The last time world leaders met for a climate summit, the backdrop was completely threatening. A pandemic had decimated national budgets. Poor countries are up in arms over the hoarding of Covid-19 vaccines by the same rich nations whose consumption of fossil fuels did the most to warm the planet. Relations between the two largest emitters, the US and China, had become zero-sum skirmishes over everything from trade with taiwan.
Those were the good old days.
As Egypt prepares to host COP27, the geopolitical context that shapes all international diplomacy has gone from tense to precarious. The war in Ukraine has divided nations over what some saw as a fight between Russian and Western interests, and supercharged an energy crisis that risks destroying COP26’s most concrete achievement: a global consensus to cut coal. .
As COP26 approached, falling renewable energy prices seemed to have forced a reckoning for the dirtiest fossil fuels. The summit’s final text included calls for a “phase-out” of coal power from any plant that doesn’t capture its carbon and an end to “inefficient” subsidies for fossil fuels. A year on, rampant energy price inflation has combined with a protracted energy crisis to revive demand for coal and put fuel subsidies of any kind back on the political agenda.
“COP27 will be convened as the international community faces a financial and debt crisis, an energy price crisis, a food crisis, and on top of them the climate crisis,” says Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, who is also the conference chair. “In light of the current geopolitical situationIt seems that the transition will take longer than anticipated.”
The UK concluded its host duties at COP26 by claiming to have kept alive the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Those gains have now stalled at best or been reversed at worst by the logic of war triggered by the invasion of Ukraine. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has turned Europe’s energy tap into an economic weapon in response to sanctions, and major developed economies facing suddenly tight natural gas supplies are racing to open up. old coal power plants.
The European Union voted in July in favor of reclassify natural gas — in addition to nuclear power — as a climate-friendly fuel, improving investment prospects.
The boost to fossil fuels may well prove temporary. The imperative for Europe to end its dependence on imported gas to heat homes and power industries has never been clearer. At the same time, the overall cost of gas, as high as 10 times pre-crisis levels, should create a powerful incentive to look for alternatives, with the cheapest option often going to be solar or wind power. The President of the United States, Joe Biden, has approved one of the most significant pieces of climate legislation to date. That will only accelerate the on-the-ground growth of renewables, which already outpaces the expansion of power generation as a whole.
However, it is far from a given that war or the recent U-turn towards fossil fuels will be a problem. Now that Russia is stepping up its war effort with a recently announced mobilization, the race is on to lease or build new liquefied natural gas terminals across Europe. If the continent with the greatest geopolitical pride in its climate commitments is backing down, it does not bode well for progress in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh.
“There is no need for more debate on gas,” Bruno Jean-Richard Itoua, the hydrocarbons minister of the Republic of Congo, declared in September at an oil and gas conference that included Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau and Guinea-Conakry. “We need to start producing as much as we can now.” Other African officials at the event echoed this sentiment for fossil fuels.
“Many countries now say that it is hypocritical” to ask for expulsion dirty power suppliessays Bill Hare, CEO and chief scientist at Climate Analytics, a Berlin-based think tank. “So we’re seeing this big push to revamp oil and gas projects that have been on the back burner for years in Africa and Australia, far exceeding the level required by the gas crisis in Europe.”
For every renewable energy producer advocating an accelerated transition, Hare sees a traditional energy company urging investment in times of crisis. “Rarely have I seen such a concerted effort by the oil and gas industry to, in one way or another, roll back the climate agenda,” he says.
Al Gore, former US Vice President and climate activist, warned at the end of last month, that it was essential that governments avoid signing long-term contracts for fossil fuels in a rush to fill short-term gaps caused by Russia’s war. Subsidies supporting the use of fossil fuels doubled from the Covid-induced low of 2020 to 2021, and continue to rise sharply this year, according to a September report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, a think tank. intergovernmental meeting in Paris.
There are other thorny issues to be discussed at this year’s climate summit, the first hosted by an African country in six years. Egypt plans to focus this year’s COP meeting on how developing nations can obtain funds to adapt to rising temperatures and finance the transition to green energy. It is also prioritizing loss and damage, a term for compensation from nations that did little to release greenhouse gases but are on the front lines of its effects.
Money is still lacking to help less developed nations mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change. Rich countries had agreed to provide $100 billion a year by 2020 and have fallen billions of dollars short, delaying the target until 2023. The Egyptian hosts face inflation that spiked to 15% in late September from 5.9% at the beginning. of the year. The national budget is being consumed by the need to cover basic food needs, widening the current account deficit in the first three months of this year by more than half, to 5.8 billion dollars.
Shoukry wants COP27 to agree to transfer additional sums from rich to poor nations after 2025. The latest estimates for financing developing nations’ climate goals are in the range of $6 trillion through 2030, according to the OECD. . But with rich and poor economies alike grappling with rising inflation, falling incomes and often political turmoil, finding that kind of money seems harder by the day. Shoukry acknowledged those concerns and called on governments to rise to the financial challenge, as they did during the pandemic.
Preliminary meetings held earlier this year in Bonn to discuss technical issues ahead of COP27 I already saw buds between rich and poor sides, particularly on loss and damage. Those tensions are likely to be on display again in Sharm El-Sheikh.
“Rich nations have exploited and reaped the economic benefits of fossil fuels for decades,” says Gabriel Obiang Lima, Equatorial Guinea’s oil minister, describing calls for Africa to stop using hydrocarbons as simply unfair. “Now is our time to develop and monetize our resources, and developed countries should understand that.”
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