The second day of the Leaders Summit on Climate convened by President Joe Biden kicked off April 23 with a clear message homing in on the need for international cooperation to combat climate change and a general consensus that rhetoric needs to be matched with swift action.
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"It is clear that the level of commitment to fight climate change has never been higher ... but, I will be blunt, commitments alone are not enough," Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, said at the summit. "Right now, the data does not match the rhetoric, and the gap is getting wider and wider."
2021 is on track to have the second largest increase in global emissions in history as "we are not recovering from COVID-19 in a sustainable way, and we remain on a path of dangerous levels of global warming," Birol said. Yet, there were also reasons for optimism, he said, with electricity from renewables set to break records this year and sales of electric cars also on pace for another record high.
"We will need to transform our entire energy system," more quickly deploy clean energy technologies and make "massive leaps in innovation" because "about half the reductions to get to net-zero emissions in 2050 will need to come from technologies that are not yet ready for market today," Birol said.
Birol cited the "Herculean task" of getting the global energy sector to net-zero by 2050 with require a tripling of clean energy investment opportunities over the next decade, according to a roadmap IEA plans to unveil May 18. "This will generate millions of well-paid jobs and create the industries of the future," he said.
'Polite but obvious frustration'
In addition to discussions with leaders participating in the virtual summit, US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry spoke with 63 other countries representing every region of the world during listening sessions held on the margins of the summit. Many of those countries produce just a fraction of the emissions causing global warming but are among the most impacted by the effects of climate change.
"Many, which was very encouraging, had extremely bold plans of their own to confront these challenges, but they lacked the capacity [and] resources to be able to implement those plans," Kerry said.
They expressed "polite but obvious frustration" with higher-emitting countries' inaction toward meeting the goals set in the Paris Agreement to keep global warming within 1.5 degrees Celsius, and also shared their own efforts on mitigation, adaptation and resilience, Kerry said.
"They hear the language from leaders about an existential threat ... but they ... know that we are not yet behaving as if it is an existential threat," Kerry said. "That is the challenge of today. And the message that we hope leaps out from today's panels is that no one is being asked for a sacrifice. This is an opportunity for better health, for great jobs, with extraordinary opportunities ... to grow our economies and to provide for much greater security for our nations."
US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm echoed that sentiment. She stressed that the notion that fighting climate change is a zero-sum game, requiring trade offs to the detriment of the economy and jobs, was a false narrative. Rather, the clean energy transition presents a $23 trillion global market, at a minimum, by 2030 that can be seized to remake economies and put millions to work, she said.
Granholm contended that countries must "raise our collective ambitions around climate change" so that by the end of the decade renewable power can reach every corner of the globe and "fearless innovation" can spur cost reductions in electric storage batteries, commercialize carbon capture and make blue and green hydrogen market-ready. "Perhaps most of all, we need a mindset that overcomes resistance to change," she said, adding that solving the climate crisis "is our generation's moonshot."
Granholm noted that the Department of Energy will be making announcements in the coming weeks on "new goals for bold, achievable leaps in next-generation technologies, starting with hydrogen, carbon capture, industrial fuels and energy storage."
Net-Zero Producers Forum
Prime ministers of Denmark, Israel, Kenya, Norway, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates shared their plans for tackling the climate crisis during a morning session at the summit. Denmark, for instance, said it is working to turn green electricity into green fuels and committed to a 70% cut in emissions by 2030, while the UAE discussed its role in providing loans for renewable energy projects around the world and its experience as the first nation in the Middle East to pursue carbon capture and storage technology.
Granholm expressed her excitement for the launch of the Net-Zero Producers Forum with oil-producing heavyweights Saudi Arabia, Norway, Canada and Qatar to develop long-term strategies for reaching global net-zero emissions. The countries involved represent about 40% of global oil production.
DOE said the group will focus on curbing methane, deploying carbon capture and storage technologies, and diversifying their economies from reliance on hydrocarbon revenues.
"To achieve our global climate goals we need cooperation from all major emitters, including oil and gas producing nations, to identify and act on solutions to phase out unabated fossil fuel emissions, while reducing emissions to the maximum extent possible in the interim," DOE said in a statement.
The UK and UAE were both left out of the announcement, despite being major producers with ambitions to curb emissions.