In a first, the US is supporting the UN agreement to phase out fossil fuels

During UN climate change negotiations in Egypt on Wednesday, the United States expressed support for adopting language calling for a phase-out of fossil fuels — a major symbolic shift for the world’s largest oil and gas producer.

The possible amendment of an agreement between 190 countries under discussion is symbolic and would have no enforcement mechanism. Instead, just as the existing climate agreement, the Glasgow Climate Pact, calls on participating countries to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the goal of phasing out fossil fuels will be ambitious.

Climate activists who have been campaigning for the climate conference known as COP27 to include a goal to move away from fossil fuel use hailed the news as a triumph. At previous climate change conferences, the United States and other major oil and gas producers had refused to join similar language.

“It’s a major breakthrough for the United States to support a global phase-out of fossil fuels after nearly three decades without them being included in these climate agreements,” Jean Su, energy justice program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. email to Yahoo News.

Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry speaks from a podium.

Presidential Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry at the UN Climate Change Conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, Nov. 9. (Peter Dejong/AP)

But the new US aid comes with a proviso: that the phase-out only covers “unabated” fossil fuels, that is, those burned without technology to capture the carbon dioxide emissions at the stack. That technology, known as carbon capture and storage, or CCS, is used in just 18 facilities worldwide, almost all of which are industrial. CCS has only been used in one coal-fired power plant in the United States, but if widely adopted, fossil fuel use could potentially continue with less damage to the climate. The recently passed Inflation Reduction Act, which will spend $369 billion to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions over 10 years, includes funding for research and development of carbon capture technology.

Presidential Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry, who leads the US delegation at the conference, known as COP27, told Bloomberg News on Wednesday that the Biden administration will accept a broader call for a fossil fuel phase-out than what was included in COP26 in Glasgow. , Scotland, last year. At that conference, the Glasgow Climate Pact contained only a pledge to phase out the use of unabated coal.

“It must be oil and gas without prejudice,” Kerry said in an interview in Sharm el-Sheikh. “Phasedown, unabated, over time. Time is a question, but ‘phasedown’ is the language we supported.”

The use of “phasedown” – which is softer than, say, the “absolute end” of fossil fuel use to which many environmental and indigenous rights activists aspire – also gives countries like the US leeway.

Participants photograph each other near an arch with a sign reading: COP27, Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt 2022.

Participants outside the main entrance of the COP27 climate conference on Nov. 6 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Yet India also pushed a broader amendment against fossil fuels at this year’s conference. On Tuesday, the European Union said it would join the United Kingdom and a coalition of small island nations in supporting India’s proposal.

Climate change activists, many of whom oppose the use of carbon capture because it is seen as a way to keep fossil fuels in the energy mix, expressed reservations about conditions in Kerry.

“Limiting that phase-out to ‘unabated’ fossil fuels could open the Pandora’s box of polluters with bogus solutions like carbon capture that will only do devastating damage,” Su said. “We need words that reflect the reality that new fossil fuels condemn us to an unlivable planet.”

Whatever words make it into the final text at the end of this week, no one can guarantee that any country will actually close its gas-fired power stations and replace them with solar panels or wind turbines. No one is discussing specific hard targets for reducing fossil fuel use, and even if they were, the climate deal under discussion is not a legally binding treaty.

But many countries, including the US, had previously opposed language against fossil fuels because the direction set in the agreement influences policy. For example, the Biden administration is committed to trying to get the US to meet the goal first promised in the Paris climate agreement of 2015, which is to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by the year 2030. President Biden’s Build Back Better proposal was designed to achieve that goal. After opposition from Republicans and Senator Joe Manchin, DW.Va., forcing Biden to scrap some of the climate provisions, Manchin agreed to support the Inflation Reduction Act, which is expected to achieve a 40% reduction in emissions by 2030 through subsidies for electric vehicles and clean energy.

Similarly, a coalition of countries, including the US and Japan, announced on Tuesday that they will provide $20 billion in public and private grants and loans to help Indonesia decommission coal-fired power plants and replace them with clean energy generation, though no binding agreements have been reached. are closed.

Since the fracking boom, the United States has become the world’s largest producer of oil and the largest global producer of natural gas, making opposition to the production and use of fossil fuels politically difficult for US politicians. Predicting the death of the coal industry, which has been in decline for decades, has provoked fierce reactions from Democrats, including Hillary Clinton. Earlier this month, Biden said “we are going to close this one [coal] plants all over America and has wind and sun. That led Manchin to call the president’s comments “excessive and detached from reality,” forcing the White House to back down.

Kerry’s insistence that the provision only apply to unabated fossil fuels could assuage domestic criticism. Nevertheless, other major oil and gas producing countries may reject the proposal. Saudi Arabia’s energy minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman has said in interviews at COP27 that the country continues to see a role for oil and gas in the near future and that it is trying to minimize emissions from oil and gas production. while limiting its ability to also produce and one day export clean energy. And in the US, the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives on Wednesday will likely see the end of new clean energy spending, regardless of what’s in this year’s climate deal.

The conference was due to end on Friday, but observers are already predicting it will go into overtime as thorny issues such as the future of fossil fuels and compensation for poorer countries suffering climate change-related natural disasters are tackled.

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