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Interview - Issue #8

COP26: A Foundation of Progress

An interview with Natalie Chung Sum Yue

Where the Leaves Fall contacted global changemakers for their thoughts and responses to this year’s COP26 - the UN Climate Change Conference. Natalie Chung Sum Yue is an environmentalist and social innovator born and raised in Hong Kong, and founder of V’air Hong Kong to promote sustainable ecotourism. She is currently pursuing an MPhil in environmental change and management at the University of Oxford. You can read the edited interview that was published in the print edition of Where the Leaves Fall here.

Where the Leaves Fall What do you feel are the most pressing issues for COP26 to address and why?

Natalie Chung Sum Yue I think the most pressing issues are the Article 6 Rulebook [which focuses on ways of implementing National Determined Contributions under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement], loss and damage and climate finance mechanisms. Having attended negotiations on Article 6 at COP25 in Madrid, I witnessed how slow the negotiation progress was and parties debated for hours on the definition of a single term. This is not matched with the urgent climate action we need, which can be facilitated by establishing an international carbon market once the details of Article 6 have been negotiated.

We need to avoid double counting and prevent excessive use of old carbon credits to ensure a stringent and effective carbon market. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report quantifies how much more intense and frequent extreme events become under the influence of climate change, which allows for more accurate calculation in the compensation for loss and damage experienced by parts of the world. COP26 is a platform to negotiate the fair amount of science-based compensation for climate damages. 

Lastly, climate finance mechanisms need to be improved with means for all parties to access finance or funding to support mitigation solutions, climate-resilient infrastructure.

‘Climate solutions are unfortunately hindered when most parties prioritise national interests over the collective action problem of climate change.’

— Natalie Chung Sum Yue

WtLF What outcomes (and practical measures) would you like to see emerge from COP26?

Natalie Firstly, I hope the Article 6 negotiation can be completed at COP26, establishing the rules for a stringent and effective international carbon market to trade carbon credits and emission rights.

Clearer guidance on nature-based solutions should also be established, with an international monitoring and verification system.

Secondly, as the UK presidency states, it is crucial for COP26 to establish a mechanism that compensates for climate-induced destructions, especially in the least developed countries and island states. This is an important milestone for climate justice. For climate finance mechanisms, I would like to see more support from Green Climate Fund and Global Environment Facility (GEF) for less developed countries in their climate solutions and infrastructure. I look forward to thematic regional climate bonds to be launched to support vulnerable regions under acute climate impact, both for mitigation and adaptation projects. 

WtLF How optimistic are you that COP26 will deliver positive change, and why?

Natalie I am moderately optimistic about the outcome of COP26 because climate change has become increasingly politicised. In a meeting on GEF at COP25, representatives from Iran mentioned their applications to GEF had been repeatedly denied, and they suspected the reason was due to poor US-Iran relations. Climate solutions are unfortunately hindered when most parties prioritise national interests over the collective action problem of climate change.

Nevertheless, I am still hopeful seeing the ambition of the UK presidency in delivering outcomes, such as the positive progress of the UN’s Race to Zero Campaign, mobilising non-state actors to pledge for climate action. Major greenhouse gas emitters China and the US recently made pledges on carbon neutrality and emission reduction ahead of COP26, demonstrating their determination to achieve the terms of the Paris Agreement. 

Another reason I would like to remain optimistic is that we need to maintain a positive outlook to provide a foundation for progress. Rutger Bregman writes in his seminal book Humankind: A Hopeful History, that our grim view of humanity is a nocebo. If we intend to tackle the greatest challenges like the climate crisis, we need to change our view of human nature, believing that we are born with good will instead of selfishness. Fingers crossed that COP26 will deliver positive change as we start to witness more of the devastating impacts of climate change. 

‘I believe renewable energy development and utilisation is the most prominent and cost-effective solution to climate change.’

— Natalie Chung Sum Yue

WtLF What do the world leaders, and everyone else, need to change on a personal level?

Natalie Echoing the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, Inger Andersen, I believe G20 members have a significant role to play in climate action as they represent over 80% of global emissions collectively.

Even though half of G20 members have net zero targets, none of them officially submitted an updated NDC as of 2020 to step up ambition. No concrete near-term action plans have been established to prepare for rapid decarbonisation to limit warming within 1.5C. World leaders, especially those in the G20, should make more ambitious emission reduction targets and strive to regulate on it.

Such regulation provides a strong signal to the market, with positive impact trickling down to the financial market and consumer sector. At a personal level, we can play our parts by leading a low-carbon lifestyle from changing how we eat, dress, live and travel. A simple switch from driving a private car to riding a bike or taking public transportation already makes a huge difference. Another aspect is advocacy, we can convince our government to prioritise climate change in their agendas if we vote out climate deniers in the parliament.

WtLF Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Natalie To limit warming within 1.5C, massive and rapid decarbonisation is required. I have been working with my Oxford supervisor Dr Matt Ives to identify sensitive intervention points in the complex climate system to trigger outsized impact for accelerated decarbonisation. 

While IPCC reports suggest we need large-scale carbon capture and storage to capture as much as two gigatonnes of CO2 each year to achieve the temperature target, Ives’s research shows that traditional models underestimated cost declines in renewable energy, which is set to continue in the coming decade and should be better leveraged on. I believe renewable energy development and utilisation is the most prominent and cost-effective solution to climate change.

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