The UN Climate Change Conference

Unprecedented decisions have been made, though the plan is barely achievable.

December 13, the 28th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28) closed in Dubai; it lasted a day longer than it was scheduled because participants were debating on the final statement. 130 UN member countries signed the resolution, although two major states, India and China, which produce the most greenhouse gases and consume huge amounts of fuel, did not put their signatures; the document is not legally binding though.  And no one will be able to force any “violators” or outsiders to change the course of their policies. In addition, like the 2015 Paris Agreement, although ambitious, the plan is barely achievable due to obvious reasons as COP28 in Dubai ended with the first-ever pledge to phase out fossil fuel use and triple renewable energy capacity by 2030.  By this time, the countries are to reduce emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, including methane, and they are required to submit detailed action plans within two years.

Let’s take an unbiased look at how all this relates to environmental issues and global warming and whether we can achieve those goals.

The current commitment is one of the five imperatives of the International Energy Agency to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels by the end of this century. The signatories collectively account for 40% of global carbon dioxide emissions produced from burning fossil fuels, 37% of total global energy demand, and 56% of global gross domestic product.

As the year 2023 is said to be one of the hottest in recent decades, environmentalists are citing multiple natural disasters around the world as consequences of ongoing warming, however, with no reasoned scientific correlation between the events.   Moreover, archaeological data, Antarctica’s ice samples, and other sources used to analyze weather in previous centuries prove that the Earth has experienced both cold and warm periods. So, human activity has nothing to do with it. However, environmentalists argue that the impact of industrial activities has worsened the general condition of the planet after all—and the findings should be adjusted accordingly. To do this, we should limit emissions of CO2, methane, and other harmful substances and shift to more environmentally friendly technologies, both in energy production and for the needs of people.

Yet there are many nuances. So-called “green” technologies are not environmentally friendly at all. Production of electric vehicles and batteries requires lithium, while lithium extraction causes significant harm to the environment; the same thing is true with cobalt, the material used in the production of lithium-ion batteries. As for the wind generator plates, we do not have related recycling techniques so far, while windmills themselves need careful and regular maintenance to avoid breakdowns and fires caused by friction of parts.  The same thing is in the case of solar batteries since their disposal and recycling is a pricey process if you choose to comply with environmental requirements and, moreover, commit to reducing hydrocarbon emissions.

COP28 President Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, British Minister of State for Energy Security and Net Zero Graham Stuart, Republic of Rwanda’s Minister of Environment Jeanne d’Arc Mujawamariya, Danish Minister for Development Cooperation and Global Climate Policy Dan Joergensen, Director General & Chief Executive Officer of the Energy Commission of Nigeria Mustapha Abdullahi and Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Inger Andersen attend the session of discussion on the Global Cooling Pledge aimed at reducing emissions and exploring sustainable cooling solutions, during the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28), in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, December 5, 2023.

In addition, sunlight or wind energy depends on nature’s vagaries. Perhaps the steadiest renewable source is hydropower, especially offshore hydropower, since drought can decrease the volume of water rivers can supply, thus, affecting electricity generation. In this regard, there are projects for transporting electricity from the largest sunbaked regions, e.g., from Africa to Europe, through submarine power cables, though the risk of an earthquake or industrial damage, such as caused by a ship’s anchor, remains high.

We also have nuclear energy. Back in 2021, the European Commission issued its detailed nuclear energy report with most figures proving that this type of energy is more acceptable and safer for both humans and the environment. Uranium mining, its direct use in nuclear power plants, and proper disposal have much less impact on the landscape, plants, and animals than wind and solar energy, and it is far ahead of all types of thermal power plants since it is low carbon.

The same European researchers have previously classified natural gas as low-carbon fuels as well, but as the EU is gradually abandoning Russian gas, there is nothing to replace it with.

With the markets reorienting from Russian gas, it will most likely go more to Asian giants such as China, and potentially to India, which is the reason for the EU’s excitement around green technologies as there is simply no alternative.

As noted, China and India abstained from joining the COP28 program, although they signed the G20 New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration in September and therefore committed to “pursue and encourage efforts to triple renewable energy capacity globally” by 2030. Moreover, about two weeks before COP28, the governments of China and the U.S. had also agreed to jointly “pursue efforts to triple renewable energy capacity globally by 2030.” Technically, both China and India can increase their renewable energy sources. China alone is the world’s leader in solar panels and is also boosting production of electric cars, wind turbines, and batteries—in addition to offshore wind projects around the globe—thereby effectively gaining a monopoly over the sector.  Even the EU lags behind China in this respect.

India became the world’s third-biggest renewable energy market in 2021 by annual growth and total capacity, behind only China and the United States.

Meanwhile, the commitment to reduce methane (CH4) emissions will be even more difficult to fulfill. CH4 is expected to be responsible for 45% of global warming this decade, even though it has a much shorter atmospheric lifetime than CO2.

During the summit, on December 2, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it had finalized a long-awaited rule to reduce CH4 emissions from the oil and gas industry by about 80% over 15 years—the news coming with a $1 billion commitment to help smaller countries tackle the same issue, prompting several countries to join the Global Methane Pledge to lower overall CH4 emissions by 30% by 2030.

Some time ago, the EU passed legislation establishing Strict standards regarding CH4 leakage; however, these regulations would extend far beyond European borders.

While it covers technologies for capturing gas so that it does not enter the atmosphere and is not burned on flare towers—as the case has been until now, this implies that technological monopolies being the initiators are lobbying the manufacturers of special equipment to foist it on other countries.

It is likely for this reason that Saudi Arabia and a few of its allies were in the small minority that publicly and strongly objected to including any reference to cutting fossil fuel production and consumption in the potential deal.

At the summit many advanced economies publicly pushed for a phase-out of coal, oil, and gas—but with caveats, such as “unrelenting,” or just coal in the case of the US.

The Russian Ministry of Energy traditionally spoke about the low-carbon nature of Russian energy (meaning nuclear energy, hydropower, and gas generation) and the lack of common sense in driving renewable energy sources on such a scale as is happening in the EU and advocated a rational approach to decarbonization, calling plans to triple renewable energy sources by 2030 “rallying cries and extremism.”

It is therefore several producers and buyers of energy resources—especially those with limited capabilities—that are the most vulnerable countries, rather than the main polluters who, given the growth of their economies, can gradually adapt to the trend.

Moreover, to achieve these goals, emerging countries need funding to meet their growing demand for affordable energy to power their economies and growing populations. India, meanwhile, is estimated to need $293 billion in funding to fulfill its commitment to tripling its renewable energy capacity by 2030, and an additional $101 billion to align with the IEA’s proposed net-zero greenhouse gas emissions scenario. Investors may also be discouraged from investing in renewable energy in countries where they often face payment delays, bureaucratic red tape, protectionist rules and regulations, or uncertainty related to domestic policies.

There are other risks as well. Prices for key renewable energy materials, such as aluminum, copper, steel, and polysilicon, may go north amid a shorter supply relative to demand. Transportation and labor costs may also exceed expectations. A shortage of workforce as such is also recorded since not all countries have in place programs and vocational schools dedicated to providing workers with the required knowledge, especially in renewable energy projects.

As a result, even if the countries adhere to the agreement, there remains an equally thorny issue of measurements, reporting, verification, and compliance with the commitments to renewable energy sources.

Most likely, despite further summits (the next one to be held in Baku, Azerbaijan), both the signatories and the abstained will move along their paths. Technologically advanced nation-states will make every effort to impose their developments on everyone else and oblige them to follow their agenda by pushing forward such climate agreements. Independent actors will also consume fossil energy, although developing alternative sources, including hydrogen and nuclear energy, in parallel. Russia is set to probably follow this path as well, while those dependent on both supplies and external assistance will balance opportunities and offers, regularly appealing to justice and the common home of humanity.

Reposts are welcomed with the reference to ORIENTAL REVIEW.
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