Towards net zero

Noha Bakr
Tuesday 4 Oct 2022

Cutting the emissions of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming to as close to zero as possible must now be an international priority.


In the run-up to the upcoming UN COP27 Climate Change Conference that will be held in Egypt next month, the term “net zero” has become more than just a buzzword. Instead, it is becoming one of the most prominent terms in global, regional, and international deliberations on climate change.

Cutting down the greenhouse-gas emissions that cause global warming to as close to zero as possible and ensuring that any remaining emissions are reabsorbed back from the atmosphere, for example by oceans and forests, is no longer an option but, simply and clearly, has proven to be essential.

While the international community has recently witnessed many environmental disasters, scientific research has also clearly shown that in order to avert and respond to the impacts of climate change the increase in global temperatures needs to be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels in order to preserve the habitability of the planet. 

However, the Earth is currently about 1.1 degrees warmer than it was in the late 1800s, and emissions continue to rise.

Recent figures show that large segments of these emissions are produced by just a few countries. The top three greenhouse-gas emitters are the EU, the US, and China, as they produce 16 times the emissions of the bottom 100 countries. Additionally, the ten largest greenhouse-gas emitters include India, Russia, Japan, Brazil, Indonesia, Iran and Canada, which together contribute over two-thirds of global greenhouse-gas emissions.

In order to meet the 2015 Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, greenhouse-gas emissions need to be reduced by 45 per cent by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. Transitioning to a net zero world is one of the greatest challenges that humankind has ever faced. It calls for nothing less than a complete transformation of how we produce, consume, and move around. Despite the consensus among policy-makers about the need to achieve this goal, the discourse about how to attain it has been characterised by major controversy. 

The problem of an appropriate narrative is the first aspect contributing to this global controversy. The developing countries argue that the rich world has been responsible for the bulk of the emissions, having “colonised” the emissions space and ultimately obstructed their prospects for growth and development. On the other hand, the rich countries argue that developing country emitters such as China and India now account for a large share of emissions and insist that true cooperation on climate change cannot proceed without them.

A second aspect of the problem is that of “adding-up,” or, in other words, the zero-sum arithmetic of a shrinking global carbon budget. For the planet to survive in a habitable form, the world has to live within a fixed carbon budget of about 750 gigatons of CO2 emissions from now until 2050. More allocations from this budget for one country mean less for another, however, and any attempt at allocation is a moving target because the carbon budget is actually shrinking relative to the growing needs of the developing countries, resulting in shifts in both the economic and bargaining powers of the industrialised and developing countries.

A third aspect is the “new world” problem. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change was the result of the world’s first major climate talks, characterised by the dichotomous representation of the countries taking part. There were two broad sets of participating states – the large emitters, mainly the richer states, and the medium to smaller emitters that were then poorer than the average. 

But since Kyoto there have been significant shifts in world economic power, and by 2030 the developing countries will account for 70 per cent of world GDP measured in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP). They will experience nearly 80 per cent of the world’s incremental growth over the next 20 years. China alone will account for some 15 per cent of world trade and 20 per cent of world GDP by 2030. By the latter date, China, India, and Brazil will rank among the five largest economies in the world in terms of PPP GDP.

To reach net zero requires all governments as well as multinational corporations, which remain among the largest emitters, to significantly strengthen their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and take significant and immediate steps towards reducing emissions. The COP27 Conference will begin from where the Glasgow Climate Pact, agreed at the COP26 Conference last year, ended, since this called on all countries to revisit and strengthen the 2030 targets in their NDCs by the end of 2022 and align with the Paris Agreement’s temperature goal. 

Attaining net zero as a means of preventing and responding to the devastating impacts of climate change requires genuine political will, as well as serious mobilisation on the part of governments, corporations, the financial world, and civil society alike, in order to provide whatever is required to reach this goal. 

Egypt has been working to fulfill its national and international duty towards the environment in multiple ways, including by reducing pollution, advancing sustainable solutions for waste management, preserving natural resources, and facing up to global environmental challenges, in addition to creating a conducive environment, at the level of legislation, policies, and institutional reform, to support the green transformation of various sectors in the country with a view to achieving sustainable development.

Egypt’s updated NDCs are currently being finalised within the framework of the recently launched Egyptian National Climate Change Strategy 2050, with this including specific and ambitious quantitative goals in a number of key sectors. It showcases the efforts that are being made and the initiatives that are being undertaken in Egypt to achieve a fair transition to a green economy and advance renewable energy solutions, allowing the country to be a central energy provider in the region. 

These efforts are also clarifying the responsibilities that Egypt is undertaking to spare its people the negative impacts of climate change and build capacities to withstand and adapt to it, especially in the light of the successive global crises that have had severe repercussions on energy and food prices.

The production of renewable energy lies at the core of Egypt’s policies. During 2021, this reached almost 24,000 GW/h, consisting of 14,000 GW of hydropower, 5,400 GW of wind energy, and 4,500 GW of solar energy, in addition to 12 GW from biofuels. The 2021 edition of Egypt’s New and Renewable Energy Authority’s harvest report revealed that renewable energy projects under development amount to 3,570 MW with investments amounting to $3.5 billion, 78 per cent of them for solar energy production and 22 per cent for wind energy.

With regard to reducing pollution to improve air quality, the government aims to reduce the concentrations of suspended particulate matter with a diameter of less than 10 micrometres in the air by 50 per cent by 2030. This is achievable based on the implementation of long-term policies to control pollution sources in sectors including waste, transport, industry, and energy, in addition to strengthening the country’s environmental monitoring and legislation.

Furthermore, a new system for agricultural waste management has been developed and is now in operation that is based on encouraging investment in collecting and pressing rice straw instead of burning it. This will achieve economic value and create direct and indirect seasonal job opportunities. 

There has also been an increase in the technologically advanced monitoring solutions used in the national network for monitoring ambient air quality. Industrial facilities have been linked to monitoring points on the national network to monitor industrial emissions and stations set up to monitor noise levels. Water quality monitoring programmes have been put in place to help improve water quality, including that in the coastal waters of the Red and Mediterranean Seas and in inland lakes.

The reduction of pollution from public transport has also been the object of major policies that have included bus-exhaust inspection programmes and a long-term strategy to introduce electric transport solutions into the public transportation network in Greater Cairo, while at the same time enhancing the electric vehicle industry. 

The upcoming COP27 Conference will pay particular attention to strengthening adaptation and resilience mechanisms, mitigating emissions, facilitating a just transition, and focusing on increasing funding and collaboration for essential climate solutions.

* The writer is a member of the National Council for Human Rights.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 6 October, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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