Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and the rise of food insecurity and inflation around the world are reasons to strengthen, not weaken, international commitments to end reliance on fossil fuels, the U.K.’s COP26 president has said.
Speaking in Glasgow six months after the end of the COP26 climate summit, Alok Sharma focused on the successes of the conference, but noted that in the half-year since, global events had further highlighted the need for economies to move away from using coal, oil and gas as quickly as possible.
“The world has changed,” Sharma said. “The clouds have darkened over the international landscape: war has returned to Europe … debt is mounting, energy prices are rising, and globally people are struggling to feed their families.”
These crises, Sharma went on, “should increase, not diminish, our determination to deliver on what the world agreed here in Glasgow,” noting that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine highlighted “the benefits of low-cost homegrown renewables, the price of which cannot be manipulated from afar.”
“In short, we see that climate security is energy security and that we must break our dependency on fossil fuels,” he said, adding that renewable sources of energy generation were now cheaper than fossil fuels around the world, and that fossil fuel investments risk becoming stranded assets.
Sharma said that some countries had taken this message on board, with the European Commission announcing that it will increase deployment of renewable energy to reduce dependency on Russian natural gas, and claimed that the U.K.’s recently announced energy security strategy would enable “95% of our electricity come from low carbon sources by 2030.”
He proceeded to list a ream of achievements, pledges and promises made by a raft of nations and bodies since COP26. But he did not dwell on a key, complicating factor: when it comes to global warming, it is actions, not words, that matter. In Europe and further afield, climate progress has been erratic, and in some areas even seems to be reversing.
For example: in a bid to move away from Russian gas, some European countries have turned back to coal—an even more polluting fuel. Over the English channel, the U.K.’s Conservative government, to which Sharma belongs, is a staunch advocate for extracting more crude oil and natural gas from the North Sea, despite evidence from the International Energy Agency showing that there must be no new oil and gas operations approved for development if the global community is to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The ever-more-urgent climate message has also failed to make much of an impact in the U.S., the world’s largest oil producer, with President Joe Biden pledging to increase oil and gas production further in response to Putin’s invasion, and promising to provide 50 billion cubic meters of liquified natural gas to Europe annually by 2030.
America’s geopolitical nemesis, China, the world’s largest polluter, is installing more renewable energy capacity than the rest of the world combined. But it is also building many more coal power plants, with five new coal projects announced in the first six weeks of this year alone.
Meanwhile, outside the halls of government, investors seem largely unconcerned by the climate crisis: last week, Saudi oil firm Saudi Aramco overtook U.S. tech giant Apple as the biggest company by market capitalization, at a value in excess of $2.5 trillion—a reflection of the record oil prices being seen around the world following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Though he did not detail these uncomfortable truths, the refusal of governments and markets to respond proportionately to climate change had clearly frustrated Sharma. In his speech, he stressed that since COP26, two reports from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had concluded time is running out to limit global temperature rises, and that climate impacts are already harming hundreds of millions of people worldwide.
“Climate change is already wreaking havoc,” he said. “Ecosystems are being irreversibly destroyed. People are being forced from their homes and water insecurity has increased. But it is not only the science that tells us our situation is critical: we see the evidence all around us.”
In short, Sharma said, when world leaders assemble for COP27, they will have their work cut out for them—not least because they’ve made their own positions more difficult through lack of action.
Noting that nations would be expected to submit their revised emissions reduction targets, called NDCs, by September 23, in advance of COP27, he said: “When countries meet in Egypt, in six months they must show a global audience that the confidence we inspired in the international system was not misplaced.”
Acknowledging that the COP process “is imperfect,” Sharma insisted “it can work, it can deliver, and it is the best chance we have of tackling climate change.”
“We need every leader to show that their words were not hollow,” he pleaded. “That their commitments were made with integrity; and that they recognise though the immediate challenges are grave, we will only inflame them if we falter.”