In the blue corner, accelerating the global movement to stem carbon emissions and roll back global warming. In the red corner, a sudden spike this month in global demand for fossil fuels such as natural gas and coal.
There is a heavy struggle going on over energy priorities, and this has dramatically raised the stakes for the most important international conference on climate change since the 2015 Paris Agreement, which is due to open in Glasgow, Scotland. , at the end of the month.
But he also did something else that could fundamentally change the climate change debate: he was a stark reminder of how far the developed economies of the world are far from giving up their carbon habit.
And it diverts attention from the fine words of goals and commitments to the nuts and bolts business of actually achieving them amid the economic pressures and technological constraints of the real world.
As always, it was Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, whose climate activism spurred a global youth movement, who put it most succinctly. The promises of greener policies from the United States, Britain and a number of other governments were “blah, blah, blah,” she said last month.
“That’s all we hear from our so-called leaders: words that sound good, but so far haven’t led to any action,” she told a climate conference youth convened as part of the preparation for Glasgow.
None of this diminishes the importance of the stated goals of the Glasgow summit – significantly tighter emission reduction commitments by advanced economies as well as billions of dollars to help poorer countries go greener. Without it, climate experts reaffirmed last month, there is simply no chance of meeting the Paris target of stabilizing global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius – 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit – at- above pre-industrial levels.
Yet even amid the final preparations for the summit, Britain, mainland European countries and China were all rushing to increase fossil fuel supplies to keep industries running, lights on and homes on. heated.
Why now? The pandemic played a role. When COVID-19 forced economies to slow down or shut down, demand for energy fell, along with production and supply. Today, the economic rebound has been much stronger than expected.
The climate, ironically, is also partly to blame.
In China, the surprisingly cold winter of last year drove up the demand for fuel. To meet this demand, the government depleted its natural gas reserves as Chinese authorities began to wean their country from the most emitting fuel of all, coal.
In Europe, despite new investments in wind power, unusually calm weather conditions in the North Sea brought the turbines to a standstill, limiting their ability to take over.
Nuclear power could have helped in the past. Yet many countries have been reluctant to approve new reactors since the 2011 reactor accident in Fukushima, Japan. Germany, Europe’s largest economy, has cut its nuclear power generation by 75% since 2011 and will phase it out entirely next year.
China has brought its enormous financial weight to an international bidding war for tight supplies of natural gas. But he’s still had to impose power restrictions as winter begins to bite again, and the government is ordering coal suppliers to ramp up production again. It may even have to relax its trade sanctions against Australia – imposed in retaliation for Australians’ call for an investigation into the origin of COVID-19 – and resume imports of coal from there.
Before all this, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US climate envoy John Kerry, the main supporters of a landmark Glasgow deal, had been pushing for additional commitments to move away from coal. This is still their hope, but in a real context where even ambitious new promises will be viewed with more skepticism.
“We can always turn the tide,” Thunberg said, but only with “drastic annual emission reductions unlike anything the world has ever seen.”
This ladder of action seems far beyond what Glasgow is likely to accomplish, especially in the midst of the current energy crisis. Mr Kerry, in an otherwise bullish stance this week on what to expect, said the goal was to use the conference to create a “critical mass” of new emissions commitments that would keep the conference going. ‘handy’ 1.5 degree C lens.
But Ms Thunberg’s impatience was echoed by one of the expected speakers in Glasgow, Prince Charles of Great Britain, a longtime advocate for green causes.
Echoing his words, the heir to the British throne told the BBC it was a good thing that representatives from nearly 200 countries were meeting in a few weeks to discuss how to tackle climate change.
“But they are just talking,” he added. “The problem is taking action.
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