TAKING THE INITIATIVE: Carl Pope’s Blog
December 11, 2023 San Francisco, CA
As we head into its final week, COP28 risks running aground, distracted by disagreements – if important ones – over strategy in the 2040’s. Are we aiming to phase out fossil fuels or emissions from those fuels instead. What does the climate end game look like? Battles between Vice-President Gore and Cop President Sultan are serving neither of their objectives.
Important as that question is, the dispute around it is distracting the COP from a more important tasks: cutting emissions immediately, dramatically, by at least 40%. That’s 21 billion tons of emission reduction. The overall tenor of the dialogue about that short term 40% goal has been discouraging. The initial nationally determined contributions suggested by various countries fell far short of this goal. “How can we possibly do it?” has been the subtext of many conversations.
But surprisingly this COP has before it four highly available and practical strategies which, ambitiously embraced, might just get us to 21 billion tons by 2030.
First, meet the UN’s goal of tripling renewable energy to 11 GW. Double the rate of efficiency improvement from 2% to 4% per year. Already 116 countries have embraced these goals. A finance platform for clean energy, the Energy Transition Accelerator, has been formally launched. More is needed, particularly in bolder financing of clean energy by reforming the Multilateral Development Banks, but this scale of a renewable revolution could bring an end to 11 billion tons of current greenhouse pollution.
Second, Retire Coal Power plants: Global power-production from coal will peak in 2023 and begin to drop in 2024 as surging deployment of renewable energy displaces the dirtiest fossil fuel, according to research from Rystad Energy. The potential gains if coal could be largely replaced are at least 5 billion tons. Unresolved and worth this COP’s attention: how to retire relatively new coal plants in developing and emerging economies, while guaranteeing reliable power during growth surges. COP28 gets an incomplete mark on this one.
Methane: Leaked and released methane from oil, gas and coal productions is doing as much climate damage as 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide. It’s cheap and relatively easy to recover. 50 oil companies, pumping about half of the world’s production, including Aramco, Exxon, BP have just pledged “near zero” methane leaks by 2030. The European Union is setting limits on leaks from domestic and imported oil and gas. World Bank launched a fund to help developing economies retire coal. The COP has brought together multiple initiatives which can end methane leaks in the oil industry. So this ten billion tons is within each – without resolving the final schedule for moving beyond fossil fuels.
Deforestation: Brazil, in the global lead, has cut its deforestation 50% in 8 months. Brazil also assembled a forest protection alliance of other Amazon countries. President Lula, who will host COP30 issued a call for a massive global funding campaign to move from fighting deforestation to expanding reforestation. “It’s going to cost a lot of money. Rich countries have the money to pay for this.
This is what I am asking and what I need.” Impact: reduce emissions by up to 5 billion tons of CO2. COP has provided needed launch pad. So this COP has on its table emission reduction opportunities greater than the 21 billion ton target established by climate scientists for 2030. The COP also needs to focus on getting these reductions done, and setting up the world for the remaining hard to electrify economic sectors – climate friendly steel, chemicals, fertilizer, cement, aviation and shipping.
We need to start building green steel and mills and low carbon planes by 2030. We need to put more energy and resources into new initiatives like the Industrial Transition Accelerator, backed by $30M from Bloomberg Philanthropies and the COP28 Presidency, which seeks to turbocharge implementation across energy, heavy industry and transport sectors, in the world’s largest decarbonisation effort to date .
Even if by 2040 we have developed and scaled climate friendly, affordable technology for every important human need, there will remain legacy assets powered by climate destructive technologies. Communities dependent on mining coal won’t find it easy to shift to wind and solar. Companies invested or dependent on stranded carbon will resist shutting down their remaining gas power plants, LNG fired container ships, and crude oil reliant chemical and fertilizer factories. Their prosperity has depended upon these stranded assets. These are the issues which lie hidden in the noisy debates about “phasing out” versus “phasing down” fossil fuels. We haven’t honestly addressed such issues as: how do current oil dependent economies, particularly those whose oil revenues only barely keep them afloat, prosper in a post carbon world?
Here the conversation at COP28 so far is at its weakest—there are an abundance of ideas to tackle this problem, (most requiring some kind of taxes or fees) but a pathetically weak willingness to come together. We have only one climate. We need to begin this conversation – while understanding that it only matters if we take care of the immediate, urgent need – cutting green house pollution steeply before 2030.
To learn more about Carl’s views on the environment, energy and climate, read “Climate of Hope” which he has co-authored with former NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg and which can be purchased online or from your local book store.
A veteran leader in the environmental movement, Carl Pope is the former executive director and chairman of the Sierra Club. He’s now the principal advisor at Inside Straight Strategies, looking for the underlying economics that link sustainability and economic development and serves as a Senior Climate Advisor to former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He has served on the Boards of the California League of Conservation Voters, Public Voice, National Clean Air Coalition, California Common Cause, Public Interest Economics Inc, and Zero Population Growth.
Mr. Pope is also the author of the books: Sahib, An American Misadventure in India and Hazardous Waste In America. Carl Pope is the co-author with Michael Bloomberg of Climate of Hope: How Cities, Businesses, and Citizens Can Save the Planet. How to attack climate change as a series of manageable challenges, each with a solution that can make our society healthier and our economy stronger.