The climate summit of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28) ended in Dubai on December 13. It lasted a day longer than planned as participants disagreed on the final document.
COP28 ended with the first ever pledge to phase out fossil fuel use and triple renewable energy capacity by 2030.
By the same time, emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, including methane, must be reduced. Within two years, countries must submit a detailed action plan to implement their programs.
130 UN member states signed the resolution, although the largest countries India and China, which also produce the most greenhouse gases and consume huge amounts of fuel, did not sign.
However, the document is not legally binding. And no one will be able to force any “violators” or outsiders of the agreement to change the course of their policies. Like the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, this plan, although ambitious, is difficult to implement for objective reasons.
Not so “Green”
The current commitment is one of the International Energy Agency’s five imperatives to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. The signatory countries together account for 40% of global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion, 37% of total global energy demand and 56% of global GDP.
It is noted that 2023 is one of the hottest years in decades. Environmental activists cite various natural disasters around the world that they believe are consequences of current warming.
However, there is no objective scientific correlation between these events. Moreover, analysis of weather patterns of previous centuries based on archaeological materials, as well as ice samples in Antarctica and other sources, has shown that throughout history there have been periods of cooling and warming on Earth. It turns out that human activity has nothing to do with it.
Although eco-activists have an argument that anthropogenic activity has worsened the overall state of the planet, so adjustments are needed. This requires limiting emissions of CO2, methane, and other harmful substances into the atmosphere. It is also necessary to move to technologies that will be friendlier to the environment, both in energy production and for human needs.
However, a number of nuances arise.
So-called green technologies are by no means environmentally friendly. The production of electric cars and batteries requires lithium, the mining of which causes serious damage to the environment. The same is true for cobalt, which is needed to produce lithium-ion batteries.
As for the plates of wind turbines, there is still no way to recycle them. The wind turbines themselves need careful and regular maintenance to avoid breakages and fires caused by friction.
The same is true for solar panels—their disposal and recycling is a costly process, if all environmental safety requirements are met and the framework for reducing hydrocarbon emissions is adhered to.
The EU has No Way Out, but India and China Do
As is well known, energy based on sunlight and wind depends on the vagaries of nature.
In this regard, projects are being created to transport electricity from regions where the intensity of sunlight is high, for example, from Africa to Europe through underwater electric cables. However, the risk of their destruction by an earthquake or man-made damage, for example from a ship’s anchor, also remains high.
Then there is nuclear power.
Back in 2021, the European Commission prepared a detailed report, according to which by most indicators it is more acceptable and safer for both humans and the environment. The extraction of uranium, its direct use in nuclear power plants and proper utilization have a much smaller impact on the landscape, flora and fauna than wind and solar power. Given that it is low-carbon energy, it is far ahead of all types of thermal power plants.
The same European researchers have previously included natural gas in the low-carbon fuel mix.
But the EU is gradually abandoning Russian gas, and there is really nothing to replace it with. Given the reorientation of markets for Russian gas, it is likely to go more to Asian giants—to China and, in the long term, probably to India. This explains the frenzy around “green” technologies in the EU—they simply have no other choice.
Although China and India are not involved in the COP28 plans, they signed the Leaders’ Declaration at the G20 summit in New Delhi in September. According to this document, they are to “pursue and promote efforts to triple renewable energy capacity worldwide” by 2030. In addition, China also agreed on the same thing with the US about two weeks before COP28.
Technically, both China and India can ramp up renewables. The Middle Kingdom alone is the world leader in solar panel production and is also expanding its production of electric cars, wind turbines and batteries. In addition, China is engaged in offshore wind energy projects all over the world, actually becoming a monopoly in this regard. Even the EU lags behind it in these areas.
India has become the third largest renewable energy market in the world in terms of annual growth and total capacity in 2021, behind only China and the United States.
The promise to reduce methane (CH4) emissions will be even harder to fulfill than the other stated goals. CH4 is expected to be responsible for 45% of the planet’s warming this decade. Even though it does not stay in the atmosphere as long as CO2.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced on Dec. 2, during the summit, that it had finalized a long-awaited rule to reduce CH4 emissions from the oil and gas sector by about 80% within 15 years. This news was accompanied by a commitment to provide $1 billion in aid to smaller countries to tackle the same problem.
This prompted several countries to join the global commitment to reduce overall CH4 emissions by 30% by 2030. Many developed countries at the summit publicly insisted, albeit with reservations, on phasing out coal, oil and gas.
Earlier, the EU passed a law setting strict standards for methane leakage, although the results of this provision will have an impact far beyond European borders. At issue are technologies to capture the gas so that it is not released into the atmosphere and flared, as has been done to date.
It seems that the authors of such initiatives are lobbying for the interests of manufacturers of special equipment to impose them on other countries.
Probably for this reason, Saudi Arabia and several allied countries were in a small minority that publicly voiced strong objections to the inclusion of any reference to reducing fossil fuel production and consumption in the text of a potential deal.
Representatives of the Russian Ministry of Energy traditionally spoke of the low-carbon nature of the Russian energy sector (referring to nuclear, hydro and gas generation). They also talked about the lack of common sense in the development of renewable energy sources on such a scale as is happening in the EU. The Russian delegation advocated a rational approach to decarbonization, calling plans to triple renewable energy sources by 2030 “slogans and extremism.”
It turns out that the most vulnerable countries are not the main polluters, which, given the growth of their own economies, can gradually adjust to the trend. Some producers and buyers of energy resources, especially those with limited capacity, are in an unequal position.
In addition, developing countries need financing to achieve these goals. It is needed to meet their growing demand for affordable energy to power their economies and growing populations. India will need to find $293 billion to triple its renewable energy capacity by 2030. And an additional $101 billion to align with the IEA’s net zero greenhouse gas emissions scenario.
In addition, investors in many countries often face payment delays, red tape, protectionist rules and regulations, and domestic policy uncertainty. This may discourage them from working with renewable energy in such regions.
There are other risks as well.
Prices for key materials for renewable energy—aluminum, copper, steel and polysilicon—could rise because of supply shortages. Transportation and labor costs may also exceed expectations. There is also a labor shortage per se. Not all countries have the necessary programs and vocational schools to provide workers with the necessary knowledge, especially in manufacturing and new construction.
In the end, even if the signed agreement is followed, there remains the equally daunting task of measuring, reporting, verifying and enforcing the commitments made.
Most likely, despite further summits (the next one will be held in Baku), the signatory and non-signatory countries will move along their own trajectories. Technologically advanced states will try to impose their developments on everyone else and oblige them to follow their agenda through such climate treaties.
Independent actors will continue to consume fossil energy, but at the same time develop alternative sources, including hydrogen and nuclear energy production. Russia will probably follow this path.
Those who depend on supplies and foreign aid will balance opportunities and offers, regularly appealing to justice and the notion of humanity’s “common home.”
Leonid Savin is Editor-in-Chief of the Geopolitika.ru Analytical Center, General Director of the Cultural and Territorial Spaces Monitoring and Forecasting Foundation and Head of the International Eurasia Movement Administration. This article appears through the kind courtesy of Geopolitika.