrality targets, and China by 2060 or earlier.
It is imperative for the other regional countries to follow suit with ambitious pledges and NDC reviews in 2021. Those can be aligned with green and inclusive, pro-poor post-COVID-19 recovery strategies for achieving both human and planetary health.
However, the assessment also reveals that there are significant institutional barriers to doing so in many countries in the region.
The weakest spot is financing of NDC implementation in the Asia-Pacific region with less than 25 per cent of the countries having sufficient financial frameworks in place.
Almost half of the countries are just in the early stages of estimating financial needs for climate action and allocating budgets for this in sectoral ministries and most are yet to establish means of engaging and driving the private sector to act.
While most countries in the region have laws or other legal provisions to support climate action only nine have laws that relate to emissions reductions targets. Countries also have mixed experience of integrating climate change into national development plans, and 35 countries are still behind in terms of basic abilities to monitoring and verifying their emissions levels.
The analysis further suggests that these “enabling factors” are intertwined and mutually reinforcing, and that while countries in the Pacific Small Island Developing states and North and Central Asian regions seem to be struggling the most, countries with relatively higher emissions are stepping up efforts to improving enabling instruments and policies than others.
The assessment report therefore concludes that there is a significant need in the region not just to simply push for higher ambition targets – including as part of a “green recovery” from COVID19 but to also work on advancing key enabling factors which can form the basis for more action. The faster these enabling factors are put into place in 2021, including through regional cooperation and sharing experiences, the faster countries in the region will implement the Paris Agreement and “build forward”.