World Environment Day is marked on 5 June.
This year, as we are adjusting to the COVID-19 pandemic we should reflect on the world around us, and the wider impacts when humanity’s relationship with nature breaks down. As we look to recover from the pandemic we have an opportunity to protect and restore our environment, reducing our exposure to both deadly viruses and climate impacts.
The Brunei government and NGOs have been great drivers for change showing commitment to the environment. For example in 2011, the Ministry of Development launched the ‘No Plastic Bag Day’ campaign at weekends. It was impressive to see that by 2019, at the initiative of the Government, all participating stores and shops nationwide have successfully stopped using plastic carrier bags every day of the week.
In the British High Commission we have also tried to play our part in addressing the devastating impacts that human activity is having on the environment.
Most recently, in November 2019 I ran the entire coastline of Brunei – 130km from Kuala Belait to Muara to raise awareness of the threats to this very special environment from plastic pollution and climate change. I had outstanding support and participation from the Royal Brunei Armed Forces and British Forces Brunei. We were overwhelmed by people’s generosity as we successfully raised almost $16,000 for the two causes we were supporting – Plastic Oceans UK and SMARTER Brunei.
During those two long hot days on the beach, I had the immense privilege to immerse myself in Brunei’s spectacular natural environment, and the time to reflect on our collective responsibility to protect it. But addressing climate change, just like COVID requires a shared and global approach.
The UK is providing a leadership role in this global approach. We have just announced that the UN Climate Conference known as COP26, which we were due to host this year, will now be held in Glasgow in November 2021.
To celebrate World Environment Day, UK Climate Champion Nigel Topping and Chilean Climate Champion Gonzalo Munoz have launched the ‘Race to Zero’. It is a global campaign to mobilise leadership and support from businesses, cities, regions, and investors towards achieving net zero emissions by 2050. This sort of healthy, resilient, zero-carbon recovery will create jobs, unlock inclusive, sustainable growth and reduce the risk of future shocks.
As we prepare for the COP26 Summit in Glasgow, we will be starting to rebuild the global economy from the COVID pandemic. We hope to focus these on supporting a clean, inclusive and resilient recovery building on the principles of the Paris Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. We will work together with our international partners to ensure that the linked challenges of public health, climate change and biodiversity are addressed.
We must also embrace the opportunities offered by technology if we are to accelerate the transition to a cleaner future. Innovations in energy storage technologies, smart and no-waste electricity grids, zero-emission vehicles and eco-friendly buildings will become increasingly important.
The economic prize on offer is clear. Renewable energy sources such as solar and wind are already cheaper than coal in most countries. And earlier this week, a report from the International Renewable Energy Agency found that boosting investment in renewables would increase jobs in the sector to 42 million globally by 2050, four times more than today.
As we recover from the coronavirus, the decisions we make today will determine whether we lay the foundations for sound, sustainable and inclusive growth, or whether we lock-in polluting emissions for decades and in doing so make our society and the planet more vulnerable.
As the incoming presidency of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the UK will continue to press for much greater ambition around the world – more ambition to reduce emissions, more ambition to build resilience, and more ambition to cooperate and support each other.
Richard Lindsay is the UK’s High Commissioner to Brunei Darussalam.