Wednesday, February 28, 2024
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Net zero: still the best road to energy security

It is hard to believe that it has been nearly a year since world leaders gathered in Scotland for the COP26 Climate Summit and agreed on the historic Glasgow Climate Pact. In a few weeks, they will be heading to COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, where the UK Presidency will hand over to Egypt.

The global geopolitical backdrop has been very difficult in 2022, with serious economic, social and energy challenges – made much worse by Russia’s war. The decisions we make now on climate and energy policies will determine our future and we have to get it right. In this article, I look at what we achieved at COP26, what has happened since and what we should do at and beyond COP27 to meet our Paris Agreement goal to limit average global warming to 1.5 degrees centigrade.

COP26 took place in turbulent times too. We had to postpone it by a year because of COVID. Many wanted to postpone it again. But many more felt that the world could not afford another delay. Countries, businesses, NGOs and individuals demanded urgent action which would keep the 1.5-degree target alive – especially after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change set out the catastrophic consequences of inaction or delay – much worse than today’s extreme weather. We only have a short time to act to avoid the worst.

Expectations were very high and world leaders came to Glasgow knowing that settling for the lower common denominator was not an option. In the end, nearly 200 countries overcame the practical and geopolitical obstacles and chose high ambition:

  • Over 90 per cent of the world GDP is covered by net zero commitments, up from around 30 per cent in 2019;
  • 153 countries put forward new 2030 emissions targets (Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs) covering 80 per cent of global emissions;
  • To keep 1.5 alive, countries agreed to review their NDCs this year and if necessary strengthen them to match what the science says is needed.

The Glasgow Climate Pact endorsed the science and recognised the urgency of tackling climate change. It made specific commitments to cut emissions, protect nature and vulnerable people, increase finance including to support adaptation to the impacts of climate change and embark on a just transition from fossil fuels to clean energy.

For the first time, UNFCCC official texts covered fossil fuels and especially coal. Developed countries got closer to delivering the 100 billion US dollars climate finance goal and will reach it by 2023 at the latest, with a rising trend thereafter. International partners mobilised over 20 billion US dollars for just transitions. The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero announced that central banks and private financial institutions responsible for over 130 trillion US dollars of assets are moving to realign much more towards global Net Zero, where the amount of greenhouse gas added is no more than the amount taken away.

COP26 focused more on adaptation, with record financial pledges and progress on loss and damage. Many countries signed up to ambitious commitments on Forest and Land Use, Accelerating the Transition to Zero-Emission Vehicles, Just Transition, Sustainable Agriculture and other key issues.

Glasgow is rightly recognised as one of the most significant COPs. It drove many new commitments to move the Paris Agreement agenda forward. However, the world will now be expecting COP27 to confirm that there has been clear action in 2022. Some good progress has been made, but not nearly enough. We can expect the update report which the UN will issue just before COP27 to confirm that the latest NDC commitments are insufficient to halve emissions by 2030.

Governments have a responsibility to stimulate economic growth, promote energy and food security and protect vulnerable citizens. Recent events have made the task much more complicated. Some have argued that Net Zero is an unaffordable distraction. Such thinking must be challenged.

It is a fallacy that climate action comes at the price of economic growth. It is not a binary choice. Between 1990 and 2019, the UK achieved record clean growth, reducing emissions by 44 per cent while growing the economy by 78 per cent. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has concluded that every one US dollar spent on energy transition would bring benefits of between 3US dollars and 8US dollars – that translates to cleaner air, cheaper power, investment, and jobs. The UK has detailed plans to add to the 400,000 low-carbon jobs we already have.

Going down the sustainable route creates new opportunities and pays dividends across the economy. The best way to achieve energy, climate and economic security is to stay on the road to Net Zero.

The green transition is already happening. Businesses want it to happen. Just ask the more than 5,200 firms and 441 large investors that have joined the Race to Zero campaign. Technological development has accelerated and the economics have changed. A recent study has shown that investments in renewables have seen a 367 per cent greater return than fossil fuels over the last decade.

The opportunities are huge. So are the costs of failing to meet our decarbonisation goals. Policy responses to current energy and socio-economic pressures cannot be at the price of abdicating our climate responsibilities. We have no right to sacrifice the future for the present. The cumulative effect must remain 1.5 aligned.

The best way to ensure this is to mainstream climate policy across the government. The UK made our commitment to cut emissions by 78 per cent by 2035 (compared to 1990) legally binding. We also set up the independent Climate Change Committee to monitor, analyse and report on our progress.

Glasgow was about inspiration and commitment. COP27 will be all about implementation and credibility. The UK, Egypt and other key partners are using the next few weeks to press for immediate action. The world needs to see that climate finance is becoming easier to access and more widely available. COP27 will also focus on further progress on support for vulnerable countries and loss and damage.

And there will be strong pressure from Small Island Developing States for urgent cuts in carbon emissions, especially from the major G20 emitters, some of whom have tried to negotiate language that would undermine Paris, Glasgow and even previous G20 commitments. We cannot backtrack. COP27 must reinforce and build on the Glasgow Climate Pact, preparing for next year’s Global Stocktake of climate ambition at COP28 in the United Arab Emirates.

It took a large coalition to deliver the Paris Agreement, the Glasgow Climate Pact and others. The world needs more ambitious outcomes now. It will take strong leadership, not just from the two Presidencies. The EU and Member States have a central role. So do civil society, young people, indigenous communities, businesses, scientists and innovators. Everyone is affected by climate change. Everyone has a voice. And every contribution makes a difference.

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