When world leaders start discussing climate, they are not talking about the weather, but rather about the problems of creating a global carbon-free economy.
This principle was clearly on display at the virtual world climate summit this week, organised at the initiative of U.S. President Joe Biden three months after the country rejoined the Paris climate agreement.
The summit took place over two days and in essence turned into a two-day climate marathon with 40 countries taking part. Set out its plans for reducing CO2 emissions and for a transition to a carbon-free economy.
U.S. for a clean economy and new jobs
In his address, Joe Biden spoke of the need for joint action by the world’s largest economies in the developed world to overcome climate problems.
“You know, these steps will set America on a path of net-zero emissions economy by no later than 2050. But the truth is, America represents less than 15 percent of the world’s emissions. No nation can solve this crisis on our own, as I know you all fully understand,” Biden told the gathering.
“All of us, all of us — and particularly those of us who represent the world’s largest economies — we have to step up.”
Biden said countries must move quickly as the decades to come will be decisive in solving the problems of global warming.
“Time is short, but I believe we can do this. And I believe that we will do this,” Biden said.
By 2030, the United States has committed itself to lowering greenhouse gas emissions by 50-52 % compared to 2005 levels and by 2050 to creating an economy with zero emissions.
The determining factor for American energy will be the active use of “clean” sources of energy and the reduction of harmful emissions into the atmosphere.
The transition to a “green” economy will give a new impulse to the development of the American economy.
“That’s why, when people talk about climate, I think jobs,” Biden told the climate summit. “Within our climate response lies an extraordinary engine of job creation and economic opportunity ready to be fired up.”
Europe – and the entire world – “not enough”
The European Union – as the main advocate of “green” policies – has called for a transition to a zero-carbon economy not only in developed countries, but the world over.
“To save the climate, we need the entire world,” Ursula Von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, told the summit. “And the world’s leading economies must take the lead role in creating conditions for new opportunities. Let’s agree on the goal of climate neutrality throughout the world. That will enable us to achieve clean, neutral emissions by 2050.”
She emphasised that the majority of European countries were already united in the fight against climate change.
“The EU Council of Ministers and the European Parliament have given preliminary agreement to a draft European law on climate,” she said.
“This law is one of the key elements of Europe’s ‘green deal’. It entrenches the EU’s commitment to achieving climate neutrality by 2050 and the intermediate goal of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by a minimum of 55 % from 1990 levels. Twenty-seven countries have given their agreement.”
“This will provide new opportunities for a new economy new markets, new technologies and industry,” Van der Leyen said. “And it will provide the opportunity for us for future development in a new way.”
She said the EU’s 1.8 trillion euro economic recovery plan was focus on the fight against climate change.
The president of the EU Commission supported German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who promised that by 2030 her country would abandon completely coal-fired power stations.
“We will invest more in renewable energy sources,” Merkel said.
The fearless celestial empire
Chinese leader Xi Jinping said the policy on carbon neutrality adopted in 2020 remains unchanged. By 2060, the country will achieve a carbon-free economy but for the moment will continue to use coal while reducing consumption.
“China is striving to hit a peak in carbon emissions by 2030 and by 2060 to create carbon-neutrality,” Xi Jinping said. He said the period from 2026 to 2030 will see a gradual reduction in coal consumption.
China will keep strict checks on projects with thermal energy and in the growth of coal consumption during the 14th five-year plan (2021-2025) and gradually reduce it in the 15th five-year-plan (2026-2030). China has adopted the Kigali amendment to the Montreal Protocol to strengthen management and control over greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide.
The Russian programme
Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued concrete, programmed proposals. He urged the world community to improve cooperation in accounting and in monitoring all types of harmful emissions into the atmosphere – not only carbon dioxide.
Methane emissions constitute a significant contribution to global warming.
“We have to take account of all factors, without exception, that contribute to global warming, Methane, for instance, accounts for 20 % of anthropogenic emissions. Every tonne of methane creates a greenhouse defect 25-28 times greater than a tonne of CO2. If, over the course of the next 30 years, we reduced methane emissions by a half then experts believe the global temperature by 2050 would be reduced by 0.18 degrees.
And that makes up 45 % of the difference between the current temperature and the goal of the Paris agreement.”
And due account, Putin said, must be made not only of emissions of greenhouse gases but nature’s capability to absorb them. The contribution of Russian forests is enormous.
“Carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. It is not enough to talk about new emission volumes. It is important to deal with issues of absorbing carbon dioxide which has accumulated in the atmosphere. Let me just say that Russia, without exaggeration, makes a colossal contribution to the absorption of global emissions – both its own and those of others – through the absorption capacities of our ecosystems. This is estimated at 2.5 billion tonnes of equivalent carbon dioxide per year,” Putin said.
Russia, he said can make a whole range of contributions for joint projects on developing clean technologies and is ready to examine the possibility of preferential terms to foreign companies that would like to take part.
The United States responded to these proposals.
“I listened to Putin today,” Kerry said. “I thought he was pretty rational and put some decent visionary thoughts – things we might want to be looking at and cooperating together [on] and he talked about that possibility,” Kerry said.
Environmental transformation, Turkish style
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also called on industrialised countries to move forward with the environmental transformation of industry.
“The fight against climate change is proceeding. Any action we take or will take requires a high level of investment,” Erdogan told the summit.
“In the conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic, we understand that it is vital to undertake efforts to restore our country while not forgetting about the green transformation of the industrial sector. This is one of the aspects that is a part of our programme of economic transformation. For this, it is vital to create new opportunities for investment. Starting from green transformation and in other areas, we do believe that strategic cooperation has to be established at the global level.”
The economy above all else
The experts of Global Energy call for an examination of the political climate fundamentals through the eyes of an economist.
“Global efforts to reduce CO2 emissions will definitely have an impact – the open question is the extent of such efforts and resulting impact,” said Willian Byun, Senior Partner at Oxford Global Accelerated Ventures, member of the Global Energy Prize International Award Committee.
“Technological innovation must not only be demonstrated to work, but also have a compelling case for adoption. Current technology trendlines on CO2 capture and storage are not yet commercially viable nor financially attractive and as a result, any widespread adoption would be quite some years away. What can be done however now, is that by establishing a broad social consensus to address such CO2 capture and storage, we can further incentivise the market to spur such innovation. Once such a commercially and financially incentivized framework and price point is made, the technological innovation will follow — not the other way around.”
Byun said commercially viable technology for capture of greenhouse gases could be set up within five years.
“But of course, that depends on whether the economic backdrop is in place or not, as technology alone cannot succeed,” he said.
“Where progress has been made and needs to be continually made, is through a broad holistic approach through the myriad of hundreds of thousands of individual innovations, efforts, and commercialisations of such emissions capture (project based bottom-up), and also through national or international direct “carbon tax” frameworks (top-down).”
Giving one’s word – and making it a full-fledged obligation
Rae Kwon Chung, member of IPCC, awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, the Global Energy Prize International Award Committee Chairman, said the political declarations at the summit had to be turned in formal developments in the form of international programmes aimed at developing a zero-carbon economic in both industrialised and developing countries.
Only in this instance could the produce concrete results said Rae Kwon Chung.
“Scaling up climate ambitions for 2030 by major global economies is pretty laudable. But the real challenge is how to guarantee these good intentions of developed economies turn into real actions when none of these leaders will be in office by 2030, not to mention 2050,” he said.
“It would be a serious mistake if carbon neutrality would remain as the luxury of a few developed countries with money and technology as Global Climate Fund (GCF) is too small to support carbon neutrality of many developing countries”.
“Good intentions of global leaders have to be written down as binding national commitments not just as wish lists. And mechanisms to support developing countries have to be reinforced to deliver real change in developing world.”