COP27 is an opportunity for climate leadership to start the long-term transition to net zero, but is it possible now? asks Richard Beardsworth, School of Politics and International Studies, University of Leeds
The UN Climate Change Conference COP26 (Glasgow, 2021) has heralded the next eight to ten years as a “critical decade” in which a 45% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions will be required to keep an average global temperature increase of 1.5°C “alive to obtain”. until 2100.
How can the long-term transition to a net-zero energy system be reconciled?
The focus on ‘following the science of 1.5°C’ formed a key pillar of the UK COP Presidency. With the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February and the resulting energy, food and livelihood crises, climate leadership faced an acute dilemma: how to manage the long-term transition to a net-zero energy system? that follows the science, with short-term energy security.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced in May that independence from fossil fuels was the only answer to “current problems in the energy market’, ending fifty years of foreign policy based on energy ties between Russia and (West) Germany. But European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans replied: “we have no choice but to seek [fossil fuel] short-term alternatives“.
It is important to consider how the EU – the world leader in climate action but dependent on Russia for 40% of its fossil gas – is dealing with the energy dilemma. It is also important to consider how Egypt is responding to the energy dilemma with the delegated presidency of COP27 in November. In summary, what climate leadership do the other two climate actors offer in the geopolitical context of the situation in Ukraine and what lessons can be learned from this leadership in relation to the COP process (post-Paris Agreement) and its goals for 2030, 2050 and 2100? Answers to these questions provoke contradiction. However, according to Glasgow, the dilemma highlights the increasingly multidimensional nature of the climate agenda for both developing and developed countries.
REPowerEU is the European Commission’s response to dependence on Russian fossil fuels. In pursuit of energy independence, the Commission plans to increase the share of renewable energy in the EU’s final energy mix to 40-45% by 2030 and cut greenhouse gas emissions by 62%, 4% above the previous target, in line with 1.5°C . At the same time, however, the EU – in cooperation with the EU Taxonomy Climate Delegated Act (europa.eu) on financing sustainable activities – is making fossil gas a “transitional technology” of the energy transition and intends to invest 10 billion euros in LPG. natural gas (LNG) infrastructure and has reached an “agreement” with Egypt that brings together LNG expansion in Egypt (and Israel) with the production of green hydrogen.
Its large members Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands are also aiming for national contracts with Senegal, Nigeria and Argentina for the export of LNG to their countries: short-term contracts which, in contrast to the EU regulation with Egypt, do not help these developing countries fossil fuels and risk being left with stranded assets once Europe’s energy mix shifts to renewables.
The EU’s answer to the energy dilemma is to shift its energy supply to the Global South as well as to replace it with renewable energies. That answer is inconsistent with the 1.5°C target, especially when the IPCC is right in saying that fossil gas should have peaked by 2020. The overall EU response is a climate plan and a fossil plan rolled into one. I address lessons from this after looking at Egypt.
COP27: A chance in climate protection
At a moment when the country is regaining its regional status after a decade of post-Arab Spring difficulties, the COP27 presidency offers Egypt an opportunity to lead the way on climate change on behalf of the African continent.
This continent is responsible for 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions while also being the landmass most vulnerable to the realities of climate change. Egypt’s preparations for November’s UN conference strongly underscore the conditions of this leadership in the context of the current energy, food and water crises.
Presidency issues are agriculture (food systems), water and finance, with a post-Glasgow focus on delivering on funding commitments (the infamous $100 billion a year between 2021 and 2025), loss and damage financing and “a new roadmap ’ for adaptation financing as part of an ‘international, just energy transition’.
Egypt is therefore responding to the dilemma with the blunt words of a country focused on poverty reduction and climate adaptation. These terms are incompatible with the goals of climate science. Egypt is expanding its domestic fossil fuel production to become a fossil gas hub at the crossroads of Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
The deal with the EU could aim to switch this hub to green hydrogen (fossil gas as “transitional energy” as it is called in the different languages of the EU, Egypt and most African governments) in the long term, but in the short term and the medium-term effects of this measure keep the COP27 delegate presidency consistent with a 3-4°C increase in global mean temperature by 2100.
What lessons can be learned from these two acts of “climate leadership” in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine, the ensuing energy dilemma and the upcoming COP27?
I suggest three.
FirstThe situation in Ukraine has (once again) put politics and political interests ahead of climate interests. In addressing the dilemma, climate leadership has proven either necessarily pragmatic or simply incapable of forging a comprehensive 1.5°C strategy. Whatever, 1.5C has been put out of reach.
Second, the situation in Ukraine brings to the fore the complexity of climate protection when leaders face multiple crises at the same time. Climate leadership has to take big risks in such situations, otherwise complexity becomes hypocrisy.
thirdThe situation in Ukraine does not represent the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel age, but rather a foretaste of complex measures that interact with numerous crises and dilemmas. Is there climate leadership (is it emerging?) that will take on the risks needed to move both North and South towards a new energy system that is physically, socially and politically resilient?
These three lessons are different approaches to the same situation; It will be important to assess the process and outcomes of COP27 in light of all three.
Thanks to Frances Hemsley for research assistance on this article.