Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs to the Forum on Climate Change and Science and Technology Innovation
Beijing, 24-25 April 2008

Climate change has risen to the top of the policy agenda, at local, national, and international levels. The Secretary-General has called climate change one of the defining challenges of our time. At the Bali Climate Change Conference, parties launched a process of negotiations that will conclude in 2009. The UNFCCC meeting in Bangkok earlier this month adopted a detailed programme of work. We are entering into a period of intensive and very significant negotiations.

The reality of global climate change has heightened the critical importance of science and technological innovation to achieve sustainable development goals. The capacity to produce, select, adapt, and disseminate knowledge is critical for sustained economic growth and improved quality of life. The wealth of the world’s industrialized economies is built on the intensive exploitation of scientific and technological knowledge. Recently, leading developing countries have been rapidly developing their own capacities in science and technology.

Climate change is a complex, multi-dimensional problem. An effective and sustainable response to climate change demands the best, most up-to-date scientific assessments of the issue, made in a holistic and multi-disciplinary way. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) continues to provide the most authoritative assessment of the state of our knowledge about the physical, economic and social dimensions of climate change.

Climate change is as much an opportunity as it is a threat. The High-level Event held on 24 September 2007 at the United Nations in New York has sent a strong message that all countries are committed to addressing climate change. Global awareness has grown tremendously and there is readiness to act. The High-level Event also reaffirmed common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities in combating climate change.

Cleaner technologies, including cleaner energy technologies, have an important role to play in addressing climate change. According to the IPCC, a range of stabilization scenarios can be achieved with a portfolio of technologies some of which are already available. Others are expected to be ready for broader application in coming decades.

What we do not have, however, is the luxury of time, as the window of opportunity for reducing emissions and combating climate change is closing rapidly. Mitigation and adaptation action in this and the coming decades is crucial to stabilizing greenhouse gases at a level generally considered safe by IPCC scientists. Therefore we must accelerate the deployment, and enhance the accessibility, of existing clean technologies. We must redouble our efforts to diffuse and transfer proven technologies, for instance, in the area of energy efficiency. At the same time, we should continue to advance the frontiers of innovation and discovery. This will require sustained investment in energy research and development (R&D). At present, compared to other sectors, global public spending and private spending on energy R&D remains low.

Technology innovation is an ongoing process. Fifteen years ago, few could have predicted the way in which cell phones and other telecommunications technologies have developed. Now, we need to accelerate the transition to a sustainable low-carbon energy economy. Scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs need to again rise to the occasion, and to play their part in this transition process.

The production and dissemination of scientific and technological knowledge thrives in the right environment. Experience and economic theory teach us that public support for R&D is a necessity. Incentives can foster private sector investment in R&D.

Equally critical is international technology cooperation and focussed partnerships, both to broaden the scope and to accelerate the pace of innovation. There remain untapped potentials for cooperation between developed and developing countries, as well as for South-South cooperation. Indigenous knowledge and practice can be an important source of innovation, especially when facilitated through cross-fertilization of ideas.

The energy sector is the central front in the battle to mitigate GHG emissions. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that the world will need to invest about US$20 trillion in new energy infrastructure between now and 2030. The shift in the pattern of investment towards clean technologies should begin early and should be sustained over time.

Overseas it is often noted that, on average, China builds a coal-fired power plant every ten days, with consequences for carbon dioxide emissions. Less well known is the fact that China is rapidly becoming a major global producer of wind energy, with about half of the domestic market supplied by equipment from domestic firms. In fact, renewable energy already accounts for nearly 10 per cent of total energy supply in China today, and its contribution is expected to increase to 15 per cent by 2020. Encouraging developments are taking place in other developing countries, too, as they develop to become technology providers and innovators.

However, developing countries continue to confront barriers to access to clean and climate-friendly technology. International technology cooperation and partnerships can help to overcome these barriers and accelerate the transfer, deployment and diffusion of climate mitigation and adaptation technology.

Adaptation to the adverse impacts of climate change is a looming reality for most countries, China included. Adaptation technologies, such as in the area of biotechnology and efficient use of water, will need to be vigorously pursued.

The Secretary-General has called on the entire UN system to better coordinate its support for Member States in the area of climate change. The UN Department that I lead – the Department of Economic and Social Affairs – supports the Secretary-General in his initiatives on climate change and has a particular focus on international technology cooperation.

China’s capabilities in the field of science and technology are widely recognized. I hope that this Forum can contribute to ensuring that the collective talents and capabilities of all those present are harnessed for the purposes of climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Thank you.