At UN climate change talks in Egypt on Wednesday, the United States signaled support for adopting language calling for phasing out the use of fossil fuels. — a major symbolic shift for the world’s leading oil and gas producer.
The possible modification of an agreement between 190 nations that is being discussed is symbolic and would not include any enforcement mechanism. Instead, much like how the existing climate agreement, the Glasgow Climate Pact, calls on participating countries to pursue a goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the goal of gradually reducing the use of fossil fuels will be ambitious.
Climate change activists who campaigned for the climate change conference, known as COP27, to incorporate a goal to move away from the use of fossil fuels greeted the news as a triumph. At previous climate change conferences, the United States and other major oil and gas producers have refused to sign similar language.
“It is a major breakthrough for the United States to support a global phase-down of fossil fuels after nearly three decades of not being mentioned in these climate agreements,” said Justice Program Director Jean Su. energy at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement emailed to Yahoo News.
But the new US support comes with a condition: that the phase-out only refers to “relentless” fossil fuels, i.e. those that are burned without technology to capture carbon dioxide emissions. at the fireplace. This technology, known as carbon capture and storage, or CCS, is used in just 18 facilities worldwide, almost all of which are industrial. CCS has only been used in one coal-fired power plant in the United States, but it could potentially allow fossil fuel use to continue with less damage to the climate if widely adopted. The recently passed Cut Inflation Act, which will spend $369 billion to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the United States over 10 years, includes funding for research and development of capture technology carbon.
Presidential special climate envoy John Kerry, who leads the US delegation to the conference, known as COP27, told Bloomberg News on Wednesday that the Biden administration would accept a broader call for a phase-out of fossil fuels. than what was incorporated into COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, last year. At this conference, the Glasgow Climate Pact only included a commitment to phase out unabated coal use.
“It must be relentless oil and gas,” Kerry said in an interview in Sharm el-Sheikh. “Phasedown, relentlessly, over time. Time is an issue, but “tapering” is the language we supported. »
The use of “phasing down” – which is softer than, say, the “absolute end” to fossil fuel use sought by many environmental and indigenous rights activists – also gives countries like the United States some leeway.
Yet at this year’s conference, India also pushed a broader anti-fossil fuel amendment. On Tuesday, the European Union said it would join the United Kingdom and a coalition of small island nations in backing India’s proposal.
Climate change campaigners, many of whom oppose the use of carbon capture because it is seen as a way to keep fossil fuels in the energy mix, have expressed reservations about Kerry’s conditions.
“Limiting this ‘relentless’ fossil fuel disposal could open polluters’ Pandora’s box of false solutions like carbon capture that only prolong the devastating damage,” Su said. “We need words that reflect the reality that new fossil fuels are dooming us to an unlivable planet.”
Whatever words will appear in the final text at the end of this week, none will guarantee that a country will actually shut down its gas-fired power plants and replace them with solar panels or wind turbines. No one is discussing specific hard targets for phasing out fossil fuel use, and even if they were, the climate deal being discussed is not a legally binding treaty.
But many countries, including the United States, had previously resisted anti-fossil fuel language because the direction set in the agreement influences policy. The Biden administration, for example, has made a strong commitment to trying to get the United States to meet the target originally promised in the 2015 Paris climate accord of halving greenhouse gas emissions. greenhouse by 2030. President Biden’s proposal, Build Back Better, was designed to achieve this goal. After opposition from Republicans and Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., forced Biden to drop some of the climate provisions, Manchin agreed to support the Cut Inflation Act, which is expected to achieve a 40% cut emissions by 2030 through electricity subsidies. vehicles and clean energy.
Similarly, a coalition of countries, including the United States and Japan, announced on Tuesday that it would provide $20 billion in public and private grants and loans to help Indonesia retire its coal-fired power plants and restore them. replace it with clean energy generation, although no binding agreement is in place.
Since the fracking boom, the United States has become the world’s largest producer of oil and the world’s largest producer of natural gas, making opposition to the production and use of fossil fuels politically tricky for governments. American politicians. Projecting the death of the coal industry, which has been in decline for decades, provoked a backlash from Democrats, including Hillary Clinton. Earlier this month, Biden said “we’re going to close these [coal] factories all over America and having wind and sun. That prompted Manchin to call the president’s remarks “outrageous and out of touch,” forcing the White House to back down.
Kerry’s demand that the provision apply only to fossil fuels relentlessly could potentially blunt domestic criticism. However, other major oil and gas producing countries may reject the proposal. Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said in interviews at COP27 that the country continues to see a role for oil and gas for the foreseeable future and is trying to minimize emissions of oil and gas production as it builds its capacity to also produce and one day export clean energy. And in the United States, the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives on Wednesday will likely spell the end of new clean energy spending, regardless of the content of this year’s climate deal.
The conference is due to end on Friday, but observers are already predicting it will drag on as thorny issues such as the future of fossil fuels and compensation for poorer countries that suffer natural disasters linked to climate change are tackled. .
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