Climate coalition: Pray the G20 succeeds where G7 failed

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A diplomatic misfire on the terms of the Paris Agreement led some to say the G7's climate coalition dwindled to just a G3. [European Commission]

Italy, Germany and France’s over eagerness to insist that the Paris Agreement is non-negotiable was a golden ticket for Washington’s climate change deniers. Europe shot itself in the foot, warns Corrado Clini.

Corrado Clini was Italy’s environment minister from 2011 to 2013 under Mario Monti.

The G7 Energy Ministers meeting held in April failed to agree on a common statement, due to six countries rejection of the United States request to amend the Paris Accord on climate change. This should come as no surprise.

It is a well-known fact that former US President Barack Obama did not ask the US Senate to ratify the Paris Agreement, his questionable strategy being instead to consider the agreement a “technical” implementation of the Framework Convention on Climate Change ratified by the US Senate in 1994, rather than an international treaty.

Prior to the G7 meeting, the US requested that talks be reopened in order to integrate the Paris Accord with measures and mechanisms that would correct any distortions caused by the agreement itself.

US oil companies, for instance, recommended introducing a global carbon tax that would directly impact source selection and energy end-use efficiency without causing any distortion.

Apparently, though, the Italian G7 presidency, France and Germany decided the US was simply scheming to make the Paris Accord fall through.

Hence, they hurriedly issued a statement claiming that in no way was the agreement negotiable. Perhaps they hoped that by sticking to their guns, they could coax Trump into treading more lightly.

In fact, the position taken up by Italy, France and Germany turned out to be a golden ticket for climate change deniers such as White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and staunch Paris Agreement opponents such as EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who became the de facto “winners” in America’s internal discussion on climate change.

In so many words, the Italian G7 presidency and the other participating European countries shot themselves in the foot. Furthermore, after the Trump’s decision, Canada, Japan and the United Kingdom softened their support for the European position.

As German newspaper Der Spiegel suggests, after the Taormina G7 the “climate coalition” dwindled from a G7 to a G3.

Why is the Paris Accord non-negotiable?

The a priori refusal to negotiate with the US is frankly unfathomable, particularly in view of the fact that the US Senate’s position was known since 2015.

Insisting that the Paris Accord is “irreversible and non-negotiable,” quite frankly, makes no sense. At the end of the day, the Accord is simply a very weak, preliminary platform for reducing global carbon emissions.

The Accord does not lay out any concrete measures and mechanisms to keep the global temperature rise within 2°C.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has repeatedly stressed that for the Accord’s objectives to be fulfilled, the weight of fossil fuels in the world energy portfolio must be cut from 86% to 50% by 2040. At the same time, global energy consumption is expected to rise by 35%, particularly in India, China, Africa and the Middle East.

An unprecedented challenge of this magnitude calls for common and coordinated worldwide measures and policies, none of which have been identified – let alone negotiated – in the Paris Accord.

EU countries in the decarbonisation game

Norway is committed to reduce its own carbon emissions by 40%, while the national oil company STATOIL is leading the race for Arctic and Barents sea oil: the oil exports in 2017 will be 10 times as much as Norway’s domestic carbon emissions!

Germany, G20 president, and Italy, G7 president, adopted a strong political commitment for the decarbonisation of the economy. Nevertheless, the energy policies in “real life” are moving in a  bit different direction.

The implementation of the German energy strategy (“Energiewende”) has driven renewable sources to supply nearly 35% of the country’s electricity. Nevertheless, from 2015 carbon emissions have been increasing slightly.

While Germany is continuing the phasing out of nuclear plants, the variability of renewable sources forces Germany to keep coal power plants running in order to ensure the continuity of electricity supply. In this context, in 2015 a new 1,600 MW coal-fired plant came in operation.

75% of energy supply in Italy is covered by fossil fuels, despite nearly 40% of electricity being produced by renewable sources.

The draft of the national energy strategy, focused on energy security and efficiency, will not be able to reduce by up to 50% the fossil fuels in the energy portfolio in the next 20 years, to meet the Paris Accord.

A complex puzzle

The Paris Accord hopes to handle this complex puzzle, made even more intricate by the symmetrical arguments of the involved parties, thanks to each country’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).

In the best case scenario, these INDCs are individually binding policy documents. Assuming that all the existing INDCs are complied with, the amount of fossil fuel in the global energy portfolio would drop to 70% by 2070. This is a far cry from the 50% objective set out by the IEA.

Furthermore, the IEA has also stated that achieving this goal alone would require investments for at least $15 trillion in the next 20 years in low-carbon technologies and infrastructures, particularly in emerging and developing economies where energy demands are rising.

In addition, the World Bank has estimated that facing the effects of extreme climate events will require a further $70-100 billion yearly.

The Paris Accord does not provide for specific measures such as overcoming barriers to investments and low-carbon technology transfer; nor does it lay out market mechanisms such as a carbon tax.

Starting today (7 July) the G20 will meet in Hamburg under a German presidency. Angela Merkel has announced a paper called “Action Plan on Climate Energy and Growth” that should foster talks with the US and, above all, with China, India, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria.

It is hard to know what to expect. The G7 experience and Europe’s disappointment at the failed agreement with China should suggest that it is better to leave aside all the “non-negotiable” rhetoric and focus instead on the real issues at hand if global decarbonisation is to be truly achieved.

Let’s hope Germany succeeds where Italy’s G7 presidency fell short.