Keep the 1.5°C goal alive, experts and civil society urge on ‘Energy Day’ at COP27
New York: The troubling expansion of oil, gas and coal projects, despite science telling us that fossil fuels must stay in the ground to avert the worst impacts of climate change, was the critical issue at the centre of ‘Energy Day’ discussions at COP27 on Tuesday, with many experts fearing that the goal of curbing global warming to 1.5 could be in danger.
The energy sector, responsible for more than two-thirds of global greenhouse emissions, is mainly powered by fossil fuels. While this brings electricity and transport to most of the world, it is accompanied by deep pain and loss to vulnerable communities and ecosystems.
According to the International Renewable Agency (IRENA), only 29 per cent of global electricity generation currently comes from renewables, and carbon emissions continue an upward trend.
“We’ve barely scratched the surface. And the one year since Glasgow, frankly, has been a year of climate procrastination. By 2030, we need to reduce emissions by between 30 to 45 per cent, but since COP26 we’ve shaved off one per cent. So, we have a long way to go,” the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) chief, Inger Andersen, told an event in Sharm el-Sheikh, the site of this year’s UN-facilitated climate talks.
Andersen noted that we currently live in a world that has warmed 1.1 degrees Celsius since the preindustrial era, and we are already seeing an increase in storms, droughts, floods, and crop failures.
“The current policies take us to a 2.8 degrees world…It is important that we have a conversation about emissions reduction and who carries the load. The G20, which are meeting this very week... have a collective responsibility for 75 per cent of all emissions,” she underscored, asking for these economies to invest in climate finance and “climate justice”.
The goal is still 1.5 degrees
Simon Stiell, UN Climate Change (UNFCCC) Executive Secretary, also stressed the importance of curbing global warming to 1.5 degrees, saying that it is a goal set by the Paris Agreement but also grounded firmly in science and hard data.
“Anything beyond a 1.5 rise increases the risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security and economic growth. For many, it is already a living hell… every fraction of a degree beyond 1.5 increasingly puts human life on this planet in peril,” he emphasized, calling on countries to be “rigorous” in their efforts to uphold their commitments in the Glasgow Climate Pact to keep 1.5 in sight.
Mr. Stiell, who on Monday called on parties to “bridge the divide” in Sharm el-Sheikh to ensure rapid action on mitigation, adaptation, loss and damage finance and accountability, encouraged nations to come out with “substantive positions” to move forward on these issues.
Some positive developments
The UN climate chief noted positively that South Africa has launched a multimillion-dollar plan to shift from coal towards green energy, calling it a key moment in the global push for the transition away from fossil fuels.
“We anticipate hearing more ambition in this area when G20 ministers meet this week in Bali. So, we are making headway at COP27, but moving further and faster also means action beyond COP to drive down emissions,” he emphasized.
Indeed, at the G20 in Bali, a coalition of countries, led by the United States and Japan, announced that they will be investing $20 billion to sharply reduce Indonesia’s reliance on coal and to transition the Southeast Asian nation to renewable power.
Currently, Indonesia is one the world’s largest consumers of coal and the world's fifth largest greenhouse emitter.
The tools are there, we just need to use them
According to Jim Skea, a scientist and member of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world has seen major developments in terms of renewable energy, with costs falling and deployment going up in the past years.
“Half the world’s emissions are now covered by climate legislation. A fifth of the world’s emissions is covered by carbon prices. So, people haven’t quite used all the tools yet, but they’ve got [them] on the workbench. And if people have enough willpower to do it, big things can happen,” he told UN News.
Mr. Skea underscored that the IPCC reports make clear that in the short-term there should be “huge” reductions in coal use, medium in terms of oil, and modest reductions in terms of gas to keep the 1.5 scenario reachable.
“We need see gas use to be 45 per cent lower by 2050. That’s a 2 per cent reduction per year. And frankly, existing gas fields will deplete faster than that,” the scientist explained, clarifying that the world needs to “exit” all fossil fuels, but perhaps, at different speeds.
The future of energy
Meanwhile, Francesco La Camera, IRENA Director General, explained that the future of energy systems will be based largely on renewables and complemented by green hydrogen and the sustainable use of biomass.
“Today we have less than one-third renewable, two-thirds of fossil fuel in the energy system. We will have a completely different situation in 2050 where renewables and clean energy will be the more than two-thirds of energy… everything is changing,” he said, pointing out, echoing Mr. Skea, that solar and wind energy solutions have had a two-digit price reduction in the last two years.
He added that renewables can generate three times more jobs than equal investment in the fossil fuel sector could, as well as contribute more to countries’ GDP.
“The Ukraine crisis has certified the end of energy system centralized on fossil fuels. Governments have suddenly discovered that we cannot have 80 per cent of the country dependent on fossil fuel and everyone wants now to go for a system that could be more independent,” the expert argued.
However, he said that while the transition is underway, it is not happening at the speed and scale needed to achieve the Paris Agreement’s goals.
Oil and gas projects still expanding, civil society decries
Tuesday was also ‘Civil Society’ Day at COP27.
Last week, Urgewald, along with 50 other NGO partners, launched their yearly 2022 Global Oil & Gas Exit List, a public company-level database that covers 901 oil and gas companies, which account for 95 per cent of global oil and gas production.
The report revealed that 96 per cent of the oil and gas industry is expanding, and many financial institutions and banks continue making related investments, even when many have signed up pledges to “go Net-Zero”.
On Tuesday, Heffa Schuecking, Urgenwald Director, told journalists about the groups’ findings regarding the African content.
“We see new fossil fuel projects in 48 out of 55 African countries and these projects can be traced back to 200 companies. While the discussions are ongoing here at COP, we see a disconnect with what is happening in Egypt and in the rest of Africa. In Egypt alone, we have 55 companies prospecting for new gas discovery,” she stated.
Ms. Schuecking, said that around $5 billion is currently being spent by companies on oil and gas exploration in Africa, and denounced this as a waste of money, especially when taking in account the potential for renewable energy in the continent.
“If we compare the investments going into the fossil side and going into the renewable side it’s a huge gap, I''s enormous. We’re investing in the wrong place,” she lamented, adding that fossil fuel companies are opening a new sort of frontiers, with oil explorations now even planned in Namibia, where there hadn’t been any oil and gas expansion until now.
“This is not just about climate; this is about destruction of nature. This is about the destruction of people’s health. This is about displacement and impoverishment of communities,” she underscored, pointing out that most of the companies carrying out these projects are not African, but are headquartered in Europe, United States and China.
A painful reality
For Odudu-Abasi James Asuquo, this is not a far-off reality. Her community and family in Nigeria have experienced firsthand the consequences of oil and gas exploration
She’s an Ogoni, a community in the Niger Delta region of southern Nigeria which has been victimized by oil corporations for decades. The community rose to international attention in 2017 after massive public protests against Shell Oil.
“I lose people every day. My community has been killed and has been destroyed. I’m so scared of bringing a child into the world and I’m just a young person. I’m afraid for my future,” she told UN News.
Ms. James Asuquo said that her entire community is now living in and camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) after the entire Rivers state [region of the Nier Delta] was flooded.
“My community needs a lot of help. Governments need to wake up. Climate change is not a statistic, it’s a reality. For me, it’s my daily life. I lost my parents; I lost my people. I don’t have a life. I don’t even have a home to go back to because there’s no land. The water is polluted. The air is polluted. So, climate change is my reality,” she said.
In 2011, UNEP carried out an assessment in the territory the youth activist is from and discovered that the impact of 50 years of oil production in the region extended deeper than previously thought.
Because of oil spills, oil flaring, and waste discharge, the alluvial soil of the Niger Delta is no longer viable for agriculture. Further, in many areas once thought to be unaffected, the groundwater has since been found to contain high levels of hydrocarbons, or to have been contaminated with benzene, a carcinogen, at 900 levels above World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines.
“They are talking about 2030 and I don’t have that. They are talking about 2024 I am not sure about that either. My community needs the help now and today is the day for action,” she declared, adding that wealthy countries should pay their debt with the global South.
“They have to pay us what they owe because they destroyed us. We shouldn’t have to beg for it.”
“Keep it in the text”
On Monday night, the COP27 Presidency released a document containing the summary of possible elements put forward by parties for inclusion in the conference's final outcome, which is expected to be drafted by Wednesday.
The document contains items of interest expressed by parties related to mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage, among many other issues.
“We have to come out of this COP with clear pathway towards 1.5,” Tongan activist Joseph-Zane Sikulu, told UN News, underscoring that this year’s outcome text should include the phrase ‘phasing out all fossil fuels’, not only coal.
Miriam Hinostroza, Environmental Economist from UNEP, talked with UN News about some of the complexities in negotiations related to phasing out fossil fuels in developing countries.
“Sometimes, a priority for countries is economic growth, which they only get from using fossil fuels – they are still cheap the technologies are there, there are many power plants [and] they cannot [all of a sudden] just get rid of these plants. So, there is this issue on the stranded assets – what to do with all these investments, all these technologies,” she said, arguing that to force countries to get rid of fossil fuels in the next five on 10 years is unfortunately, “not a reality”.
Loss and damage
On the loss and damage agenda, the top issue this year pushed by developing countries, the Presidency released a draft text on Tuesday, which includes matters related to finance with various options, one of them creating a new financial mechanism.
“Pledges to reduce emissions, to improve adaptation measures, to repair loss and damage, and pledges to increase financing – all need to be put into action,” the President of the current session of the UN General Assembly told delegates attending a plenary session this morning.
Csaba Kőrösi reminded them that COP27 is “the implementation COP” and said that it was the moment to bridge the gaps between pledges and fulfilment.
He also called on delegates to ask themselves if “the glass will be half full or half empty” by the end of the conference.
“The glass will be full when we fulfil our pledges and use the solutions we already have. This glass will be full when we overcome procedure debates and can fully focus on how to address transformation to a water and climate safe development path. So let it be a full glass,” he urged.