Making big promises at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow was hard; six months later, governments are finding out that actually following through on them is even harder.
Ministers and representatives from more than 40 countries will be in Copenhagen on Thursday to ensure climate efforts aren’t overshadowed by the war in Ukraine, a still-lethal pandemic and food and energy crises.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry wants them to focus on November’s COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, so that by the time governments arrive in Egypt, they should be able to “lay out a clear path towards turning pledges into tangible action on the ground.”
But his co-host for the Copenhagen meeting, U.K. Minister and COP26 President Alok Sharma, acknowledged: “The Putin regime’s brutal and illegal invasion of Ukraine has changed international politics fundamentally.”
The hope in Copenhagen, six months after COP26 and six months before COP27, is that the meeting can reboot climate diplomacy with a show-and-tell session for ministers to report what they’ve achieved since Glasgow.
For many, it might be a little uncomfortable.
U.S. climate envoy John Kerry told the Guardian this week the war had led to an “unfortunate and dangerous resurgence of business as usual” in some countries that threatened to push the world off course for its climate goals.
Nowhere is that more apparent than in Kerry’s home country.
The Ukraine crisis has thrust the U.S. back to touting its oil and gas prowess as it seeks to help the EU rapidly end its reliance on Russian oil and gas. The White House is also under growing political pressure from soaring energy prices at home, imperiling Joe Biden’s presidency and the Democratic Party’s control of Congress.
That’s forced the administration into an about-face on commitments to end fossil fuel production on public lands and to approve new capacity for exporting liquefied natural gas to Europe.
Congress has also buried Biden’s key climate legislation and funding for climate action in developing countries. That’s testing the patience of Washington’s European allies, who are looking to Biden to fulfill his promise to be a climate leader.
“They know they are running out of road and need to step up,” said a European diplomat.
Europe feels the impact
The EU is also prioritizing conventional energy in its rush to abandon Russian coal, oil and gas. The bloc’s leaders are signing new deals to import gas, committing to build new LNG terminals and prioritizing deliveries of ship-borne non-Russian crude, while coal-dependent countries shift deadlines for shutting down polluting power stations.
Renewables also play a role. Next week the European Commission is expected to flesh out details of its REPowerEU plan to unhook itself from Russian energy, which will accelerate clean power. According to a draft seen by POLITICO, that will include an effort to mandate that all new buildings are fitted with rooftop solar.
Legislatively, the EU is in better shape than its transatlantic ally, with its Green Deal proposals working their way steadily through negotiations between Brussels’ various lawmaking bodies.
But even there the collision between ambition and reality is making going tougher than many expected, said Mohammed Chahim, the Dutch vice president of the European Parliament’s center-left Socialists & Democrats and a key lawmaker on climate legislation.
Worried about cost-of-living pressure on citizens, many EU governments have criticized the Commission’s planned extension of its cap-and-trade Emissions Trading System to also cover buildings and transport. Similarly, proposals to green agricultural policy face reversal.
“Everyone wants change, but nobody wants to change,” said Chahim, adding that it’s easy to vote for measures like the EU’s Climate Law, but it’s much tougher to carry out the steps needed to reach climate neutrality by 2050.
It’s not just major industrialized economies feeling the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Europe’s scramble to secure more LNG could divert fuel away from poorer importing nations that instead turn to coal, warned Rachel Kyte, dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University who is aiding U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on the humanitarian response to Russia’s invasion.
Soaring oil and gas prices are also boosting the profits of energy majors.
Meanwhile, China, the world’s biggest carbon emitter, is distracted by an outbreak of COVID, energy security concerns and President Xi Jinping’s effort to secure a third term after a decade in power. That could put a dampener on hopes China might raise its headline climate goals this year, according to Bernice Lee, futures research director at the Chatham House think tank.
But on the ground in China the clean energy transition is gathering pace. Carbon Brief analysis found solar and wind capacity would double between 2020 and 2025, reaching 1,100 gigawatts — close to three times the amount installed in Europe. Meanwhile, Chinese banks are clamping down on finance for foreign coal projects.
Despite the preoccupation with the war, climate change is unrelenting. The world has a 50-50 chance of temporarily breaching 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming in the next five years, according to a report released this week, while atmospheric carbon dioxide levels measured at Hawai’i’s Mauna Loa Observatory breached 420 parts per million in April for the first time in human history.
“We are standing on a burning platform and cannot put off or weaken our resolve in the fight against climate change,” said Danish Climate Minister Dan Jørgensen.
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