The current global situation, which is impacted by slow economic growth, rising protectionism, populism, and inequality, has drawn the attention away from more profound climate actions and sustainable development. In 2016, the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The summit confirmed 17 goals and particularly has called “for urgent action to combat climate change and build resilience in responding to climate-related disasters”. The historical Paris Agreement signed in 2015 made 195 parties, including governments, businesses, and civil societies across the globe, converge into a community who jointly committed to scale up climate action and reduce the use of fossil fuels. People from different countries and regions set aside their political and cultural differences and started recognizing the collective need for change. If climate change remains unaddressed, it will only exacerbate poverty and shared prosperity.
Despite increasing adoption of climate actions and the raising global consciousness about environmental degradation, climate-related hazards and natural disasters, greenhouse gases and, in particular, carbon dioxide have reached an all-time high and will continue to rise over the next decades. It has become rather likely that global warming will go beyond the 2 °C threshold by the end of the 21st century and that environmental disasters will become worse. Witnessing an unusual amount and intensity of blazing forest fires, heatwaves, and droughts, the year 2018 is likely to become the hottest year, surpassing the five hottest years on record. The reason for this seemingly inexorable trajectory is that humankind is living beyond its means and continues to consume more natural resources than the Earth can reproduce each year.
The 2018 Taihe Civilizations Forum’s session on Sustainable Development will bring together leading experts from the government, academia, and business to share their perspectives and identify ways to forge new partnerships, identify new approaches and common values that support a more impactful and sustainable path towards development and fight against climate change. At the same time, China’s own sustainability actions as well as the Belt and Road Initiative have the potential to contribute significantly to the Paris Agreement and the fulfillment of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
The Session on Sustainable Development will be held around the following three topics:
1. Overcoming structural obstacles to sustainable development:
Despite strong efforts made in sustainable development in recent years, most economies remain locked in old patterns of production and consumption. Reducing industrial carbon emission is more difficult than changing the energy structure. Fossil fuels remain in high demand in comparison with renewable energy, and carbon pricing still only affects a small part of the global economy. This raises the question: what needs to be done to overcome such structural inertia and induce a sense of urgency with more impactful actions?
2. Up-scaling green technologies and industries
Supported by new policies and legislations, a market for green technologies and circular supply chains has emerged, and large multinational corporations frequently pledge to becoming carbon neutral in the near future. Meanwhile, progress has been made in areas, such as smart and green production, infrastructure, electrification of transportation, renewable energy, environmental protection technologies, and climate finance. Although sustainable development is still predominantly seen as a rising cost of capital, ignoring the increasing demand for green technologies and products has become a risk factor for companies and entire countries still ignoring the transition towards a sustainable future. How can stakeholders strike a balance between growth, sustainability, and climate resilience?
3. China’s new role in global sustainable development
China has emerged as the new leader in global sustainable development and has significantly increased efforts to pursue cleaner air, water, and soil. In comparison with the rest of the world, it has invested by far the most in renewable energy, and is committed to reducing its waste production, other forms of pollution and resource depletion. However, China has become the largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world and will presumably become the largest economy within the next decade. In addition, China will boost the development of strategic infrastructure along the countries of the Belt and Road Initiative. Infrastructure accounts for a large amount of carbon dioxide emissions, solid waste production, and raw material extraction. How can China further improve its efforts and contribute to the fulfillment of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and Paris Agreement?
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