SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (TBEN) — Given an energy crisis in Europe and progress being made in helping climate victims, the new United Nations climate chief said he will be content with a lack of new emission reduction measures coming out of the now concluded climate talks in Egypt.
It could have been worse, Simon Stiell, UN executive secretary for climate, said in a seaside interview with The The Bharat Express News. The talks led to the historic creation of a fund for poor countries affected by climate disasters, he said.
The progress made at last year’s global climate meeting in Glasgow continued. “There was no withdrawal. Which as a result, you might say, is very unambitious. And I would actually agree,” said a weary Stiell hours after Egypt’s climate talks concluded with a final 24-hour push.
“To say that … we have stood still. Yeah, that’s not great,” Stiell said. But he is still pleased with the overall outcome of the first set of climate talks he has overseen, especially the long-sought compensation fund for countries that have not caused warming.
Outside experts agree with Stiell that nothing has been done about the central issue of reducing emissions that cause climate change and disasters such as floods in Pakistan.
“In the shadow of the energy crisis, there were no major new climate protection commitments at the conference,” says climate scientist Niklas Hohne, founder of the NewClimate Institute in Germany. “Glasgow a year ago was a small but important step in the right direction, with many new national targets and new international initiatives. None of that happened this year.”
That’s despite the fact that more than 90 countries have repeatedly asked – many of them publicly – that the agreement include a phase-out of the use of oil and gas. The Glasgow agreement calls for a phase-out of “unabated coal” – that is, coal burning where the carbon goes into the atmosphere rather than being captured in some way. Poor countries point out that they rely more on coal, while oil and gas are used more in rich countries. These should also be phased out, they said. In his closing remarks during the talks, Stiell himself called for a phase-out of oil and gas.
But the Egyptian presidency never included the proposal, which came from India, in any of the decision documents. The country that organizes and leads the climate talks has the power to make that choice.
Critics – including negotiators during the talks – criticized the Egyptian presidency and its agenda setting. Environmental groups repeatedly pointed to Egypt’s dependence on natural gas exports, its role as an operator of the Suez Canal oil transportation and revenues from neighboring oil states. Oil and natural gas are both the main drivers of climate change.
Next year’s climate talks will take place in the United Arab Emirates, a major oil power. Environmental advocates and outside experts fear that the language for phasing out oil and gas will not get a fair chance next year either.
Asked about the wisdom of letting fossil fuel exporting countries organize and control climate talks, Stiell said, “They’re part of the problem, but they’re also part of the solution.” To try to manage this process without their involvement would be “an incomplete picture,” he said.
“The global economy is certainly still based on oil and gas. And that’s the challenge,” said Stiell.
Climate Analytics CEO Bill Hare, a climate scientist, called this a serious problem.
“The massive presence of oil and gas interests at the COP undermines the integrity of the UN climate process and could slowly erode its legitimacy,” Hare said. “The suspected influence of petrol states and oil and gas lobbyists on the Egyptian presidency is unhealthy, to say the least.”
E3G analyst Alex Scott said Egypt showed “a sense of willful ignorance” by not considering a document calling for an oil and gas phase halt. Petrostates’ influence on the presidency happens beyond the venue and “is the right question to ask,” she said.
Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, the chair of the climate talks, did not answer a shouted question on Sunday about the language for winding down oil and gas.
Stiell said countries need to keep coming back and putting pressure on each other to include language calling for a phase-out of oil and gas. That worked for this year’s most important achievement: the creation of a fund for poor countries that are victims of climate disasters.
But that too took more than 30 years.
While critics bashed Egypt and cited the influence of fossil fuel interests in the lack of action to reduce emissions, known as mitigation, Stiell attributed the inaction to other things going on.
He said there were complaints that last year’s climate talks were too focused on mitigation and that this year’s talks redressed the balance.
“You can’t soften too much!” Hohne responded in an email. The global goal of limiting temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times, “will remain in intensive care as conditions worsen. The conference met the minimum requirements, but that is nowhere near enough.”
But getting the climate fund was a big and all-consuming achievement, Stiell said. Before taking on the post of UN climate chief this summer, he worked as cabinet minister for the small island of Grenada.
“This is a 30-year discussion,” Stiell said. “I’ve been involved in that for ten years as Grenadia’s minister and I’ve heard how ‘this can’t be done’ and how ‘this is impossible’.”
Mohamed Adow of environmental group Powershift Africa agreed. “COP27 was a surprise precisely because for once the needs of the vulnerable were really listened to,” he said.
Looking back, Stiell said he’s still hopeful.
“So progress: step by step, small, insufficient. Much more needs to be done,” said Stiell, summarizing the fight against climate change. “We are still in the middle of crisis mode.”
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