- Europe’s natural gas prices have risen dramatically in 2022.
- Others are looking for ways to expand fossil fuel production, including new projects in Africa.
- There are reasons to believe that this may not be the case.
- Globally, investments in the clean energy transition increased by about 16% in 2022, the International Energy Agency estimates.
This year’s United Nations climate meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, where representatives from all over the world are debating the consequences of climate change and how to reduce emissions that remain close to record highs, has been overshadowed by Russia’s war in Ukraine, as reported by LakeCoNews.
The war has dramatically disrupted energy markets the world over, leaving many countries vulnerable to price spikes amid supply shortages.
Some countries are restarting coal-fired power plants.
These actions are a long way from the countries’ pledges just a year ago to rein in fossil fuels, and they’re likely to further increase greenhouse gas emissions, at least temporarily.
But will the war and the economic turmoil prevent the world from meeting the Paris climate agreement’s long-term goals?
There are reasons to believe that this may not be the case.
The answer depends in part on how wealthy countries respond to a focus of this year’s climate conference: fulfilling their pledges in the Paris Agreement to provide support for low- and middle-income countries to build clean energy systems.
Europe speeds up clean energy plans
A key lesson many countries are taking away from the ongoing energy crisis is that, if anything, the transition to renewable energy must be pushed forward faster.
I work with countries as they update national climate pledges and have been involved in evaluating the compatibility of global emissions reduction scenarios with the Paris Agreement.
I see the energy crisis affecting countries’ plans in different ways.
About 80% of the world’s energy is still from fossil sources.
Global trade in coal, oil and natural gas has meant that even countries with their own energy supplies have felt some of the pain of exorbitant prices.
In the U.S., for example, natural gas and electricity prices are higher than normal because they are increasingly tied to international markets, and the U.S. is the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas.
Developing countries face complex challenges
If Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a wake-up call to accelerate the clean energy transition in wealthier countries, the situation is much more complex in developing countries.
The more these countries are dependent on foreign oil and gas imports for their energy supply, the more they will be exposed to global market gyrations.
Renewable energy can reduce some of that exposure.
But advances in expanding access to clean electricity have been set back by the war.
To achieve the Paris Agreement targets, coal, oil and natural gas consumption must decrease dramatically in the next decade or two.
International cooperation will be necessary to help poorer countries expand energy access and transition to low-emissions development pathways.
Africa’s fossil fuels and stranded asset risks
A number of developing countries have their own fossil fuel resources, and some in Africa have been calling for increasing production, although not without pushback.
For example, Tanzania’s energy minister, January Makamba, told Bloomberg during the U.N. climate conference that his country expects to sign agreements with Shell and other oil majors for a $40 billion liquefied natural gas export project.
While this intersection of interests could boost some developing countries, it can also set up future challenges.
And how much of that income will benefit the people of those countries?
Any infrastructure built today for short-term supplies risks becoming a stranded asset, worthless in a low-emissions world.
The globe might potentially do emerging nations huge damage by taking advantage of them for short-term benefit by encouraging them to take on debt risk in order to engage in fossil fuel exploitation.
The worst warming estimates from a decade ago now seem exceedingly improbable because the globe has made strides in reducing emissions in recent years. However, every tenth of a degree has an effect, and the current “business as usual” course continues to push the planet toward warming levels with difficult-to-imagine costs from climate change, particularly for the most vulnerable nations. The conclusions of the climate summit will show whether the international community is ready to hasten the transition.
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