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EU calls on other major emitters to do more to meet 1.5 degrees C goal

11 November 2021 Amena Saiyid

The European Delegation at the COP26 climate meeting urged the US, China, and India on 10 November to do more to reduce GHG emissions and to keep alive the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared with pre-industrial levels.

At a 11 November briefing, European Commission Executive Vice President Frans Timmermans, who led its work on the European Green Deal and the European Climate Law, which enshrined a 2050 climate-neutrality target into EU law, said the bloc is responsible for 8% of global GHG emissions, and cannot shoulder the entire responsibility of keeping the 1.5 degrees C goal alive.

"We are making the effort to reduce emissions with a speed that is unseen. Last year, we had a goal of 40%, and now we have a goal this year of 57%. You have to convince other emitters to go down the same path, perhaps with different measures. But if they do go down the same path that will keep the 1.5 goal alive," Timmermans said.

According to the Center for Energy and Climate Solutions, China, the EU, and the US were responsible for 46.1% of total global emissions in 2018. Factoring in India, Russia, Japan, and Brazil sees the contribution balloon to just over 60%.

To limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C, UN scientists warn that GHG emissions need to be reduced by 45-50% annually in the next eight years.

"Whatever the EU does, it has to be matched by others," said Timmermans, asserting that "even if the EU were to declare a 60% reduction, a 65% reduction, which is pie in the sky, and others do nothing it would not help the planet at all."

China, India must commit to carbon neutrality earlier

Peter Liese, a member of the European Parliament, who was present for the briefing, agreed with Timmermans.

Unless China and India are pushed to be carbon neutral earlier than they have committed, "we are definitely not able to control anything," he added.

At the start of the COP26 meeting, India announced a goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2070, a decade later than China's carbon neutrality ambition, and two decades later than what the Paris Agreement requires of its signatories.

The US and China announced a goal at COP26 to cooperate on efforts to reduce methane, a more potent GHG than CO2, but China stopped short of committing to a global methane pledge that the US and the EU initiated in September. Instead, China said it will develop a comprehensive methane plan by COP27 next year, "aiming to achieve a significant effect on methane emissions control and reductions in the 2020s."

Criticism of interim measures

The European delegation also fended off criticism that the EU has continued to invest in fossil fuel projects, while making public commitments to phasing out fossil fuels.

The delegation's remarks came shortly after the ministers of Denmark and Costa Rica launched an international coalition of governments and cities known as Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA) to promote a phased transition away from they are calling "an unstainable supply of oil and gas."

As yet, the EU, the US, and the UK have not signed onto this alliance, which requires its core members to commit to end new concessions, licensing, or leasing rounds for oil and gas production and exploration and to set a Paris-aligned date for ending oil and gas production and exploration on the territory over which they have jurisdiction.

According to the coalition, "estimates suggest that globally, if we are to have a reasonable chance of avoiding dangerous climate change, by 2050 we can burn no more than: 42% of proven oil reserves and 41% of proven gas reserves."

A week earlier, group of 25 countries, including the UK and US, plus development banks including the European Investment Bank, announced plans to end public financing for overseas fossil fuel projects by the end of 2022; it was the first such pledge that covers oil and natural gas investments. However, environmental groups say such announcements need to be followed by action.

Responding to this criticism, Timmermans said the bloc supports the positions of EU member countries that are heavily dependent on fossil fuels. For instance, coal-fired units comprise some 75% of Poland's generation fleet.

"What I can say is that exiting out of coal for a number of our member states will have to happen through an intermediary phase of using natural gas," he said, adding "that is a reality."

Timmermans made the case that investments in gas infrastructure are laying the groundwork for transporting "green gases" like ammonia and hydrogen manufactured through renewable energy-powered electrolysis in future.

"If we do it in a smart way, we can already start building the infrastructure we will be needing once hydrogen will be one of the main energy carriers and places to store energy in the European Union," Timmermans said.

Moreover, he said, the cost of adapting existing gas infrastructure is 25% cheaper than building new infrastructure.

An August IHS Markit report reached the same conclusion, saying repurposing infrastructure has technical challenges, but the costs, while significant are still lower than building entirely new facilities.

Keeping coal in the accord

A day earlier, the COP26 Presidency circulated a draft accord that included a first-time call to all parties to "accelerate the phasing out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels," but stopped short of including any deadlines.

Responding to concerns that some might want this language removed, Timmermans said the EU supports the "strong reference to coal" and fossil fuel subsidies in the final version of Glasgow agreement, and "removing it would be an extremely bad signal."

Globally, fossil fuel subsidies totaled $5.9 trillion in 2020, or about 6.8% of GDP, and are expected to rise to 7.4% of GDP in 2025, according to an International Monetary Fund paper released in late September.

"If the IMF calculates that we spend $11 million a minute on the fossil fuel industry, then we have a mountain to climb in the final declaration statement," he said, adding that the draft accord was "a good start."

Looking ahead, the European delegation said the world is way too far off its target of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees C. The delegation said it would like to see the world on a trajectory to reaching this goal within a year and would back efforts to make sure that the language in the final Glasgow agreement reflects that sentiment.

The world needs to not only focus on mitigation, it said, but also on adaptation, agreeing with COP26 President Alok Sharma and heads of developing countries that delivering on the $100-billion-a-year pledge made by rich nations more than a decade ago should take place as soon as possible, not in 2023.

"2023 is not satisfactory for us. It should definitely be next year," Liese said, adding that "industrialized countries must overcompensate."

In a statement, Greenpeace International Executive Director Jennifer Morgan said there were "no more excuses, time's up, our leaders need to deliver, and now."

Morgan called for a strong signal from world leaders on phasing out fossil fuels in the final agreement.

Posted 11 November 2021 by Amena Saiyid, Senior Climate and Energy Research Analyst

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