“Today we agreed… to phase out and rationalize inefficient fossil fuel subsidies over the medium term while providing targeted support to the poorest. “
No, this is not a quote from the new ‘Glasgow Climate Pact’ agreed at the climate summit last month, but an agreement in 2009 – 12 years ago – by the G20 – a club of countries the richest in the world.
By the time the G20 text was adopted, momentum was building for a transformational climate summit in Copenhagen. Three years earlier, the Stern Review, of which I was a co-author, had carefully reversed the idea that the costs of action were too high.
Others, for the first time, had estimated the funding that might be needed to help poorer countries respond to climate change, contributing to a groundbreaking appeal made in 2009 by then British Prime Minister Gordon Brown , for a climate finance target of $ 100 billion for developed countries. now until 2020.
Nevertheless, the Copenhagen summit ended in disagreements, and the blame was placed on China, India, the United States and Europe, just as happened in the aftermath of the Cop26 in Glasgow.
But the reason I bring up the paragraph on fossil fuel subsidies is not to celebrate its new inclusion in the Glasgow text, but to reflect on why it took 12 years for a country agreement rich be included in a UN deal, despite the fact that the richest countries are the worst offenders in this regard.
Serious lack of progress
In particular, the question is what does this serious lack of progress mean for African countries.
Yes, other emissions-related deals were made in Glasgow – new net zero commitments especially from India and a few others, a whole new commitment to phase out coal, to name a few. -a.
The official analysis is that all of these commitments plus the 12-year-old fossil fuel deal – if honored – could limit global warming to 1.8 ° C above pre-industrial levels. Not as strong as the 1.5C agreed in principle in the Paris Agreement in 2015, but better than the 2.4C expected before the summit.
The problem is that large net zero commitments are too amorphous. Many commentators have written about the multidimensional transformation the world must see to reach 1.5C.
There are models. These include changes such as a complete abandonment of diesel and petroleum in the global transport sector, the use of green hydrogen by all steel and cement plants, the complete shutdown of all power plants. charcoal, etc.
These are measurable, traceable, and can be invoked in global negotiations and national elections if they are not met.
It is much more difficult for a general objective of reducing emissions. The governments of Canada, Japan, New Zealand and Russia can testify – in 2012, they withdrew or reneged on the first greenhouse gas reduction agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, with few national or international consequences. The United States never officially joined Kyoto.
And in Glasgow, when it came to missing the $ 100 billion climate target, developed countries once again said ‘we will try’.
Transformation is urgent
The problem is that – for Africans – just trying is not enough.
It’s not just the impacts and costs of adapting to higher levels of warming, nor of allowing African countries to continue using oil and gas for a while – the subject of several African editorials. before Cop26.
This is about really understanding that the structural transformation of the above sectors is urgent and cannot take 12 more years to be negotiated like the commitment of fossil fuel subsidies.
By 2050, with the deployment of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), “Made in Africa” should be the dominant label in African and global markets – and not “Made in China”.
But that will not happen if we always transport our goods with diesel or gasoline vehicles. This will not happen if we still have 600 million people without electricity and, by extension, stable internet access.
Just reaching today’s manufacturing levels in China implies an almost 15-fold increase in African manufacturing. We need the cost-cutting fallout from massive global and national investments in solar, wind and other renewables.
But Africa has yet to see this advantage – the continent accounts for just 2% of global renewable energy production, compared to 8% of hydrocarbon production.
If fossil fuel subsidies had been reduced globally 12 years ago, it might be the other way around now. We need to see the United States moving away from oil and gas use and investment as much as we need to see China stop coal use and investment.
For Africans, the location of the reduction is irrelevant – but technological change is everything.
The problem is that often world and African leaders are extremely unambitious. So are many non-African climate activists and advisers – many envision our societies remaining agricultural and conflict-ridden. It cannot be our future, even if it is the present reality for many.
This is why, if appropriate, a side deal to subsidize South Africa to move away from coal is perhaps the only significant positive to come out of Cop26 for Africa. It is precise and measurable, although it will be difficult.
As Africans look to Cop27 – which will take place in sunny Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, I hope our negotiators will not discuss an agreed text in 2009, but instead push for a much more detailed text. and measurable, based on ambitious goals. Development scenarios for Africa, for the continent and for the world.
Hannah Ryder is the CEO of Development Reimagined, a pioneering African-led international consulting firm based in China.