In my capacity both as President of the European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists (EAERE), the world’s largest scientific association dedicated to the interaction of nature, climate, economy, and society and as co-chair of the UN SDSN Europe, I participated in the United Nations’ 26th Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, from 1st to 12th of November. And I must admit that there have been positive outcomes from COP26 with regards to the mobilization of governments and organizations to step up their efforts to achieve climate neutrality by 2050.
Currently, humanity is confronted with four enormous challenges at the same time. The Covid-19 pandemic, the resulting economic recession, climate change, and the loss of biodiversity comprise an existential problem. The common underlying factor behind these interlinked challenges is the changing climatic conditions caused by global warming due to excessive greenhouse gas emissions. Thus, to deal with them, a transition to a new Economic model of Production and Consumption, which will not be carbon-depended anymore, is required.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) , 70% of the emission reductions required by 2030 to maintain the target of restraining the global average temperature rise below +1.5 ° C compared to the pre-industrial levels, as set out by the Paris Agreement, remain outside the current commitments of governments. Hence, the primary objective of COP26, was for Countries to increase further their National Determined Contributions (NDCs) and agree on more ambitious targets for greenhouse gas emission reduction.
Energy is a central parameter in the decarbonization efforts, as the electricity industry is responsible for almost 25% of the global greenhouse gas emissions and if we consider also heat and transportation, this percentage exceeds 70% . So, it is clear that the transition from carbon to clean forms of power must be accelerated. According to the World Resources Institute, renewables must grow six times quicker and coal must have been phased out five times faster than it is now if we are to achieve the +1.5ο C goal .
During the negotiations in COP26, about 40 countries, including five of the world’s most polluting countries (Poland, Indonesia, South Korea, Vietnam and Ukraine) , have committed to phasing out coal-fired power generation by 2050, while unfortunately, the biggest polluters, the US, China, and India, did not follow. However, Climate pledges made at COP26 could help limit global warming to +1.8ο C by the end of the century, but the vital point now is how they are going to be implemented .
An important issue that came to the face of the negotiations during COP26 is that of the carbon markets. Six years after the Paris Agreement, the technical negotiations on the so-called Paris Agreement Rulebook, which establishes transparency and reporting requirements for all Parties to track progress toward their carbon reduction objectives, were completed at COP26. Article 6 of the Paris Agreement (COP21, 2015) , defines how nations involved in international carbon credit transfers will minimize double counting and enables the conversion of existing Certified Emission Reductions (CERs), into Internationally Transferred Mitigation Outcomes (ITMOs), the unit of carbon reduction created by the Paris Agreement.
Accelerating the transition to sustainability is supported by most Western leaders, who have set a goal of zeroing their carbon footprint by 2050. One of COP26’s major achievements has been the outstanding mobilization of businesses and financial institutions to support long-term investments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is noteworthy that the sum of global assets pledged to achieve zero net greenhouse gas emissions now exceed $ 130 trillion. An amount dramatically higher than just $ 5 trillion in 2019, when the United Kingdom and Italy took over the reins of COP26 from Chile and Spain.
In terms of climate finance, in COP26 developed countries agreed to double their collective share of adaptation finance to developing ones, but to try to achieve the $100 billion annual target in the future. Parties also agreed to participate in a process to reach a long-term climate funding agreement beyond 2025. The COP also agreed to establish a dialogue between parties, stakeholders, and relevant organizations to promote efforts to prevent, reduce, and mitigate loss and damage caused by climate change.
The Agenda 2030 with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Paris Agreement, and the European Green Deal provide the framework within which countries around the world must act, to transform their societies and economies into sustainable ones. Indicative of the importance of the problem is the fact that a package of €1 trillion has been mobilized for the implementation of Policies derived from the European Green Deal, while €750 billion on top of this are channelled, through NextGenerationEU and the Recovery and Resilience Fund, to help European economies to recover on a Green, Digital, and Just pathway, which also lead to carbon neutrality by 2050. In the report published in February 2021 by the SDSN , which I co-chair the Greek and European hubs, specific technological and economic pathways for sustainability transition are proposed, utilizing interdisciplinary solutions for renewable energy sources, circular economy, nature-based and climate change mitigation solutions.
The transformations required are so large-scale that no state can do it alone, but transnational cooperation is required. Moreover, a sustainable recovery necessarily involves a systemic approach, which means that participants are treated as parties who interact with one another and with their environment, as well as the development of interdisciplinary science-based technological and financial pathways, customized to each country’s needs.
The group of research institutions that I (co)chair, under the name International Cluster for Research on Sustainability Transition, comprise the main research cluster in Greece that works on the sustainability transition. First of all, in the Laboratory of Socio-Economic and Environmental Sustainability (ReSEES) at the Athens University of Economics and Business, we conduct theoretical and empirical research on environmental, natural resources and energy issues, with an interdisciplinary approach. ReSEES has won plenty of competitive funding, but the most important is the “Smart Water Futures: Designing the Next Generation of Urban Drinking Water Systems” project, which studies next-generation urban water supply systems, for which we received in 2021 the “European Research Council (ERC) Synergy Grant”, the most prestigious research award globally is accompanied by a grant of €10 million for six years. The Sustainable Development Unit (SDU) at the ATHENA research centre participates in research on issues such as Climate change mitigation and adaptation, Sustainable Blue Growth, Circular Economy, Sustainable Finance, Bridging the gap between research and business. EIT Climate-KIC Hub Greece (EIT_C-KIC), also at ATHENA research centre is the largest public-private partnership in Europe to accelerate innovation in the transition to a climate-neutral and more resilient Europe. As part of the EIT Regional Innovation Scheme, which accelerates climate innovation in Europe, it highlights Greece’s potential for innovative solutions in CleanTech, WaterTech, Circular Economy & innovative financing schemes. Through EIT_ClimAccelerator we provide support to dozens of start-ups annually, which develop carbon-free solutions, at local and international levels. Through the Maritime ClimAccelerator, every year 30-40 start-ups that provide innovative solutions for the transition of the shipping industry to sustainability, receive appropriate funding, training and guidance. Finally, SDSN Greece, the Greek hub of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, with members of almost all universities and research centres in the country, as well as the SDSN Europe, with members more than 400 universities, which I (co)chair to both of them, act as a liaison among institutions, investors and scientists from various disciplines, to promote the 17 SDGs. In addition to the publication of the special report on the Joint Implementation of Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development and the European Green Deal that I mentioned above, as SDSN we annually publish the Sustainable Development Report for the European countries and we have also undertaken the SEAS Initiative to mobilise sustainable blue science-driven blue growth in the Euro-Asian seas.
Through these research institutes, which collaborate with almost 150 researchers, we have managed to obtain funding totalling more than €500m the last two decades, from European Programs (European Research Council, Framework Program 6 and 7, Horizon 2020, Horizon Europe, and other international organizations), for our participation in competitive research projects, which on thematic areas such as Sustainable Blue Growth, water-food-energy nexus, Climate Change Mitigation & Adaptation and Sustainable Finance and innovation acceleration. Some examples of projects are MERMAID (FP7) regarding the multiple uses of offshore platforms, Globaqua (FP7) for the improvement of water management practices and policies, DAFNE (H2020) on a detailed decisions framework on the water-energy-feed nexus in fast-developing countries, BRIGAID (H2020) regarding disaster resilience innovations to better adapt to climate change, IntelComp (H2020) on the development of an artificial intelligence-based platform for policymaking, BRIDGE-BS (H2020) for the promotion of Blue Growth research and innovation in the Black Sea, ARSINOE (H2020) which utilizes the Systems Innovation(SIA) approach to design climate change adaptation solutions to build more resilient areas in Europe, IMPETUS (H2020) on the development of a multi-layered climate change adaptation framework with dynamic management of information on climate adaptation packages in European regions, and many more.
Our research projects have resulted in hundreds of reputable scientific publications, as well as books such as “The Ocean of Tomorrow, Investment Assessment of Multi-Use Offshore Platforms: Methodology and Applications (2017)”, the first book on offshore platforms, which develops and implements a comprehensive socio-economic assessment of offshore multi-purpose platforms in European maritime areas, leveraging results from science and engineering. The most recent “The Ocean of Tomorrow: The Transition to Sustainability (2021)” presents investment options and management solutions that will make the oceans resilient in the face of climate, financial and health crises, laying the foundations for a green/blue, circular economy based on scientific solutions oriented towards its prosperity Society. The book “The Use of Economic Valuation in Environmental Policy: Providing Research Support for the Implementation of EU Water Policy under AquaStress” shows that Non-market valuation methods, combined with participatory and engineering tools, can facilitate the design and implementation of policies in Europe regarding the proper management of water resources.
The presence of Prof. Phoebe Koundouri at COP26 and interviews at Mass Media
During the “Economic Response towards Covid-19 Resilience” session of the Zero Emissions Solutions Conference organized by the SDSN Europe , which I co-chair, I gave a speech about possible ways in which green and digital Europe can enhance the resilience and efficiency of economies and societies in the face of future economic downturns and environmental challenges. Among the participants was Guntur Sutiyono, Lead of ClimateWorks Australia; Berly Martawardaya, Director of Research, Institute for Economic and Financial Development (INDEF) and Olga Mikheeva, Research Fellow in Public Banking, UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose (IIPP). The discussion can be watched at the following link on YouTube. Also, during the conference, I gave an interview talking about that the financial world must harness its power to implement Agenda 2030. You can watch the interview here.
Moreover, in the discussion organized by EAERE, which was focused on technological, economic and political pathways to climate neutrality, I talked about the Maritime Spatial and Dynamic Planning for a sustainable Blue Growth, including shipping, coastal and offshore energy production and the protection of the marine ecosystem. Among the speakers were included high-level representatives for Academia, International Standards-Setting Bodies, Businesses and Financial Institutions, such as Ian Bateman, OBE, US-NAS, FBA, FRSA, FRSB, Director of Land, Environment, Economics & Policy Institute (LEEP), University of Exeter Business School, UK; Simone Borghesi, Director of the Florence School of Regulation Climate, European University Institute (EUI) and University of Siena, Italy; Peter Paul van de Wijs, Head of Foreign Affairs, Global Reporting Initiative (GRI); Harold Pauwels, Standards Director, Global Reporting Initiative (GRI); Michael Bonte-Friedheim, Founding Partner & CEO of NextEnergyCapital Group; Shane Swords, CEO, Head of Investment Relations, NextEnergyCapital; Markus H.-P. Müller, CEO and Global Head of Chief Investment Office Private Bank of Deutsche Bank. The discussion can be watched at the following link on YouTube
I have been participating in the COP since 2000, but this time I returned home hopeful for the future. And the reason is threefold: Climate-neutral technologies are now cheaper than conventional fossil fuels, financial institutions realize the adding value of climate-neutral investments and policymakers are pressed for action by the society which sadly, is feeling the effects of climate-related catastrophes. Thus, I see the enormous business-economic-political potential for a climate-neutral, resilient planet. The transition to a Sustainable world is feasible through the acceleration of the cooperation of the Science – Technology – Civil Society (particularly Youth) nexus!
If you are interested in learning more regarding the results of the COP26 you can listen to my interview with the journalist Periklis Vassilopoulos at the ERT radio show “Athens Calling”, (in Greek) here, my interview with the journalist Giannis Pantazopoulos in the printed LiFO entitled “Is the Glasgow Summit the last chance for the salvation of our planet?” here and my speech at the show O3 (Omicron three) in ERT3 with the journalist Alexia Tziona (in Greek) here.
(*) Phoebe Koundouri is a Professor at the School of Economics of the Athens University of Economics and Business, Director of the Research Laboratory in Socio-Economic and Environmental Sustainability (ReSEES) Director of the Sustainable Development Unit and the EIT Climate-KIC Hub of Greece of the ATHENA Information Technology Research Center, Fellow of the World Academy of Arts and Sciences (WAAS), elected president of the European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists (EAERE) and Co-chair of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network Europe (SDSN Europe) and Greece (SDSN Greece). She is also a member of the National Committee on Climate Change. Personal website: www.phoebekoundouri.org.
Prof. Koundouri leads the International Cluster for Research on Sustainability Transition, an unofficial umbrella of research centres and organizations that she chairs or co-chairs, including the Research Laboratory in Socio-Economic and Environmental Sustainability (ReSEES) at the Athens University of Economics and Business, the Sustainable Development Unit and the EIT Climate-KIC Hub of Greece at the ATHENA Information Technology Research Center, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network Europe (SDSN Europe) and Greece (SDSN Greece).
 IEA, October 2021 (4th revision) Net-Zero by 2050 A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector
 Our World in Data (by Hannah Ritchie) September 18, 2020, Sector by sector: where do global greenhouse gas emissions come from? https://ourworldindata.org/ghg-emissions-by-sector
 World Resources Institute, Climate Action Must Progress Far Faster to Achieve 1.5 C Goal, https://www.wri.org/insights/climate-action-must-progress-far-faster-achieve-15-c-goal
 UNCCC UK 2021 (04 Nov 2021), Global Coal To Clean Power Transition Statement https://ukcop26.org/global-coal-to-clean-power-transition-statement/
 Commentary by Dr Fatih Birol, Executive Director IEA (4 November 2021), COP26 climate pledges could help limit global warming to 1.8 °C, but implementing them will be the key https://www.iea.org/commentaries/cop26-climate-pledges-could-help-limit-global-warming-to-1-8-c-but-implementing-them-will-be-the-key
 United Nations, 2015, Paris Agreement
 The SDSN is the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Solutions Network and is the world’s largest network for transferring sustainability solution expertise to policymakers. The Report can be found at: https://resources.unsdsn.org/transformations-for-the-joint-implementation-of-agenda-2030-the-sustainable-development-goals-and-the-european-green-deal-a-green-and-digital-job-based-and-inclusive-recovery-from-covid-19-pandemic
 UN SDSN is the largest global network (with more than 1,500 universities and research centres as members) for promoting Sustainable Science and Technology Solutions, including planning the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)