UN floats plan to boost renewables as climate worries mount

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By JAMEY KEAT­EN | AS­SO­CI­AT­ED PRESS

 

GENE­VA (AP) — The Unit­ed Na­tions chief on Wednes­day launched a five-point plan to jump-start broad­er use of re­new­able en­er­gies, hop­ing to re­vive world at­ten­tion on cli­mate change as the U.N.’s weath­er agency re­port­ed that green­house gas con­cen­tra­tions, ocean heat, sea-lev­el rise, and ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion reached record highs last year.

«We must end fos­sil fu­el pol­lu­tion and ac­cel­er­ate the re­new­able en­er­gy tran­si­tion be­fore we in­cin­er­ate our on­ly home,» U.N. Sec­re­tary-Gen­er­al An­to­nio Guter­res said. «Time is run­ning out.»

His lat­est stark warn­ing about pos­si­ble en­vi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ter comes af­ter the World Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal Or­ga­ni­za­tion is­sued its State of the Cli­mate Re­port for 2021, which said the last sev­en years were the sev­en hottest on record. The im­pacts of ex­treme weath­er have led to deaths and dis­ease, mi­gra­tion, and eco­nom­ic loss­es in the hun­dreds of bil­lions of dol­lars — and the fall­out is con­tin­u­ing this year, WMO said.

«To­day’s State of the Cli­mate re­port is a dis­mal litany of hu­man­i­ty’s fail­ure to tack­le cli­mate dis­rup­tion,» Guter­res said. «The glob­al en­er­gy sys­tem is bro­ken and bring­ing us ever clos­er to cli­mate cat­a­stro­phe.»

In his plan, which leans in­to the next U.N. cli­mate con­fer­ence tak­ing place in Egypt in No­vem­ber, Guter­res called for fos­ter­ing tech­nol­o­gy trans­fer and lift­ing of in­tel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty pro­tec­tions in re­new­able tech­nolo­gies, like bat­tery stor­age.

Such am­bi­tions – as with his call for trans­fers of tech­nolo­gies aimed to fight COVID-19 – can cause in­no­va­tors and their fi­nan­cial back­ers to bris­tle: They want to reap the ben­e­fits of their knowl­edge, in­vest­ments and dis­cov­er­ies — not just give them away.

Sec­ond­ly, Guter­res wants to broad­en ac­cess to sup­ply chains and raw ma­te­ri­als that go in­to re­new­able tech­nolo­gies, which are now con­cen­trat­ed in a few pow­er­ful coun­tries.

The U.N. chief al­so wants gov­ern­ments to re­form in ways that can pro­mote re­new­able en­er­gies, such as by fast-track­ing so­lar and wind projects.

Fourth, he called for a shift away from gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies for fos­sil fu­els that now to­tal a half-tril­lion dol­lars per year. That’s no easy task: Such sub­si­dies can ease the pinch in many con­sumers’ pock­ets – but ul­ti­mate­ly help in­ject cash in­to cor­po­rate cof­fers too.

«While peo­ple suf­fer from high prices at the pump, the oil and gas in­dus­try is rak­ing in bil­lions from a dis­tort­ed mar­ket,» Guter­res said. «This scan­dal must stop.»

Fi­nal­ly, Guter­res says pri­vate and pub­lic in­vest­ments in re­new­able en­er­gy must triple to at least $4 tril­lion dol­lars a year. He not­ed that gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies for fos­sil fu­els are to­day more than three times high­er than those for re­new­ables.

Those U.N. ini­tia­tives are built up­on a cen­tral idea: That hu­man-gen­er­at­ed emis­sions of green­house gas in the in­dus­tri­al era have locked in ex­cess heat in the at­mos­phere, on the Earth’s sur­face, and in the oceans and seas. The knock-on ef­fect has con­tributed to more fre­quent and se­vere nat­ur­al dis­as­ters like drought, hur­ri­canes, flood­ing and for­est fires.

Cli­mate sci­en­tist Zeke Haus­fa­ther of the tech com­pa­ny Stripe and Berke­ley Earth, a non-prof­it fo­cused on en­vi­ron­men­tal da­ta sci­ence, says a good way to head to­ward net-ze­ro emis­sions is «to make clean en­er­gy cheap.»

«While rich coun­tries can af­ford to spend ex­tra on clean en­er­gy, poor and mid­dle-in­come coun­tries may be less will­ing to ac­cept trade-offs be­tween re­duc­ing emis­sions and lift­ing mil­lions out of ab­ject pover­ty,» he said. «If clean en­er­gy sources are cheap­er than fos­sil fu­els, they be­come win-win and will be adopt­ed more rapid­ly.»

The WMO re­port breaks lit­tle new ground in terms of da­ta but com­piles ear­li­er stud­ies in­to a broad­er pic­ture of the glob­al cli­mate.

Its sec­re­tary-gen­er­al, Pet­teri Taalas, point­ed to a down­ward blip in emis­sions in 2020 when the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic damp­ened hu­man ac­tiv­i­ty. But he said that doesn’t change the «big pic­ture» be­cause car­bon diox­ide – a lead­ing green­house gas – has a long life­time and lingers on, and emis­sions have been grow­ing since then any­way.

«We have seen this steady growth of car­bon diox­ide con­cen­tra­tion, which is re­lat­ed to the fact that we are still us­ing too much fos­sil fu­el,» Taalas said in an in­ter­view. «De­for­esta­tion in re­gions like Ama­zon, Africa and south­ern Asia still con­tin­ue.»

Last year’s U.N. cli­mate con­fer­ence in Glas­gow, Scot­land, failed to muster car­bon-cut­ting pledges from the «BRICS» coun­tries — Brazil, Rus­sia, In­dia, Chi­na, and South Africa — which threat­en a key goal of the 2015 Paris ac­cord to lim­it glob­al warm­ing to 1.5 de­grees Cel­sius, he said.

«We are rather head­ing to­wards 2.5- to 3-de­gree warm­ing in­stead of 1.5,» Taalas said.

Cli­mate ex­perts laud­ed the U.N. am­bi­tions and lament­ed the WMO find­ings, and said some coun­tries are head­ed in the wrong di­rec­tion.

«If cli­mate change is death by one thou­sand cuts, in 2021 we took our thou­sandth,» said Rob Jack­son, pro­fes­sor of Earth Sys­tem Sci­ence at Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty, who al­so chairs the Glob­al Car­bon Project that tracks car­bon emis­sions.

«Dirty coal use roared back through eco­nom­ic stim­u­la­tion in­cen­tives for COVID in Chi­na and In­dia. We built more new coal plant ca­pac­i­ty world­wide than we took of­fline,» he added. «How is this pos­si­ble in 2021?»

Jonathan Over­peck, a pro­fes­sor of en­vi­ron­men­tal ed­u­ca­tion at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan, not­ed that fos­sil fu­els have a role in the Russ­ian gov­ern­ment’s war in Ukraine. Rus­sia is a key glob­al pro­duc­er of oil and gas, in­clud­ing through a pipeline that tran­sits Ukraine to sup­ply homes and busi­ness­es in Eu­rope.

«The sec­re­tary-gen­er­al has it right in point­ing the blame at fos­sil fu­els. Fos­sil fu­els are cre­at­ing an ever-wors­en­ing cli­mate cri­sis and all that comes with it,» Over­peck said. «The so­lu­tion for cli­mate change, the dead­ly air pol­lu­tion and true na­tion­al se­cu­ri­ty is to leave fos­sil fu­els be­hind in favour of clean re­new­able en­er­gy.»

«It’s get­ting scary,» he added. «The cli­mate cri­sis and the Eu­ro­pean war are a call to ac­tion, and to rid the plan­et of fos­sil fu­els as fast as we can.»

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AP Sci­ence Writer Seth Boren­stein in Wash­ing­ton con­tributed to this re­port.

LINK ORIGINAL: The Trinidad Guardian

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