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Net Zero Sensemaker

Summit happened

Tuesday 15 June 2021

The world leaders left the G7 Summit in Cornwall yesterday promising “a green revolution”. But will their pledge actually translate into meaningful action?


Leaders from the Group of Seven wealthy democracies ended their summit in Cornwall with a communiqué that, on first reading, looks robust but whose language, on another reading, feels a bit slippery. This is particularly the case with the climate crisis.

The joint communiqué said G7 leaders supported “a green revolution that creates jobs, cuts emissions and seeks to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees” above pre-industrial times. And they recognised that coal power generation is the “single biggest cause of greenhouse gas emissions”. So far, so good.

But the leaders failed, for example, to set an end date on coal’s use in power generation. And they rejected a proposal to stop the production of diesel and petrol cars, and they barely got to the multi-billion dollar bill the developing world claimed to bring its own emissions down.

The EU presence wanted the summit to address carbon leakage – heavy polluters moving to other countries to escape higher emission standards – but only got an acknowledgement of the problem from other G7 leaders. So, the bloc’s forging ahead with a plan to levy high-emissions imports, which is good for the climate but isn’t an example of the broader, more effective international cooperation that the summit was meant to generate.

Right after the summit finished, Extinction Rebellion (XR) activists parked a van – covered with a banner that read “Still Drowning in Promises: Act Now” – across a road near the venue. It was a protest against what they called a “pathetic” climate outcome, but, by the time the van got there, G7 leaders had already left; some by air.

The discord plays into China’s hands. The country is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. It’s also the biggest coal consumer. It called the International Energy Agency’s recent report, which focused on ending the use of coal, unrealistic and said it doesn’t make allowances for developing countries.

China will seize on the summit’s non-position on coal for the UN’s big climate conference – COP26 – in November in Glasgow. Unless Italy, which hosts the G20 in October, can salvage a coherent message before then. It would be good news for Boris Johnson, who hosted last weekend’s summit and, on the climate, said, “I’m not going to pretend that our work is done.”


Science and Tech

China, sinking
A large share of China’s economic activity – trillions of dollars – is concentrated along its east coast, including $974 billion in Shanghai alone. Historically, this has been a good thing for the east coast. But, if sea levels rise as they’re predicted to because of climate change, then big problems lie ahead. TheFinancial Times (£) mapped fine-grained economic output and population data against projections of rising oceans for the year 2100, and found that some of the country’s – in fact, world’s – leading commercial hubs could suffer from higher tides and annual flooding, unless greenhouse gas emissions are cut drastically. China is one of the world’s leading greenhouse gas emitters. Its president, Xi Jinping, pledged “carbon neutrality” by 2060. By then, some of his country may already be underwater.


eco-nomics

German greens
Germany’s Green Party vowed to transform the country’s economy and accelerate its transition to carbon neutrality within the next 20 years, in an election manifesto it adopted on Sunday. Annalena Baerbock, the party’s candidate for chancellor, or head of government, said she wanted to turn Germany into a “socio-ecological market economy” by which she meant that companies that became carbon-neutral and localised their production would receive state compensation. Greens often make these promises, but are almost always too far from power to implement them. Baerbock may be different. Her party rode a wave of popularity during a state election last weekend but, after fierce attacks from the centre-right Christian Democrats and centre-left Social Democrats, registered sixth place. They’re now tracking at 22 per cent in the polls, compared to the ruling Christian Democrats’ 28 per cent.


activism

Swiss no
In Switzerland’s system of direct democracy, many issues are settled with referendums, including ones as big as climate change. Swiss voters narrowly rejected – 51 versus 49 per cent – the government’s plans for a car fuel subsidy and a tax on air tickets. The measures were designed to help the country meet its targets under the Paris Agreement on climate change: cut greenhouse gas emission to half their 1990 levels by 2030. Voters were worried about the measures’ impact on the economy, as it tries to recover from Covid restrictions. The vote makes it, environment minister Simonette Sommaruga said, “very difficult” for Switzerland to reach its climate goals.


policy

Spirit of Green
There are plenty of proposals for stopping or slowing global warming, and there are plenty of books about it, too. Here’s a new one that’s worth your time. The Spirit of Green was written by William Nordhaus, an esteemed economics professor at Yale University, and Nobel prize winner for his work on climate change. In the book he argues, quite simply and effectively, that there’s a “twin set of policies” to address the climate crisis: “One is carbon pricing and one is strong support for low-carbon technologies.” Both are necessary, neither is sufficient alone. Carbon pricing – really, a tax on carbon – isn’t enough to incentivise carbon-cutting technology – that needs direct government support. In the complex debate and recurrent summits around the climate crisis, it’s easier to forget that it all comes down to these twin policies. Nordhaus, by the way, thinks carbon neutrality by 2050 is “largely aspirational and not practical”.

Thanks for reading.

Paul Caruana Galizia
@pcaruanagalizia


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