12 March 2019
Experts and Officials Discuss Ways to Achieve Zero Carbon Emissions
Photo Credit: Lynn Wagner
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The Permanent Missions of Kenya and Sri Lanka and NGO Sustainability organized an event themed, ‘The Race to Zero Carbon,’ on 6 March 2019 at UN Headquarters in New York, US.

Participants highlighted country efforts towards and options for achieving zero carbon.

Referring to climate strikes led by students around the world and the current high-level political interest in the US, Chuck Kutscher, University of Colorado, qualified 2019 as a “turning point,” where climate change is “finally” treated as an emergency.

6 March 2019: Government officials, experts and other stakeholders discussed the ‘Race to Zero Carbon,’ including ways and tools to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Participants emphazised the need to take action, noting that it is more expensive “to do nothing” than to “do something” to address climate change and its impacts.

The meeting was organized by the Permanent Missions of Kenya and Sri Lanka, and NGO Sustainability on 6 March 2019 at UN Headquarters in New York, US.

Rohan Perera, Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka, outlined examples of actions taken by his country to reduce its carbon footprint, including the use of hydropower at a large scale, and of solar and wind power to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. He stressed the importance his country attaches to zero carbon, noting that Sri Lanka lost approximately USD 1,623 million in 2017 due to climate-induced disasters, and ranked fourth in the Global Climate Risk Index in 2018. The index analyzes the extent to which countries and regions have been affected by impacts of weather-related loss events.

Koki Muli Grignon, Permanent Representative of Kenya, highlighted her country’s pledge to reduce its carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030, and said it is “well” on its way to achieving this target. She mentioned that Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and French President Emmanuel Macron will co-chair the One Planet Summit that will take place during the fourth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-4), on 14 March 2019. Among other events related to climate, she also noted the High-level Meeting on Climate Protection for All that is scheduled for 28 March in New York.

Roma Stibravy, NGO Sustainability, emphasized the need to work on “better messaging” facts related to climate change since climate science is complex and “abstract” but climate change impacts affect everyone. As an example of action to be taken to transition towards zero carbon, she mentioned her work in converting a decommissioned fossil fuel power plant into a facility to produce renewable energy.

Increasing energy efficiency, decarbonizing electricity generation, and switching fuels can lead to deep decarbonization.

Noting that weather extremes are the “new abnormal,” Chuck Kutscher, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute (RASEI), University of Colorado, said the 2018 California wildfires will have a cost of approximately USD 400 billion, according to AccuWeather. He qualified 2019 as a “turning point,” where climate change is “finally” treated as an emergency. He referred to climate strikes led by students around the world and the current high-level political interest in the US, including the Green New Deal proposal introduced by the US Democratic Party for consideration by the Senate.

On energy sources, Kutscher reported that the use of oil and natural gas is still increasing worldwide, and outlined four steps to move towards zero carbon emissions, namely: maximize energy efficiency; “electrify everything we can,” including transportation; provide electricity with solar and wind; and control the demand to match variable renewable energy. On energy efficiency, he remarked that the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has developed the Building Energy Optimization Tool (BEopt), which helps evaluate residential building designs and identify cost-optimal efficiency packages towards zero net energy. Zero net energy buildings generate as much energy as they consume on an annual basis. He added that zero net energy can be scaled up to a district, and that models such as Urban Renewable Building and Neighborhood optimization (URBANopt) can help in this regard.

On the use of solar and wind energy, Kutscher noted the relevance of the NREL System Advisor Model (SAM) to facilitate decision making for people involved in the renewable energy industry. At the global level, he reported that China is leading the world on renewable energy, and Costa Rica went 300 consecutive days using renewable energy only. Costa Rica later underscored that it launched, in February 2019, a plan seeking to decarbonize the country by 2050.

Romany Webb, Columbia Law School, noted that although a 2°C increase in global average temperatures above preindustrial levels by 2100 could have disastrous impacts, estimates predict that there could be a 5°C increase by the end of the century. She highlighted the need for “deep decarbonization” through increasing energy efficiency, decarbonizing electricity generation, and “switching” fuels to make sure that all the energy “that we use” is clean. She announced the forthcoming publication in March of a book titled, ‘Legal Pathways to Deep Decarbonization in the United States,’ which includes over 1,000 recommendations on laws and actions for decarbonization. The book, edited by Michael Gerrard, Columbia Law School, and John Dernbach, Widener University Commonwealth Law School, includes chapters on: cross-cutting approaches to reducing emissions; energy efficiency, conservation, and fuel switching in buildings and industry; energy efficiency, conservation, and fuel switching in transportation; electricity decarbonization; fuel decarbonization; carbon capture and negative emissions; and non-carbon dioxide (CO2) climate pollutants. [Event Flyer] [Sri Lanka Permanent Representative Remarks] [SDG Knowledge Hub Sources]

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