New German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called Wednesday for a “paradigm shift” in the way the world approaches climate policy, saying his country would leverage its presidency of the Group of Seven industrial nations this year to push for standards to fight global warming.
Climate discussions have been a key theme this week at a World Economic Forum meeting, which is being held online after COVID-19 concerns delayed its annual gathering in Davos, Switzerland. It included a panel with U.S. special envoy on climate John Kerry and billionaire Bill Gates that featured ideas environmentalists and scientists have challenged: that innovations yet to be invented or used widely would help drastically reduce emissions.
Unlike events such as last year's U.N. climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, the Davos meeting is more of a discussion of big ideas _ not where concrete agreements are made on how to act. Critics regularly fault the Davos event, whose origins date to 1971, for hosting economic and political elites who voice high-minded but often empty goals that are deemed out of touch with the needs of regular people.
In an address, Scholz focused on ambitions by Germany and the wider European Union to fight climate change.
“Europe has decided to become the first carbon-neutral continent by 2050; Germany wants to reach that goal in 2045 already a monumental task, but a task that we can and will master,'' he said.
Scholz added that Germany will use its G-7 presidency to “turn that group into the nucleus of an international climate club.''
“What we want to achieve is a paradigm shift in international climate policy. We will no longer wait for the slowest and least ambitious,'' he said. “Instead, we will lead by example, and we will turn climate action from a cost factor into competitive advantage by agreeing on joint minimum standards.''
Scholz said the “climate club,” which he first announced months ago when he was finance minister, would be open to all countries.
Several groups of countries have similar goals, including the High Ambition Coalition that aims to achieve the strictest target in the Paris climate accord – limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) by the end of the century compared with pre-industrial times.
Critics say such groups often include members with less-than-stellar climate records. Both Germany and the United States, for example, are not on track to meet their emission reduction goals and have pushed back against granting poor countries the kind of funding they seek to tackle climate change.
The targets Scholz suggested for the climate club – the 1.5-degree cap and climate neutrality by 2050 – are already part of or implied by the Paris accord. More significant, Scholz said the club could seek to achieve those goals “by pricing carbon and preventing carbon leakage.”
Those proposals are designed to prevent companies from shifting carbon-heavy industries to countries with less stringent emissions rules and putting nations like Germany at a competitive disadvantage.
While the idea has strong support within the European Union, whose members are used to negotiating compromise agreements for the common good, getting the U.S. and major developing countries such as China and India on board will be trickier.
Representing the U.S., Kerry urged businesses and governments to accelerate efforts to get technologies to scale that will help drastically reduce carbon emissions. Speaking on a panel about climate innovation, Kerry said most “critical technologies'' needed to reduce emissions were not moving fast enough.
“The world has to pick up the pace,” he said.
He and other panelists talked about “carbon capture,” the process of capturing and storing carbon dioxide before it gets into the atmosphere, and “green hydrogen,” splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen with energy from low-carbon sources.
The idea that technologies and markets are central to the climate change fight is a popular in some circles but also controversial because technologies like carbon capture are expensive, energy intensive and far from being used widely.
Carbon capture also was mentioned by an energy company executive in a separate panel on the energy transition, where Saudi Arabia's energy minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, stressed that the major oil producer was “proactively engaged with everybody'' as the world tries to reduce emissions.
The prince said fossil fuels would play a role alongside renewables and urged countries to use “every tool in the kit,'' including cleaner ways to use fossil fuels rather than simply eliminating them.
A group of Latin American leaders also discussed climate change in another panel, urging accountability from the largest carbon-emitting nations and help funding green agendas.
Guatemala President Alejandro Giammattei tied climate change to migration in the region because it saps resources, hampering growth opportunities. He said Central America barely causes 0.33 per cent of greenhouse gases, but countries there “suffer the most.”
“Every year, we have to rebuild the country because there are hurricanes,'' Giammattei said. “Many of our resources that should be dedicated to the generation of new opportunities must be directed toward the construction of roads, bridges, drinking water systems.''
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