New challenges face the Bonn climate summit
When the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change meets in the German city of Bonn in early June to review worldwide progress in the battle against this growing threat, it will be hard pressed to find any advance at all.
Indeed, in the six months since COP26 in Glasgow, the world seems to have collectively taken several steps backward and is now closer than ever to the abyss into which it is surely sliding due to its insatiable hunger for energy.
Several pieces of bad news await the experts when they gather in Bonn from May 31 in pre-session and for the actual session a few days later.
First is the news emerging from Germany and other EU member states. In an attempt to wean itself off Russian gas, as part of measures taken against Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine, the EU earlier this week announced a new energy strategy. While the plan lays down a mid-term shift toward other sources of gas and crude oil, it also relies significantly on ramping up the use of coal as an alternative.
EU officials admit that existing coal mines in Europe, which were meant to be phased out, will now be used for much longer. The so-called RePowerEU initiative, unveiled by EU climate chief Frans Timmermans, will lead to higher emissions not only from increased use of coal but also of crude oil.
Indeed, in the wake of the Brussels announcement, analysts began predicting that global coal prices could soar to $500 a ton this year due to rising demand, mainly from Europe, but also from other parts of the world.
Vilified for its noxious emissions for almost a decade, coal has been the first target of efforts to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, and a drop in its use, at least in the developed world, is critical if carbon emissions are to be cut.
Most countries, including those in the EU, have committed to end dates on the use of coal, with some, such as Germany, from as early as 2030, a target it set just last year, advancing the deadline by eight years.
But even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the International Energy Agency had predicted that demand for coal would rise sharply in 2022. This forecast was based mainly on the price of crude oil, which had been climbing for almost six months before the end of 2021. The IEA’s prediction can be seen coming true in many countries, especially in large consumers of coal, such as India, China and many African countries.
The deliberations in Bonn ought to focus on rapid solutions in the battle against climate change.
Ranvir S. Nayar
In most developing countries, it is natural to turn to coal, which is more abundant and, hence, easier and cheaper to produce and use. As poorer countries aspire to reach the next income level, they need greater energy production, and a large chunk of the additional energy is likely to be produced by coal, even if renewables, mainly solar, continue to grow in various parts of the world, including China and India.
India expects its dependence on coal to rise from 1 billion tons to 1.5 billion tons per year by 2030. The proportionate growth could be even higher in many African nations. Although the new Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has promised a dramatic shift in climate change policy, the nation’s economy is highly dependent on coal production and exports that have made Australia one of the biggest players in the global coal industry. It remains to be seen to what extent Albanese is able to pull back from predecessor Scott Morrison’s devil-may-care approach without derailing the Australian economy.
Away from coal, the meeting in Bonn is also likely to be alarmed by a recent study that has confirmed fears over the increasing threat deforestation poses to the Amazon basin. Spread over a vast 5.4 million square kilometers, the rainforest is the world’s largest carbon sink, absorbing almost 4 percent of the world’s annual carbon emissions.
Reports show that logging by ranchers and soya farmers, mainly in Brazil, is clearing forests at rates of up to 32,500 square kilometers each year. In the past two decades, the Amazon forest in Brazil has lost 350,000 square kilometers in area and is now emitting 13 percent more carbon than it absorbs. On this scale, the Amazon is a larger emitter than Pakistan or Argentina, and unless the policies are reversed immediately the damage will continue to accelerate.
With Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro expected to lose this year’s election, even if his likely replacement Lula da Silva were to immediately ban rainforest clearing, it could be years before the impact of any policy change is felt in the Amazon.
The deliberations in Bonn ought to focus on rapid solutions in the battle against climate change, such as climate finance to enable the developing world to cut emissions at a faster rate and also to mitigate the increasing damage that climate change is causing most deeply in poorer countries.
If the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change fails to move toward even these barest of successes, then the utility of the organization itself must surely be open to question.
• Ranvir S. Nayar is managing editor of Media India Group.