- Angel Bermúdez (@angelbermudez)
- BBC News World
Some of the commitments made by almost two hundred leaders during the last Climate Summit – COP26, held in November 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland – to combat climate change are at risk in the face of the war in Ukraine.
These include updating greenhouse gas emission reduction targets by 2022 and phasing out subsidies that artificially reduce the cost of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas.
A report published last week on the impact of the conflict caused by the Russian invasion of Ukrainian territory in the fight against climate change points to the existence of a kind of global “gold fever” for the construction of infrastructure for the production, transport and processing of fossil fuels. , in particular liquefied natural gas (LNG).
The document was prepared by the Climate Action Tracker (CAT), an independent project that monitors government actions to tackle climate change and puts them in context with the objective established by the Paris agreement to “keep warming well below 2 °C and make efforts to limit warming to 1.5 °C”.
The report highlights, for example, plans to build new LNG plants in Germany, Italy, Greece and the Netherlands, while countries such as the United States, Canada, Qatar, Egypt and Algeria plan to increase their exports of the fuel.
In parallel, many fossil fuel producing countries have increased production and governments in more than a dozen developed countries are reducing taxes on fuel or energy consumption, thus encouraging consumption.
The idea of increasing the consumption of fossil fuels to respond to the current energy crisis was questioned on Tuesday (14/6) by the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, who argued that investing resources in coal, oil or gas to face the consequences of the war in Ukraine is “illusory”.
BBC News Mundo (the BBC’s Spanish language service) spoke with Niklas Höhne, an expert at the NewClimate Institute, a Berlin-based non-profit that is part of the consortium that develops the CAT, about the study’s findings and the needs that exist today in the context of combating climate change.
BBC News Mundo – The Climate Action Tracker has produced a study on the global response to the war in Ukraine from the perspective of combating climate change. What are the conclusions?
Niklas Höhne – At the moment there are governments that are trying to do things differently because of the energy crisis. They have to respond to the current situation in which they cannot continue to import fossil fuels from Russia.
And they can do two things: try to get fuel from elsewhere, or work to increase efficiency and make better use of renewable energy.
Unfortunately, we find that most countries are going through a kind of “gold fever” in search of new infrastructure around fossil fuels, new liquefied natural gas (LNG) pipelines, new LNG ports and new oil and gas fields. gas.
This is very counterproductive for policy to combat climate change because once this infrastructure is built, it will be used for several decades and lock us into a carbon-heavy future.
BBC News Mundo – Why would the new infrastructures be used for several decades?
Höhne – The thing about new infrastructure is that it is expensive to build a pipeline, for example, and that means that once you build it, investors will want to use it for decades.
The problem is that we want to reduce gas consumption to zero globally by the middle of the century — and if we now build new infrastructure, that reduction will be very difficult. These investments will link us to high greenhouse gas emissions or end up as idle assets.
BBC News Mundo – You are concerned about the construction of these new infrastructures. But in what other ways are governments working against climate goals amid the current crisis?
Höhne – The main problem is infrastructure, but there’s another issue – nearly every government we’ve evaluated has beckoned consumers with tax cuts on fossil fuels. That’s not a good idea.
I understand that governments want to help consumers and industry, but they should only support those who really need it, more for the poor population or for the industry that is really in danger.
But what they are doing is reducing taxes on fossil fuels [de maneira ampla], thus reducing costs for all citizens and oil companies, even those who can afford it and who can move away from fossil fuels. This is also not a good idea.
BBC News Mundo – But in the current context, in which inflation and energy prices are so high, what are the alternatives for governments? Many people today find it difficult to fill the tank to go to work. Is there any viable solution?
Höhne – Yes, if the idea is to compensate for rising energy prices, then you should compensate the poorest families, not the richest.
Some suggested a compensation policy on a per capita basis, so that each person received the same amount. Others say it’s better to go through the tax system, so that the poor get an additional tax break or extra money in their pocket, which would definitely be possible and would be a better option.
The real long-term solution, however, is to save energy and use more renewable energy. Saving energy is always a profitable option.
For example, driving slower, lowering the heating a bit in winter, restricting car access to cities so that people can use public transport. Subsidizing public transport more so that people do not use cars, but public transport – there are many options for governments to help their citizens and businesses in this crisis.
BBC News World – In the report, you point out that most Western countries have sought to reduce or completely stop buying fossil fuels from Russia, and many have announced ambitious goals for the transition to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. Isn’t that good for the fight against climate change?
Höhne – Yes, there are things that some countries are doing well. Several have increased their targets for renewable energy and some have also introduced subsidies for public transport.
Okay, but we’re so far behind on climate policy and we need to cut emissions so drastically that we don’t have time to make mistakes.
The International Energy Agency says that from now on, we should not invest in any new fossil fuel infrastructure. And if we now see a “gold rush” in investments in fossil fuel energy infrastructure, that would be a serious problem in that regard.
Right now, we must use the same money, effort and time to drive energy efficiency and renewable energy, not expand fossil fuel infrastructure.
BBC News Mundo – But is it really possible to take advantage of renewable sources in the short term to solve the current crisis?
Höhne – Well, the expansion of renewable energies is not fast, but neither is the construction of a new gas pipeline or the construction of a new LNG terminal. In essence, it’s the same problem.
The fastest is to reduce energy consumption—driving slower or turning down the heat. That would be very quick, but unfortunately many governments are not using this option.
BBC News World – The CAT report does not mention China, the world’s biggest energy consumer. What is your opinion on Beijing’s response to this crisis?
Höhne – I think China has been a little less affected by the crisis. The country has some energy trade with Russia, but it is not as dependent as Europe.
China is also considering raising its targets for renewable energy. That would be good. But at the same time, it has been considering buying cheaper oil and gas from Russia. In market conditions, it could be, but for other reasons this would not be a good sign.
China is very important from a climate point of view. It is responsible for a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, and what happens there is very important to global emissions and the planet’s climate.
BBC News Mundo – What about Latin America? There is no mention of Latin American countries in the report.
Höhne – Not. Currently, LNG and gas exports are more concentrated in North America, Africa and Asia.
But there’s another positive thing we’ve seen: some governments are making deals to supply or buy green hydrogen. I think it’s a new opportunity. We thought this would happen in five years or so, but it’s happening now. So there’s an acceleration that’s good.
Latin America has a lot of potential for renewable energy. I could think about exporting green hydrogen made from renewable energy and selling it to Europe or other regions, and I think that would be a good business opportunity.
BBC News Mundo – Do you have any other recommendations or alternative solutions for this crisis?
Höhne – There’s one more thing. Many fossil fuel companies are making record profits because energy prices are high while production costs remain the same.
Some governments have started to tax these additional profits and invest the proceeds in renewable energy. Only a few, however, have done so — and this could be another measure taken by governments at this time.
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