What about the forgotten 3 billion?

On December 12, 2017, French President Emmanuel Macron hosted the "One Planet Summit", expressly aimed at providing French flair and oomph for the Paris Agreement (PA) on climate change.

The one-day summit occurred exactly two years to the date after 195 countries pledged to undertake ambitious action that would keep the global average temperature rise "well below 2 degrees Celsius". It was heralded as the ultimate New Year then, and it remains the first truly inclusive, yet completely voluntary, global climate change accord that covers all UN member states - with one notable and singular exception!

No matter the US withdrawal, the Parisian effort to highlight global momentum towards the PA, billed "adaptation, mitigation, mobilisation" as the three keywords, promoted by a triumvirate of global co-hosts (albeit all male) - Macron, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and World Bank chief Jim Yong.

The summit convened speakers ranging from entrepreneurs and investors to local stakeholders and scientists around four different Panels: Scaling up Fin ance for Climate Action; Greening Finance for Sustainable Business; Accelerating Local and Regional Climate Action; and, Strengthening Policies for Ecological and Inclusive Transition.

Interestingly, the so-called "heart" of the summit was listed as the 24 projects clustered under four different categories from the panels above: Adapt (6 projects), To be in Solidarity (4 projects); Reduce Carbon (10 projects, which includes one expressly focused on India's Energy Efficiency Services Limited) and Mobilize (4 projects).

According to the summit, it is these projects that need to be "stepped up and replicated, and to serve as a source of inspiration around the world"; and it is these projects that "demonstrate that we are committed to a new world, to preserve the future of our one and only planet".

Prompt, measurable national and global shifts towards low and zero carbon energy are what really matter for curbing anthropogenic climate change. The One Planet Summit is evidence that US withdrawal from the PA has not dampened global efforts.

New reports have highlighted key announcements made at the summit, such as the French insurer AXA SA pledge to divest from coal and tar sands companies, end insurance for new coal plants, and quadruple green investments to 12 billion euros by 2020, and the fact that a group of 225 global investors with $26.3 trillion of assets under management stated that they will publish an annual assessment of how the world's biggest carbon emitters are reducing their emissions and limiting exposures to climate risks.

Most significantly, the president of the World Bank, which provides financial, advisory and technical support to developing countries, including India, announced at the summit that it will "no longer finance upstream oil and gas after 2019."

His statement went on to note that "in exceptional circumstances, consideration will be given to financing upstream gas in the poorest countries where there is a clear benefit in terms of energy access for the poor and the project fits within the countries' Paris Agreement commitments."

Lack of integration

The problem that needs to be confronted is that, separate from the PA, there was another landmark UN global agreement signed in 2015, namely the UN's "Transforming our World: The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda" which pledged to "leave no one behind". This UN Agenda is anchored by 17 globally-agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with an overarching priority on poverty eradication.

But there are two separate SDGs - on sustainable energy for all (SDG 7) and climate change (SDG 13). The lack of a globally integrated process on these SDGs poses serious implementation and tracking challenges for the UN agenda.

The global primacy accorded to the 2015 PA makes it very important to consider what the entirely voluntary process of national climate action submissions will translate into, especially in light of serious financing
and resource mobilisation constraints faced by developing countries in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa where the majority of the world's energy-poor and climate-vulnerable are located.

Close to three billion people - called "the forgotten 3 billion" by the UN and the WHO - depend on highly inefficient and polluting energy sources which impact negatively on their lives and health, and also contribute to short-lived climate pollutants.

Ensuring access to clean/sustainable, cost-effective energy services also happens to be crucial to addressing a wide variety of SDG poverty eradication measures such as: reducing infant mortality, improving the lives of women and girls, promoting education, improving access to clean water, and enabling productive livelihoods.

Unfortunately, within the UN's sustainable development framework, there are currently two separate policy silos - with separate global targets on sustainable energy for all and global climate change.

Continuing with separate and non-integrated policy and programmatic silos on sustainable energy for all and climate change defies logic, stymies progress on inherently linked issues, and is antithetical to the promise of "One Planet".

(The writer is an expert on climate change based in the US)

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