Even geopolitical foes can find common ground on combating climate change, US president Joe Biden declared during the closing session of a global summit on Friday, while citing his relationship with Russian president Vladimir Putin.
“President Putin and I have our disagreements, but he’s talking about how you capture carbon from space,” Mr Biden said during informal remarks. “It makes overwhelming sense; as much as the president of Russia and I disagree, that two big nations can co-operate to get something done.”
Addressing the virtual summit hosted by the US, Mr Putin on Thursday had called for the world to collaborate on advanced carbon dioxide removal from the Earth’s atmosphere.
“I’m very heartened by President Putin’s call . . . and the United States looks forward to working with Russia and other countries in that endeavour. It has great promise,” Mr Biden said during a day focused on economic benefits from collaboration on climate action – rather than the first day’s themes of carbon cuts and consequences of inaction.
Mr Biden said millions of good, well-paid jobs would emerge from tackling the climate crisis, including in “fields we haven’t even conceived of yet”.
He stressed the importance of ensuring that those who “thrived in yesterday’s and today’s industries have as bright a tomorrow in the new industries”.
In closing, he sounded an optimistic note: “Here in America, there’s never been a challenge we couldn’t meet if we put our minds to it and did it together. I hope countries feel the same way. I know we can do this.”
US climate envoy John Kerry reinforced the message, saying it was “about proving that action is in everyone’s best economic interest too” in adopting green energy and pursuing innovation.
“The world’s largest market in history is opening before our own eyes right now. And it’s going to create millions of high-quality, good-paying jobs around the world, especially in countries that seize this [climate action] agenda . . . No politician, no matter how demagogic or how potent and capable they are, is going to be able to change what that market is doing,” he added.
Data and rhetoric
Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency, warned tangible action was the only way to alter the world’s current path. “I will be blunt. Commitments alone are not enough. We need real change in the real world right now. The data does not match the rhetoric, and the gap is getting wider and wider,” he added.
He cited IEA findings, which projected that global carbon dioxide emissions are set to rise by 1.5 billion tonnes in 2021 – the second-largest increase in history – as the world emerges from a pandemic-induced downturn.
“We are not recovering from Covid in a sustainable way, and we remain on a path of dangerous levels of global warming,” he said.
Mr Birol said reasons for optimism exist, from record numbers of solar and wind investments to increasing sales of electric vehicles. But to significantly bend the curve of global emissions required more sweeping efforts, such as cutting pollution from trucks, ships and planes and finding cleaner ways to produce steel and cement.
Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen outlined plans her country had to achieve a 70 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030 including an offshore structure in the North Sea that could power millions of homes.
“Imagine that you are flying across the North Sea. Hundreds of wind turbines appear on the horizon. As you get closer, you spot an island, an island creating clean electricity, clean fuels, green innovation for millions of European households,” she added.
“That’s our Danish vision of the world’s first energy island. And it’s not just something to imagine. Denmark will soon make it a reality.”
The Danish leader emphasised such plans would not cause negative economic impact. “Today, Denmark has more jobs in green energy than in fossils, and the private sector is on board,” she said.
Nthabiseng Mosia, co-founder of Easy Solar, a company that in five years has created about 800 jobs for young people in Sierra Leone and Liberia, said clean energy in West Africa could help provide the employment needed for a fast-growing population. African nations should not have to “worry about a problem we did not create” in tackling climate change, she said.
But “I do believe it’s a unique opportunity to look forward… challenge the status quo, and say economic development does not have to be dirty,” added the off-grid solar entrepreneur.
It was announced that the US, Britain and the United Arab Emirates will back a new organisation for agricultural innovation and to assist subsistence farmers suffering from climate change effects.
United Arab Emirates prime minister Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum said the joint effort would go toward research and development over the next five years.
Private investor and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates said the mission would help vulnerable subsistence farmers suffering from the unpredictable nature of climate change and hoped other countries would join the initiative.
“Even as we accelerate innovation to reduce climate impacts, we have to address the climate impacts that are going to come because of the heating that’s already taken place,” he noted. “This means accelerating agricultural innovation so that subsistence farmers can withstand the shocks that come with more unpredictable weather.”
Former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg said a major focus of combating climate change should be providing good information to cities and businesses to inform their decisions.
“Cities and businesses hold the key to defeating climate change. They are responsible for the vast majority of emissions. So helping them and incentivising them to take action really is critical.”
“We can’t beat climate change without a historic amount of new investment, and that will only happen if governments, investors and business leaders have the information they need to make smart decisions working with partners,” he believed.
‘Our generation’s moonshot’
US energy secretary Jennifer Granholm said clean technology was “our generation’s moonshot” and her department would be announcing new goals for “leaps in next generation technologies”, such as carbon capture, energy storage and industrial fuels.
Underscoring the role for carbon removal technologies to meet global climate goals, she announced a partnership with Canada, Norway, Qatar and Saudi Arabia called the Net Zero Producers Forum. It aimed to develop “long-term strategies to reach global net-zero emissions”, she said.
The energy secretary also announced a partnership with Denmark to partner on zeroing out emissions in the global shipping industry.
The US will set a goal of reducing the cost of renewable hydrogen by 80 per cent by 2030 making it competitive with natural gas, she confirmed. Energy companies and others are increasingly eyeing hydrogen as a possible carbon-free fuel, and it is seen as a clean solution for fuelling cars, trucks and ships as well as heating buildings, though the cost of producing it remains a barrier.