At the Thimphu Ambition Summit, held on December 9, government leaders delivered clear ambition statements that showcased their individual government’s leadership on climate action, throwing their weight behind holding the world to the 1.5C warming target set out in the Paris Agreement.
The high level virtual event was organized by Bhutan to build political momentum on climate action and to discuss critical issues faced by least developed countries (LDCs), such as climate finance and green economic recovery. The summit was held in Thimphu, the nation’s capital.
The 2015 Paris Agreement required nations to submit new revisions of their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) — efforts by each country to reduce national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change — by 2020 to replace the original ones which were first outlined in 2015. However, the COVID-19 pandemic made it impossible to hold the global meeting for COP26 this year, where the new NDCs were expected to be submitted.
A number of LDCs, such as Nepal and Rwanda have already submitted revised, more ambitious targets and long-term strategies than those that were originally proposed after the Paris Agreement in order to cut carbon emissions more sharply and thus limit warming. Many other LDCs are joining the momentum and are preparing to update their contribution with the hope that developed nations will support them in implementing their plans through finance, and by pledging to reduce their emissions in line with the steps LDCs are taking.
Offering a similar strategy to other LDC members such as Bhutan, Nepal’s minister of forest and environment, Shakti Bahadur Basnet, announced his country’s ambitious goal to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. The minister warned that the gap between the Paris Agreement goals and existing commitments is alarming, and suggested that it is critical for countries to follow Nepal in submitting more ambitious plans to lower emissions.
Ahead of COP26, rescheduled to take place in Glasgow in November 2021, Alok Sharma, the UK’s secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy and president of next year’s event, spoke at the summit thanking all those countries who announced enhanced NDCs, stating he hoped it “opened the door” ahead of COP26.
Speaking next, Secretary General António Guterres sent a video message to the summit, signaling support at the highest level within the UN. He stated “ambition is precisely what the world needs to tackle the climate emergency,” before echoing that the summit was a “key opportunity to send these messages loud and clear.”
Bhutan is a significant leader in driving global movement towards deep decarbonization, with its historic pledge to remain carbon neutral. Bhutan’s secretary of the national environment commission, Dasho Sonam P. Wangdi, said that least developed nations are doing all they can to fight climate change, but they lack adaptive capacity. He indicated that this deficiency creates a responsibility for developed nations to support LDCs.
“We suffer the effects of climate change disproportionately,” he said, adding, “Bhutan has committed to remaining carbon neutral, while being carbon negative as of now. We have a forest coverage of more than 70 percent while we also have several protected areas, biological corridors and national parks.”
But the glaciers are receding faster; people are feeling more climate-related disasters like flash floods and erratic monsoons. “We are paying for the emissions caused by others,” said Wangdi.
Bhutan’s economy relies heavily on hydropower and tourism while more than 60 percent of the population is engaged in farming. All three sectors are considered climate-sensitive and are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Speaking at the event, Wangdi echoed that “it’s the time for transformative changes.”
Foreign Minister Tandi Dorji, who doubles as chairperson for Bhutan’s National Environment Commission, was quoted in the local newspaper saying that there is a need to scale up climate finance, technological and capacity-building support to vulnerable countries.
Speaking at the summit, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Patricia Espinosa, declared that “the finance commitment is a central element for success in the climate agenda.” But, she feared that if mutual pledges are not kept then trust can no longer be established between developed and developing nations. A key concern of the LDCs is regarding the mobilization of climate finance in line with the decade-long goal for developed nations to provide $100 billion dollars a year for mitigation and adaptation.
It was suggested by multiple parties that the global recovery from COVID-19 provides an excellent opportunity for alignment with green development and the targets of the Paris Agreement.
With COP26 postponed until 2021, this summit shows that small mountain countries, like Bhutan, that are severely affected by warming can be key to building momentum to accelerate the progress of decarbonization and hold all countries responsible for tackling climate change.