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Climate split

The G20 ministerial meeting in Naples has once again highlighted the key inconsistencies of global climate policy

Climate split

At their meeting in Naples, the ministers of energy and environment of G20 member states failed to agree on approaches to climate protection measures. Coal power was the major concern. A number of participants to the meeting insisted on including into the final document a commitment to abandon the use of coal-fired electricity generation by 2025, but other G20 countries cast a dissenting vote. The final statement also featured another controversial issue, namely limiting global warming within 1.5°C until 2030.

According to Italian Environment Minister Roberto Cingolani, the EU countries, the United States, Japan and Canada came out for a forced approach at the meeting, i.e. a prompt waiver of coal and setting the "one-and-a-half-degree" goal. And four or five countries, including China, India and Russia, appeared not ready for such an acceleration, the Italian minister stressed.

Cingolani's statement is debatable, as well as the initiative to abandon coal by 2025 itself. In particular, Germany as the largest economy of the European Union plans to give up on using coal-fired power plants no sooner than by 2038, and its representatives are now actively arguing whether to reschedule this step until 2030. Japan, for instance, has recently revealed a draft energy strategy, under which the share of coal in the country's energy balance will retain the 19% level by 2030. The situation being what it is, it's not really clear how feasible the proposal to completely abandon coal over the next three or four years is, even for those countries that are now rapidly developing renewable energy.

Nevertheless, the fact that the "collective West" turned out to be on the same side of the contradictions fence against China, India, Russia and other countries, is a perfect reflection of the current global dispute over climate policy. Moreover, it is becoming increasingly obvious that this dispute is not only about environment, but also about economics and politics.

As for the West, primarily the European Union, this refers to reversing the global energy situation. Brussels, for example, doesn't hide its expectations to get rid of energy dependence as a result of switching to renewable energy sources, and to get economic and political benefits by promoting their "green" technologies across the globe.

Washington is apparently focused on a slowdown in the rates of China's economic growth. During his recent speech in London, US President's Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry noted that the "unprecedented" growth of the Chinese economy is brought about by fossil fuels. At the same time, he urged Beijing to start reducing CO2 emissions right now by waiving the use of hydrocarbons. According to Kerry, there is no alternative to this, because without China, the objective of keeping global warming within 1.5°C is unattainable.

China has none of it, however. A long-time leader of the renewable energy sector, it is not going to abandon cheaper hydrocarbons, including coal, yet either. The Chinese economy is supposed to pass the peak of carbon emissions in 2030 only. And although just a few days ago a system of trading certificates for CO2 emissions was launched in China, the price for them is incomparable with that of Europe – some €7 against more than €50 in the EU.

Many other countries, including Russia, take a similar attitude. All of them have good reason to believe that a sharp rejection of hydrocarbons will deal a heavy blow to the economy and chip away at their world market share. In turn, the West is also afraid of losing economic competition to the "hydrocarbon" countries, which is why it pushes them to decarbonize, including means like the EU-planned carbon tax on imports.

It is still unknown whether this tax is going to work as expected by Brussels or not. However, stakes are high that instead of accelerating energy transition, it will entail trade wars between the EU and "hydrocarbon" countries. The key possible fault line is already sizeable, and the meeting in Naples only made it more obvious.

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