Our Message to National Leaders at COP26: Seek Commonalities, Collaborate, Step Up Efforts
First it drew backlash for its all-men leadership team, then it was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a few days, the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (also known as COP26) will kick off and attempt to demand country leaders commit to ambitious 2030 emissions reduction goals, mobilise finance, and collaborate to be both actors and enablers of solutions that protect communities and natural habitats. Perhaps more paramount than anything else at COP26 is for countries to agree on a timeline to phase out coal. If we want to avert disastrous levels of global warming, global coal demand will need to drop by 98%, with coal accounting for less than 1% of energy production by 2050, according to the International Energy Agency.
That will be a herculean challenge. Already, countries including Saudi Arabia, Japan, and Australia are asking the United Nations’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to downplay the need to move away from coal. And the only country that is closest to its Paris Agreement climate pledges? The Gambia, accounting for less than 0.01% of global emissions, according to the Climate Action Tracker’s analysis of 40 countries representing 80% of global emissions.
National leaders and policy-makers must heed the urgency warranted by science, for COP26 to truly be a propelling force for ambitious climate actions, instead of a theatre for corporate marketing, featuring some of the most polluting corporations in the world. The window we have to prevent global temperature rise to 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels and avert catastrophic climate events is extremely small. According to the IPCC report, the emissions mitigation strategies outlined by nations under the Paris Agreement “would not limit global warming to 1.5°C, even if supplemented by very challenging increases in the scale and ambition of emissions reductions after 2030”, but nations must come together to strive to reduce global emissions by at least 49% of 2017 levels by 2030, and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
More Details, Transparency, and Accountability for More Ambitious Climate Action Plans
A higher sense of urgency for ambitious climate actions is perhaps no more needed elsewhere than in Asia, which performed poorly on most of the environmental targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development last year, especially on SDG10 (Responsible Consumption and Production) and SDG13 (Climate Action).
Here in Hong Kong, labelled by the MIT's The Green Future Index as a “climate abstainer” along with petrostates, the government’s release this month of the Hong Kong's Climate Action Plan for 2025 gave many a reason to breathe a temporary sigh of relief. As a nonprofit that works to turn the hospitality industry into a catalyst for sustainability, we at GREEN Hospitality again urge the Hong Kong government to enhance transparency and accessibility to information related to its climate actions, which can effectively increase participation from the private sector, civil society, the academia, and other stakeholders in society.
In our response to the Hong Kong government’s policy address and climate action plan, which we have also sent to the Office of the Chief Executive and the Environment Bureau’s division for climate change, we appealed for diverse representation of the strategic committees to take into account the intersectionality of climate change when providing oversight over policies and regulations; the adoption of internationally-aligned sustainability reporting standards as well as a life-cycle approach to carbon emissions accounting; and integrating sustainability and climate actions into education and business.
While government policies and financial support are paramount, drastic emissions reduction and reaching carbon neutrality require broad cross-sector collaboration and participation from society as a whole. Companies, regardless of their size, industry, and legal status, have great potential to take a leading role in mitigating the social injustices caused by climate change, as well as the negative impact resulting from their operations. That is why we believe carbon disclosure is the responsibility of every company and organisation, and a lifecycle approach needs to be adopted for carbon emissions accounting too, as value chain emissions (or Scope 3 emissions) account for a staggering 90% of corporate greenhouse gas emissions. Employment engagement at all levels in the commitment to climate actions is crucial, and Project Drawdown’s Climate Solutions At Work is a useful guide for this very purpose. Likewise, companies can partner with civil society organisations that offer sustainability-related services such as advisory and research, education and training, and employment engagement and awareness-building programmes.
Leveraging the Power of Climate Youths
In its climate action plan for Hong Kong, the government has earmarked HK$240 billion for climate change mitigation and adaptation in the next 10 to 15 years. Little is known as to how the budget will be spent and on what. Here, we urge the government to release more details. But more importantly, we think the government will benefit considerably by conducting a public consultation to synergise knowledge and expertise to ensure better utilisation of taxpayers’ money for climate readiness and resiliency for Hong Kong.
To reach carbon neutrality within such a short timeframe, the government needs not reinvent the wheel, for there is a great number of youths that are passionate about actionable climate solutions. Amongst the Hong Kong climate youths representing the city at COP26 is 20-year-old Mark Cheung, a year-three undergraduate studying Environmental Science at The University of Hong Kong, an activist of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps, and also the co-founder and executive director of Network of Environmental Student Societies (NESS), the youth-led organisation behind the inaugural Hong Kong Climate Emergency Summit (HKCES) for students in secondary schools and universities. By March next year, he will be stepping foot in Antarctica, joining 90 other climate advocates in seminars and workshops on leadership development, climate change training, and sustainability education at the 2041 Foundation’s Leadership on the Edge programme.
“Living in Hong Kong, we are not being affected directly by the impacts of climate change, and this ‘not in my backyard’ mentality is reflected in ineffective climate actions and the lacklustre development of the climate movement,” said Mark. “I hope to utilise the experience and skills I gain from Leadership on the Edge, COP26, and the other ongoing endeavours to engage the local community in taking climate actions.”
Also from the same cohort of Climate Reality Leadership Corps training as Mark is Valeria Alvarado, a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, specialising in wastewater-derived energy and the water-energy-climate nexus in wastewater treatment systems at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. While Valeria enjoys working in academia, she thinks her knowledge and expertise would have a more meaningful impact if put into practice. “As an engineer, I want to use my skills for projects that can have a positive impact for people and the environment. Currently, I’m looking for jobs as an environmental consultant for green buildings. I hope that by getting involved in the construction of green buildings, I can contribute to a healthier society, which would make my career meaningful to me.”
Mark Cheung and Valeria Alvarado are just two of the millions of global teens and youth making climate advocacy and activism their life mission. All over the world, young people are taking to the streets and collaborating online to promote climate change education, facilitate intersectional movements, demand ambitious climate actions from policymakers and national leaders, and some have even taken matters into their own hands to innovate climate change solutions or to advocate for sustainability goals and actions via their career path.
This is a generation of youth world nations cannot afford to fail, not just because our actions today will have long-term and possibly irrevocable consequences for their future, but also that they have the knowledge and passion to mitigate climate change, built upon an urgency in existence long before “climate crisis” was even a buzzword. While we welcome the Hong Kong government’s proposed climate initiative of promoting young people’s active participation through the formation of a dedicated advisory committee, we believe the Hong Kong government should extend its proposed climate education initiative beyond tertiary education institutions to all schools. Instead of setting up yet another task force to conduct years-long meetings to curate a curriculum, the government stands to significantly accelerate climate and sustainability education by leveraging the insights and experiences of climate youths, as well as collaborating with civil society organisations well-versed in design thinking, providing engaging educational resources and tools, innovating sustainability solutions, and empowering youth through solution-driven activities such as the Climate Collage workshops, and internships and volunteering opportunities that serve as a springboard for young people to carve out their sustainability-focused career paths.
Seek Commonalities, Collaborate, Step Up Efforts
Climate change is happening now, causing human migration, loss of livelihoods and habitats, and wildlife species to teeter on the brink of extinction. To effectively consolidate the knowledge, expertise, and solutions to drive collective climate actions, we need national leaders and policy-makers who possess the prescience to curate incremental mitigation targets and actions, as well as the urgency and will power to implement adaptation solutions now.
For starters, developed countries need to step up with their climate finance commitments to developing countries for the delivery of mitigation and adaptation solutions. While Australia and Switzerland might be right that climate finance is not the only relevant tool to increase climate ambitions, the truth is nonetheless that developed countries are approximately US$20 billion short of their US$100 billion-a-year climate finance goal. As pointed out by the World Resource Institute, emphasis must also be put on scaling up public climate finance, strengthening the quality of and enhancing accessibility to all climate finance. But for climate finance to be able to mobilise measurable impact, national leaders and representatives at COP26 must also agree on an internationally standardised measurement framework, complete with transparency and accountability guidelines, so that countries can measure and compare data on their respective climate actions. This is not just to hold governments accountable and share viable solutions, but data-backed progress can also attract climate finance.
The dialogues to be initiated at COP26 are vital to expediting actions, and the hosting country and moderating parties have the utmost responsibility to steer country leaders clear of unconstructive bickering. How? By helping them seek and acknowledge commonalities. There is no planet B, and planet A is now on fire. The pain and suffering is mutual, because the damage is global. As the fight against the depletion of the ozone layer has shown, broad collaboration and global actions can avert humankind from catastrophic crises. With the combination of human ingenuity and compassion, we can go a long way.