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Sky-High Energy Prices Threaten To Topple U.N.’s Climate Utopia

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A United Nations agreement to accelerate greenhouse gas cuts this year has stalled, according to some negotiators, as most of the world’s biggest emitters have done little to follow through on the deal since it was struck seven months ago at the climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland.

The surge in global energy prices and the war in Ukraine have prompted major economies to increase their investments in fossil fuels. [bold, links added]

China, the world’s biggest carbon-dioxide emitter, produced more coal than ever last year and approved plans this year to build at least five new coal-fired power plants.

In the U.S., gridlock in Congress has stymied the Biden administration’s climate legislation.

The lack of progress has cast a shadow over climate negotiations this month in Bonn, Germany, that are slated to end Thursday.

In Glasgow, negotiators struck a deal on a number of technical issues, including broad rules for an international market in carbon credits.

But they couldn’t agree on how to cut emissions in line with the Paris climate accord of 2015, which called for governments to limit global warming close to 1.5 degrees Celsius above temperatures of the preindustrial era.

Instead, the Glasgow pact urged governments to present new plans to cut emissions by September of this year—and left the details to be hammered out in future meetings in Bonn and elsewhere.

Analysts and some officials now see little prospect that will happen before the next U.N. climate summit in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, this November.

“We have to acknowledge the broader geopolitical context and the challenges many face this year,” said a European Union official familiar with the talks.

Without faster emissions cuts, officials and scientists say the world is likely to blow through the 1.5-degree limit.

[Some] climate scientists say that greenhouse-gas emissions will need to fall 43% by 2030 compared with 2019 to hit that target; emissions are expected to fall around 7% by 2030 under the plans submitted ahead of the Glasgow summit, according to the U.N.’s latest climate-science report.

Questions loomed over the Glasgow deal from the start. To secure backing from more than 190 governments, the agreement urges but doesn’t require governments to accelerate their emissions cuts to hit 1.5 degrees.

Analysts and officials questioned whether major economies would quickly commit to doing more even before passing their existing climate plans into law.

In recent months since the outbreak of war, large developing countries including India and South Africa have voiced misgivings about the agreement.

They say it shifts more of the burden to developing countries to cut emissions, even though emissions from rich countries are responsible for most of the earth’s warming since the industrial era.

Developing world officials are demanding more money from wealthy nations to respond to climate change —particularly to protect themselves against the effects of rising sea levels and extreme weather.

“We really need to achieve a new balance in this negotiation process,” said Bolivian climate negotiator, Diego Pacheco, who is a spokesman for a group of countries that includes China and India.

Mr. Pacheco called the agreement the “Glasgow Colonial Pact” and said developed countries need to do more to cut their emissions.

The standoff has meant that of the Group of 20 major economies, only South Korea and Brazil have submitted a new emissions-reduction plan to the U.N. since the Glasgow summit.

Climate Action Tracker, a consortium of analysts and scientists that rates nations’ emission-reduction plans, says both plans are highly insufficient to satisfy the 1.5-degree warming limit.

“The momentum for increased ambition is pretty much deflated,” said Bill Hare, who helps run Climate Action Tracker. “Everyone is blaming the Russian energy crisis as causing the focus to shift away from energy transition to energy security.”

Surging global energy prices leading up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have had a profound impact on global climate policies.

The European Union has proposed accelerating its deployment of wind and solar power to end its purchases of Russian oil and gas.

But it is also planning to build new infrastructure to import natural gas from non-Russian sources, worrying environmental groups who say the moves could prolong Europe’s use of fossil fuels.

The U.S. is also spending more on natural-gas infrastructure, mainly facilities to export liquefied natural gas to Europe to replace supplies from Russia.

China has boosted its investments in coal mining and coal-fired power since surging energy costs last year pushed the country to impose rolling blackouts.

Mr. Hare said Climate Tracker still sees China lowering its emissions by 2030, but he has begun to question whether that assumption will hold, adding: “Will they back out of that? We don’t know.”

Read rest at WSJ

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