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16 November 2022

Hypocrisy, Procrastination and Progress at COP

So far COP 27 has been a lot of talking without enough concrete action, but over the last week there have been some significant decisions that could have lasting consequences.

Mexico has increased its nationally defined contribution (NDC) to reducing its emissions from 22% up to 35% relative to a business-as-usual scenario by 2030. The country plans on doing this by investing $40 billion into 40GW of renewable generation sources including solar generation in the Sonoran Desert. This is something the country is in dire need of considering its reliance on oil and natural gas for its electricity generation. 2021 saw Mexico generating nearly 90% of its electricity from fossil fuel consumption. Following on from earlier discussion at the event concerning methane leakage, the country also said it would pay more attention to its methane output at its existing natural gas extraction facilities.

The country’s original NDC of 22% reductions by 2030 was heavily criticized at the time, with many claiming the country was being intentionally unambitious as it balked at the amount of investment needed to convert its power generation, currently almost entirely fossil-fuel based. This amendment is a good reminder that sometimes a country will change its path when presented with the destruction it continues to impose on others.

Elsewhere on energy day at COP 27, coal remained a topic of heated discussion. A proposal has been put forward to phase down fossil fuel usage globally, amending a proposal from COP 26 that originally proposed solely to phase out coal usage. When this was originally proposed at COP 26, it was edited at the last minute by the US, China, and India to phase “down” coal instead, reducing the proposal’s effectiveness significantly.

We’re seeing much of the same thing happening here, India has proposed to include all fossil fuels within this proposal because it is less specific, making it more difficult to enforce, and it is less impactful on India directly considering its extensive coal usage.

Saudi Arabia’s minister of state for foreign affairs, Adel al-Jubeir, in response to this proposal has commented saying “tackling climate change is not about fossil fuels” which I can only assume was his attempt at one-upping the Conservative Climate Caucus from last week in saying the most asinine thing at the event so far.

The controversial hosts of this event, Egypt, struck a deal this morning with the European Commission to establish the trade of renewable hydrogen. The two entities have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to lay groundwork for the trade of renewable hydrogen and a green energy transition in Egypt. Egypt’s minister for International Cooperation has also signed a joint statement with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development outlining the Bank’s contribution of €35 million to Egypt’s Energy Wealth Initiative.

This all comes after Egypt and the EU’s deal in June of this year for Egypt to increase its LNG exports in support of Europe’s energy crisis arising from Russia’s war in Ukraine. To satisfy European gas demand, Egypt has significantly increased its consumption of a fuel called mazut – a heavy fuel oil – alongside the decision to ration gas usage in the country to free up more for export. In August Egypt’s prime minister announced it expected to export 15% of its gas production. Mazut, which was being used as a substitute to the now rationed natural gas, is a longer chain hydrocarbon than diesel, and as hydrocarbon fuels get longer and larger they burn less cleanly resulting in more pollution. Mazut’s usage in the country increased from 3.67% in October of last year compared to 20.95% in October of this year, representing a considerable increase in the last year alone.

When questioned about the use of mazut, COP 27 envoy Wael Aboulmagd claimed that “As a developing country, we have the prerogative to continue to grow and for our emissions to increase, but cognizant of the emergency.” Which could just as easily be done through installing solar capacity considering the region’s incredible irradiative potential, but apparently you can’t grow without increasing emissions, which is news to us. The country had originally planned to completely phase out the usage of mazut by 2021, and in September of 2021 less than 1% of mazut was used in gas plants.

What this shows is that Egypt is happy to use the excuse of being a developing country for opportunistic deals that arise regardless of social and environmental consequence. This hardly advertises the country as a fitting host for the year’s most important climate conference considering its inability to stick to environmentally beneficial targets like the elimination of mazut.

There has also been some developments on the status of loss and damage reparations, Japanese environment minister Akihiro Nishimura has said that his country will consider providing funds through a World Bank framework to support developing countries suffering climate related loss and damage, and that the country would also support the development of early warning systems covering the Asia-Pacific region. We would like to see some kind of provision for mitigation rather than solely detection in this proposal, but this is a good and necessary start.

The G77 bloc of developing nations and China are preparing a proposal outlining the principle and operating policies for a loss and damage fund to be established by the next round of talks in Dubai next year, implying that a long-lasting loss and damage fund may not materialize in its final state as these countries look to supersede the Global Shield initiative put forward by Germany.

Finally, US and Chinese envoys have met officially to discuss increased cooperation over climate matters now that the US midterm elections have gone better than expected. The Democrat party’s retention of the Senate has kept open the path for discussion of increased US contribution to international development and climate change mitigation, which has been seen by the US contributions to Indonesia resulting from the ongoing G20 conference.