Correction: An earlier version of this story misrepresented the United States’ position on a proposal at the G20 summit that would have committed member nations to triple their renewable energy development by 2030.
“The United States did not oppose any proposal to triple renewable energy capacity nor the 9 terawatt by 2030 estimate,” a Department of Energy spokesperson said in an email statement. “We were supportive of our European G7 colleagues’ efforts to garner consensus, which unfortunately did not happen.”
The story has been updated to include DOE comments that arrived after it was initially published.
A four-day summit held in India last week by some of the world’s wealthiest nations ended without a commitment to phase down fossil fuels or to increase the development of renewable energy, largely because of opposition from Saudi Arabia, China and Russia.
The deadlocked deals, which come amid a summer of record-breaking global heat, are the latest indicators that the countries contributing the most to the climate crisis could fail to reach similar agreements at the COP28 global climate talks in November—an outcome that experts have said could jeopardize key Paris Agreement targets.
“With temperature records being set daily around the world and the impacts of climate change spiraling out of control, the world needed to hear a clarion call to action,” Alden Meyer, senior associate at the climate-focused think tank E3G, told the Financial Times. “Instead, what we got was very weak tea.”
At the heart of the Paris climate accord are two central goals. The first is to keep average global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. The second and more ambitious target is to limit that warming to just 1.5 degrees, which scientists say would help to stave off some of the most catastrophic consequences of climate change.
Under the current commitments of the Paris Agreement, most experts believe the world is on track to warm about 2.5 degrees Celsius by 2100. So to keep either of those Paris Agreement targets alive, nations must do more than their current commitments to reduce emissions—primarily by slashing fossil fuel use and building out far more solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy.
But on Saturday, an economic summit held by the Group of 20, or G20 for short, wrapped up their conference without reaching a deal that would commit the coalition members to reducing their use of fossil fuels. The nations also couldn’t agree on a commitment to tripling their development of renewable energy by 2030.
Several analyses, including by the International Energy Agency, have concluded that nations must spend more than three times as much on clean energy than they currently do to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and to have any chance of keeping the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 degree target alive.
The G20 deals both failed largely because several major fossil fuel-producing nations joined Saudi Arabia to oppose them, according to reports from the Financial Times and Reuters. Among those opposing the moves were Russia, China, South Africa and Indonesia, the reports said.
Jennifer Granholm, the U.S. Secretary of Energy, expressed disappointment following the failed deals. “To truly revolutionize our energy sectors, we must deploy renewable energy technology at scale—doing so will help solve the hardest energy access and cost challenges,” she said in her speech to delegates. “As a mark of our ambition and a signal to the world, we should all be able to support a collective tripling of renewable energy deployment.”
A Department of Energy spokesperson also said in an email statement that the U.S. was “supportive of our European G7 colleagues’ efforts to garner consensus, which unfortunately did not happen,” and “worked with European colleagues to garner support on alternative text on this issue to include in the chair summary.”
In that sense, the outcome of the meeting suggests that the U.S. and China, the two biggest contributors of climate-warming emissions, will struggle to find common ground on climate policy even as the countries attempt to patch up their shoddy relationship. China has played a complicated role in the global effort to curb climate change. While China is ramping up its use of coal power—the dirtiest kind of energy—it is also the world leader on clean energy, installing more than four times as much renewable energy as the U.S. last year at an impressive 141 gigawatts of new capacity. The country is even on course to achieve its clean energy goals five years early.
Getting nations to commit to a reduction in fossil fuel use has remained an elusive achievement for the climate movement, both at economic forums like G20 and ones created explicitly to address climate change, like the United Nations’ global climate talks. COP27, held in Egypt last year, ended without an agreement to phase out or even phase down fossil fuels, prompting harsh criticism from climate activists who say the fossil fuel industry has too much influence over the U.N. talks.
Anand Gopal, the executive director of policy research for Energy Innovation, a nonpartisan energy and climate policy think tank, said global climate agreements have always struggled to reach consensus around certain questions, including whether nations should commit to reducing their fossil fuel use and how much richer nations, which are most responsible for causing the climate crisis, should pay developing countries that disproportionately bear its consequences.
“It’s disappointing that they could not reach an agreement on either of these, but not surprising,” he told me. “I don’t know if the particular G20 outcome is a clear indicator of how (COP28) might go. However, I wouldn’t have very high hopes around the same questions being resolved by the time November rolls around.”
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