•      Wed Jul 24 2024

The Pillars of Green Wisdom

PARIS – The ongoing war in Ukraine and the fighting in Gaza following Hamas’s October 7 terrorist attack must not distract the world from our collective priorities: reducing our CO2 emissions, aiming for carbon neutrality by 2050, preserving biodiversity, and fighting poverty and inequality.

This is the doctrine France is implementing at an international level, through the Paris Pact for People and the Planet and the One Planet summits. The cornerstone of our strategy must be to speed up the ecological transition as well as the fight against poverty. After all, it is now crystal clear that no country will work to protect the planet if the price it must pay leads its citizens into a socioeconomic dead-end.

The world’s most advanced economies, which have also been the main CO2 emitters since the industrial revolution, must move away from fossil fuels. If we want to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement, this is nonnegotiable.

Science has set the trajectory: we must move away from coal by 2030, from oil by 2045, and from gas by 2050. While the G7 countries bear the greatest responsibility, China, which is now the second-largest emitter in history, must be fully committed, too.

The threat posed by coal must be addressed first. Today, the 2,000 gigawatts of installed capacity emit enough CO2 to take us above 1.5°C. While the International Energy Agency recommends withdrawing 92 GW per year, 500 GW of additional capacity is already planned.

While it is the G7’s responsibility to move away from coal by 2030 (France will have done so in 2027), emerging economies are now the biggest coal consumers. In these countries, we need to speed up the financing of renewables, as well as nuclear power, which, as a manageable and a decarbonized energy source, must play a key role.

We must also put private financing and trade at the service of the Paris agreement. The cost of investment must be higher for players in the fossil-fuel sector. We need a green interest rate and a brown interest rate. Similarly, we need a climate clause in our trade agreements, because we cannot simultaneously demand that our industries become greener while supporting the liberalization of international trade in polluting products.

For the most vulnerable countries, we must create conditions that enable them to finance their climate-change mitigation and adaptation efforts and access the green technologies that are the new engines of growth. This implies going further than traditional “official development assistance” and doing for vulnerable countries what rich countries did for themselves during the COVID-19 pandemic: pursue an unorthodox fiscal and monetary policy.

The results are already there: in two years, following the initiative we took in Paris in the spring of 2021, we have released over $100 billion in special drawing rights (SDRs, the International Monetary Fund’s reserve asset) for vulnerable countries. By activating this “dormant asset,” we are extending 20-year loans at near-zero interest rates to finance climate action and pandemic preparedness in the poorest countries. We have begun to change debt rules to suspend payments for such countries, should a climate shock occur. And we have changed the mandate of multilateral development banks, such as the World Bank, so that they take more risks and mobilize more private money.

We are going to continue working on this, including within the framework of the new loss and damage fund, where we must mobilize new private insurance mechanisms in the face of climate risk. We will start from the specific needs of the hardest-hit countries. In the first half of 2024, France and Bangladesh will sign an agreement to finance climate-change adaptation and loss and damage, with the French development agency contributing €1 billion ($1.1 billion) in investment, and the IMF extending up to $1 billion worth of SDRs in new loans.

This also implies identifying, on a global scale, governance mechanisms for the most crucial challenges we will have to face in the coming years, access to water being one of the most pressing. In this regard, France and Kazakhstan will convene a One Water Summit during the United Nations General Assembly in September 2024.

Moreover, we must focus on building the basis of a “bio-economy” that will pay for the services provided by nature. Nature is our best technology to sequester carbon on a large scale. The countries with the most important carbon and biodiversity reserves, especially in the three main tropical forest basins, must obtain much greater resources, determined on a country-by-country basis, in exchange for their stewardship of these vital reserves. France has already launched three contracts of this type at COP28, with Papua New Guinea, the Republic of the Congo, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

But reform of the voluntary carbon market is essential. We need to create an international carbon and biodiversity exchange that will allow governmental and private actors to organize voluntary carbon credit swaps, based on sufficiently ambitious criteria to avoid greenwashing, and to remunerate local communities.

The ocean is our most important carbon sink, and we must protect it. France and Costa Rica will convene the third United Nations Ocean Conference in Nice in June 2025, with the aim of updating international law, including on the prohibition of plastic pollution and on protection of the deep sea and seabed. These reforms would also enable the development of national strategies for seaboard protection by countries with exclusive economic zones.

Finally, we will not succeed if we cannot reform the World Bank and the IMF, which play a prominent role in establishing the norms and financing the green transition on a global scale. Eighty years after their creation, these institutions remain underfunded, relative to the size of the global economy and population, and emerging and developing countries continue to be shut out of their governance. But we will not be able to agree on goals and financing until every country negotiating is on an equal footing. To this end, we must review Bretton Woods governance, and ask emerging countries to assume their share of accountability in financing global public goods.

Emmanuel Macron is President of France.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2023.

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