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International leaders detail energy transition, cleantech progress, pledge new initiatives
Representatives of nations from around the world spoke at last week's Leaders Summit on Climate about their current efforts to reduce emissions and offset carbon, as well as to announce new pledges to move rapidly on the pathway to net zero.
The summit was organized by the US, with American government officials and company executives dominating the proceedings. US President Joe Biden used the occasion to pledge to reduce US carbon emissions by 50-52% by 2030 (from 2005 levels) in a new nationally determined contribution (NDC), or nearly twice the US' prior commitment of 26-28%.
The engagement of the US was lauded by government and nongovernmental participants, but they also expressed concern about the immense effort that still needs to be taken to get the world in line to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2050.
"It is clear that the commitment to fight climate change has never been higher," said Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA) on 23 April, "but commitments alone are not enough. We need real change in the real world. Right now, the data does not match the rhetoric, and the gap is getting wider and wider."
IEA's modeling indicates that nearly half of the emissions reductions required to reach net zero will need to come from technologies that are not yet ready on a commercial scale, Birol said. "This calls for massive leaps in innovation — in batteries, hydrogen, synthetic fuels, carbon capture, and many other technologies," he said.
"This is a herculean task," Birol continued. "Reaching net zero will require that we triple clean energy investment over the next decade alone — and that will create millions of well-paid jobs and industries of the future."
During the second day of the summit on 23 April, prime ministers and presidents of numerous nations gave brief updates about how their nations are addressing the challenges of reducing carbon and seizing the opportunities to create jobs.
One of the world's leaders in developing offshore wind, Denmark operates hundreds of turbines in the North Sea and generates almost 50% of its annual power demand from wind, said Prime Minister Mette Fredericksen. The country is well on its way to meeting its goal of a 70% GHG emissions reduction by 2030 from 2005 levels, she said.
More is coming: the world's first energy island, an artificial platform in the North Sea that would house as many as 200 turbines. "That's our Danish vision … an island creating clean electricity, clean fuels, green innovation for millions of European households," she said.
Planning is underway for the project, which has a 2033 startup date, according to prior Danish announcements. It will have an initial capacity of 3 GW, expandable to 10 GW.
With inexpensive clean energy, Denmark is now turning its attention to developing green fuels, such as hydrogen, she said. "This will create plenty of green jobs offshore, onshore, in ports, test facilities, in industry," she said.
The nation's largest industrial companies are onboard, as well. Denmark's largest shipping company, Maersk, will launch its first carbon-neutral container ship in 2023. Orsted, which was Denmark's largest fossil fuel company, now is, according to Fredericksen, "the world's largest sustainable energy company."
"By 2025, barring unforeseen circumstances, Israel will no longer be burning coal," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, as the country shifts to an all renewable energy mix by 2050. The country's demand in 2019 was nearly 70 terrawatt-hours, of which oil provided about 40% of the energy in 2019, coal 34%, and natural gas 19%, according to the BP Statistical Review of Energy.
Renewables in the form of solar power leaped from 2% of energy production to nearly 10% in 2020, Netanyahu said, and the country's goal is for solar to supply one-third of its power by 2030.
"The challenge we face is solar energy storage," Netanyahu said. "Hundreds of Israeli startups are working on this and related issues. They have received billions of dollars, and they will receive more because I'm convinced that Israeli science and Israeli ingenuity will enable us to play our part in the global transition to a net-zero carbon economy."
Kenya updated its NDC December 2020 to a 32% GHG reduction by 2030, and President Uhuru Kenyatta said it will have a net-zero plan for 2050 ready by the time COP26 is held in November.
"Clean energy already accounts for about 90% of total electricity supply in Kenya, and we intend to increase it to 100% by the year 2030," Kenyatta said.
"Our geothermal potential is great, and the amount currently tapped is less than 10%; this presents huge investment opportunities across the value chain, and the opportunity to employ young Africans across the country," Kenyatta added.
Kenya is home to one of the largest wind farms in Africa, Turkana, and is investing in distributed solar power as a way to enable rural residents to shift away from kerosene for lighting. Also on the agenda is shifting the 80% of Kenyans who rely on biomass for cooking to using clean sources by 2028, he said.
However, Kenyatta said that funding is an issue. He cited a United Nations report that the current cost of mitigation for and adaptation to climate change in the developing world is about $70 billion per year, and it's expected to rise $140 billion-$300 billion/year by 2030 if no action is taken today. "All countries [need to] take bold measures to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas net emissions over the next 10 years, and better-off countries, working in collaboration with our private sectors, should support developing countries secure the resources required … to implement climate adaptation programs," he said. "The consequences of our inaction are indeed dire."
"A high price on carbon is critical" to achieving global net-zero goals, said Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg. Her country puts its money where its mouth is, as it currently has one of the world's highest taxes on carbon, 590 Krone/mt (about $71). Solberg's government last year proposed raising it to 2,000 Krone/mt (about $237) by 2030.
With taxes and other incentives, Norway is a world leader in the energy transformation, with electric vehicles accounting for nearly half of new car sales, she said. "We have changed consumer preferences," Solberg added.
Next on the agenda is a plan to halve emissions from domestic shipping and fishing by 2030, she said.
Norway, like its neighbor Denmark, is a leader in offshore wind development, and Solberg said Norway will consider connecting to Denmark's offshore wind island when it comes onstream. It has also been able to export its expertise, with Stavanger-based Equinor the developer of the Empire Wind project off the coast of New York State, which is set to power 1 million homes.
It's also investing in carbon capture and sequestration, with construction to start in 2022 at the $2.6-billion Longship CCS Project, which will capture CO2 from industrial facilities, transport it by ship to an offshore rig, and pipe it into a reservoir for permanent storage.
Finally, Norway has been playing a leadership role in stopping deforestation, according to Stolberg, by making available high-resolution satellite imagery of all tropic forests. "This is helping to improve management and improve performance … [and greater confidence] will mobilize capital for countries that cut deforestation."
Norway is one of the founding members of the Lowering Emissions by Accelerating Forest Finance (LEAF) Coalition, which was launched during the same week as the summit to raise at least $1 billion annually for large-scale reforestation and sustainable development.
Island nation Singapore was among the first 20 countries to submit an NDC, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Now with computer modeling, it is seeking to mitigate the effects of warming on its urban environment while using its position as a financial hub to facilitate the energy transition. "We launched a $2-billion green investment program to develop carbon trading, sustainability services, and environmental risk management," he said. "One promising area we see is in emissions verification, including using new technology to measure the carbon footprint [of facilities] and monitor abatement."
The Singapore Green Plan 2030 was launched this year, Lee said, and it includes a commitment to quadruple solar energy production by 2025 and plant 1 million trees. The country will start operations next year at what he called one of the world's largest floating energy solar systems, which will offset 33,000 mt of CO2 annually.
United Arab Emirates
Although the United Arab Emirates is one of the world's largest oil-exporting countries, Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum said the country also is a regional and global leader in renewables. "We have made a strategic decision 15 years ago to invest in renewable and in low-carbon technologies," he said. "Today, we operate two of the largest solar plants in the world. We have decided to establish a third that will be the largest independent in the world."
UAE invests in renewables projects in 70 countries, and Al Maktoum said it's the first country in the Middle East to try to develop carbon capture and storage technology. This will further reduce the carbon footprint of its oil and gas operations, which he said "is the lowest-carbon-emitter in the world."
For Poland, the near-term focus is on coal power, which produced about 70% of its electricity in 2020. The country's climate plan aims to reduce that to 11% by 2050, said President Andrzej Duda. On 22 April, the government came to an agreement with the nation's coal miners on phasing out operations by 2049, which he said is a key step towards a fair energy transition.
Cross-border cooperation also is critical, as Duda spoke of the "Three Seas Initiative" of nations that have access to the Adriatic, Baltic, and Black seas. "It is clear to us that we have to implement ambitious policy … and the environment will be our prime discussion in the Three Seas Initiative region meeting in July," he said.
One area where Polish industry is thriving is in the electrification of transport. "We are now the biggest exporter of E-buses in the EU, with a 46% market share in 2020," he said. "And Poland has become a European leader in production of lithium-ion batteries."
As an example of how international cooperation can help address clean energy needs, Duda hailed the Poland-US 30-year agreement to develop Poland's civil nuclear power industry, signed in October 2020.
Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez spoke about the importance of "putting people at the center of the transition [because] the process of decarbonization will produce winners and losers."
Spain's experience might provide lessons for other countries, he said, as it has closed numerous coal mines and coal-fired power plants in the last three years. "By 2022, we will have phased out 85% of coal generation that existed in 2018. This was done with social dialogue, with workers, unions, and businesses — to channel investments, restore our environment, protect workers and small- and medium-size enterprises," Sanchez said.
The opportunities outweigh the costs, he said, as the country believes that three times as many jobs, euro-for-euro, will be created with renewables investments than in traditional energy investments. "Our goal is to invest more than €230 billion in the next decade in Spain. This will create 250,000 to 300,000 jobs, mostly in manufacturing and construction," Sanchez said.
Vietnam is bearing a heavy load from climate change, said President Nguyen Xuan Phuc. "Last year alone, extreme weather took hundreds of lives and reversed decades of economic progress [in some areas]," he said. One of the nation's primary rice-growing regions is at risk from sea level rise.
"We need a suitable roadmap for developing countries where much hardship remains. The transition must be just and inclusive," he said. "Developed countries must continue to take the lead in emission reduction commitments while giving greater support to developing countries, including Vietnam, investing in new technology, infrastructure, and job creation."
Vietnam has submitted an NDC, and it's now writing laws to enforce policies to reach its targets of reducing emissions 9% by 2030 with internal investments and up to 27% with sufficient international financial support. Its plans include reducing coal-based generation, while raising the share of renewables to 20% of power production by 2030 and 30% by 2035. Vietnam expects to reduce the carbon intensity of its agriculture sector by 10% by 2030. And in April 2021 it launched a program to plant 1 billion trees by 2030. "This alone will absorb 2-3% of our carbon by 2030," Lee said.
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