Those who thought that declaring new climate commitments, whether cutting emissions or increasing funding, would be enough to solve the problems, found the issue to be more complicated than that. While the pledges of rich countries at the recent United Nations General Assembly in New York were a step in the right direction, the unresolved issues are still there; with regard to the environment and climate, as well as politics and economics.
As expected, climate figured prominently in the speeches of world leaders, although the session was not devoted to the subject. But coming together on the eve of COP26, soon to be held in Glasgow, made it a competition ground for pushing forward voluntary pledges leading up to the summit, in the hope that they become pledges and facts later.
This time, the General Assembly witnessed a consensus on the diagnosis of the problem of climate change and the means to tackle it. But the dispute remains over the allocation of huge costs, part of the same question lingering for 30 years: who will pay the price? Reducing gas emissions and switching to clean, renewable energy will have a big impact on the economy, because no matter how creatively we embellish the benefits of the “green economy”, its costs remain high as long as the pollution cost is not fully charged. This is why the negotiations focus on simultaneous measures between industrialized countries, to reduce emissions together at the same time, so that one country does not benefit to the detriment of another.
Rich countries are able to pay the costs of climate measures within their borders, and no one will prevent them from reaching an agreement on the distribution of quotas among themselves, if the political and popular will to agree to fiscal measures. painful was there. But emerging economies, led by China, which is now the world’s largest carbon emitter, still maintain that they deserve a grace period before stopping emissions altogether. While other industrialized countries have pledged to achieve a âzero emissionsâ goal by 2050, China has postponed its commitment to 2060, keeping its specific targets vague until then. It is as if China is claiming the right to pollute, to close the gap in progress made by rich countries since the industrial revolution, when they drained energy sources and grabbed natural resources without restrictions, causing a huge increase in emissions over the last century.
While China’s claims are limited to the âright to polluteâ through a grace period, the involvement of poor developing countries in climate change programs is not possible without direct financial support to cover the costs. This is why the rich countries pledged ten years ago to create a special fund whose annual contributions would amount to 100 billion dollars in 2020. However, most countries have not fulfilled their obligations. which kept the funding cap well below the target. The fund is supposed to help poor countries reduce their emissions by adopting cleaner production and consumption methods, as well as by building infrastructure capable of adapting to the unstoppable effects of climate change.
US President Joe Biden pledged in his address to the United Nations General Assembly that his country would double its contribution to climate finance, to exceed $ 11 billion per year, making it the largest contribution after the Union European combined. Thus, the goal of raising $ 100 billion a year has become closer than ever, although the US contribution has yet to be approved by Congress.
So far, the countries most committed to climate finance in the G7 are Germany, Japan and France, and the worst are the United States and Italy. But most of the funding pledged comes in the form of loans that must be repaid, even if they are flexible and long-term, while much of it should be grants that do not impose on countries. poor additional obligations.
Chinese President Xi Jinping told the General Assembly that his country will stop building coal-fired power plants outside of China. As part of the Belt and Road initiative that China is undertaking in developing countries, especially in Asia and Africa, in recent years it has built dozens of power plants running on coal, one of the most polluting fuels. . But it’s not clear whether the decision also includes previously scheduled coal-fired power plants whose construction has yet to begin. The announcement also did not mention the suspension of new coal-fired power plants in China itself, which is the main fuel for its industries. It should be noted that the Belt and Road initiative, which includes the financing and construction of infrastructure such as roads, ports, airports, dams and power plants, in turn weighs on poor countries, placing them between the hammer of the West and the anvil of the East.
As leaders vied to display good climate intentions at the annual United Nations meeting, political and economic realities were revealing a different truth on other fronts. China considered the new strategic security pact between the United States, Great Britain and Australia, named AUKUS, which includes the provision of the latter with advanced nuclear submarines, a military challenge. China is primarily concerned about the impact of the new alliance in the Asia-Pacific region on its economic ambitions, through the Belt and Road Initiative, which relies on using its growing power to expand its influence. As for France, and behind it the European Union, it considered the alliance to be marginal, especially since it had caused France to lose a contract worth tens of billions to sell conventional Australian submarines. This coincided with the lingering shock of the repercussions of the United States’ haphazard withdrawal from Afghanistan and the fear of its untold effects on neighboring countries and the rest of the world.
As the General Assembly in New York discussed increasing climate finance commitments, Europe was hit by a huge wave of high energy prices, due to sharp swings in global gas markets and the reduction in supplies from Russia, the main source of gas in many European countries. While some considered that this situation should provide a strong incentive to accelerate and expand programs for the production of electricity from renewable sources to reduce dependence on gas, the reality remains that the high cost of electricity and heating, which will double. several times during the winter months, will deplete much of the money that has been allocated to climate issues. This refutes the hypothesis that the era of fossil fuels is already over and confirms the inevitability of a smooth energy transition, to the benefit of producers and consumers alike.
China, along with the United States, Europe and Russia, called at the General Assembly for international cooperation and peaceful conflict resolution. But getting there won’t be easy, in light of the frenzied struggle for economic influence. We need to closely monitor whether climate action, and the environment in general, will fall victim to these conflicts, or benefit from a situation that may turn into a competition between superpowers to display good intentions in order to win hearts, besides making money.