As COP27 begins, why Russia-Ukraine conflict could be a turning point in the battle to fight climate change

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The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27), being held in the resort town of Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt is expected to be a significant step towards attaining the world’s collective climate goals. COP27 will focus on accelerating efforts to achieve the 1.5-degree Celsius temperature target set under the Paris Agreement and reinforcing the Glasgow Pact aiming to turn the 2020s into a decade of climate action.

The COP26 Glasgow conference resonated with the sentiment that “we must do more” to protect communities and habitats from climate change. However, one year after the Glasgow summit, the world remains murkier on several fronts. A recent report from UN Climate Change shows countries are making efforts to bend the curve of greenhouse gas emissions downwards but these remain insufficient to limit global temperature rise to 1.5C. Reducing global emissions to half by 2030 and securing net zero by 2050 still look like a distant reality. Despite efforts to shift to a green economy, steps taken to cut global emissions remain inadequate.

Just as world leaders gear up for COP27, the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) flagship report, World Energy Outlook (WEO) 2022, reveals that the global energy crisis could prove to be a historic turning point towards a cleaner and safer future. The global energy crisis triggered by the Russia-Ukraine war is causing profound and long-lasting changes that have the potential to propel the transition to a more sustainable energy system, reveals the report. The tremors felt in the markets for natural gas, coal and oil have bared the vulnerability and fragility of the current global energy system and reiterate the urgency for energy security, the report warns.

The report also highlights that the global demand for fossil fuel will exhibit a peak or plateau near the end of this decade before ebbing towards the mid-century. Fatih Birol, head of the IEA, said the world is fast approaching a “pivotal moment in energy history” as demand for fossil fuels, which have underpinned the modern industrial economy, nears an inflexion point.

This is expected to boost large investments in renewable energy. This may be some good news ahead of COP27. Global fossil fuel consumption has grown alongside GDP since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century. Reversing this trajectory will be a milestone in climate action.

Significant developments have taken place in the renewable energy segment. According to IEA, renewable energy installations broke new records in 2021 and these are expected to rise by 8 per cent by the end of 2022, despite supply chain intricacies and the high initial infrastructure and installing costs. Renewable energy growth is accelerating faster than ever, supporting the rise of the green energy economy with solar energy accounting for 60 per cent of the increase this year.

India is making the shift to cleaner energy, with a target to draw 40 per cent of its installed electric power from non-fossil fuels by 2030. In India, the rate of growth in renewable energy doubled in 2021. India is now in the 4th position globally in terms of overall installed renewable energy capacity.

Being a tropical country, India experiences bright sunny weather for nearly 300 days a year. About 5,000 trillion kWh of energy per year is incident over India’s land area. Solar power can be harnessed due to its huge potential for scalability permitting decentralised distribution of energy thereby, empowering people at the grassroots level through employment generation. Decentralised off-grid standalone solar electrification is seen as a solution for unelectrified households located in remote villages, where grid extension is not feasible or cost-effective.

The environmental case for clean energy needs no reinforcement, but rising concerns over energy security are likely to galvanise even more support for renewables. The cost of renewable energy is falling and there are sound economic justifications in the long run for the transition. The price of solar technologies has plummeted in the last few years. Solar power is now the cheapest electricity.

By 2026, global renewable electricity capacity is forecasted to rise more than 60 per cent from 2020 levels – equivalent to the current total global power capacity of fossil fuels. This looks promising, though experts warn that even this pace of deployment would fall short of the net zero emission goal set for 2050.

At COP26, parties also committed to a 100 per cent zero-emission transport future, auguring well for electric vehicles. Transport accounts for one-fifth of global carbon dioxide emissions. Road travel accounts for three-quarters of transport emissions. The focus on electric vehicles has resulted in their sales doubling in key markets in 2021. The scope of the electric vehicle market is multidimensional and there are several beneficiaries in the EV ecosystem. The EV industry in India has the potential to create some 10 million direct jobs and 50 million indirect jobs by 2030, according to the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship. Though many green campaigners believe that public transport and not electric cars is the real solution, the fact that countries are adding clean transport considerations into their nationally-determined contributions as part of mitigation and adaptation strategies is a good indicator nevertheless.

The enormity of the climate emergency requires committed and sustained efforts. It mandates meaningful engagement of a wide range of stakeholders. Manufacturers and service providers need to be incentivised to invest in climate-friendly solutions. Consumers and end users too have a responsibility.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has issued startling assessments of how humans have pushed the climate into unprecedented territory, documenting the deteriorating climate scenario around the globe and underlining the “brief and rapidly closing” window humans have to avoid catastrophic consequences. The UN chief called the findings “a code red for humanity”, with worse climate impacts to come unless greenhouse gas emissions fall dramatically.

We cannot continue to live in denial. Global warming is causing extreme weather changes at an astonishing rate. People are losing lives and habitats due to deadly and frequent heatwaves, floods and droughts triggered by the climate crisis.

No nation has disavowed any promises made at COP26 nor is there any backsliding. Countries have kept the 1.5-degree Celsius climate pledge alive. However, the pulse continues to remain weak. COP26 was about ambition. COP27 has to be about implementation and action. It should focus on strengthening the building blocks to set the world on a more sustainable, low-carbon pathway.

The road from Glasgow to Sharm el-Sheikh has been long and winding and is bumpy even ahead, but we all have to embark on the journey together.

The writer is professor, Department of Business Administration, Faculty of Management Studies & Research, Aligarh Muslim University

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