On the fifth anniversary of the historic COP21 meeting world leaders came together to discuss the the goals laid out in the Paris Agreement. The agenda for the Climate Ambition Summit included finalizing the 300 page draft known as the Paris rulebook which defines how countries tally and report their emissions reduction efforts. Many of the leaders who came together for this virtual event acknowledged the need to increase renewables and end fossil fuels to keep temperatures from surpassing the upper threshold limit (1.5-2.0 degrees Celsius above preindustrial norms).
Just ahead of the UN Summit more than 100 countries (responsible for two-thirds of the world’s greenhouse gas) announced plans to cut their emissions to “net zero” by 2050. To realize this ambition nations will have to eliminate their use of fossil fuels.
While eradicating fossil fuel use has already been announced in Europe and elsewhere, there were some surprising announcements at the Summit including one from Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Knan who said his country will not approve any any new coal-fired power generation projects. Instead new energy projects in Pakistan will come from hydroelectric power. According to Khan by 2030, 60 percent of all energy produced in the country will come from clean energy sources including renewables and almost one third of all vehicles in the country will be powered by electricity. Pakistan currently has 18 wind power projects generating 937MW of electricity and six solar projects generating 418MW. It is worth noting that despite contributing less than 1 percent of global emissions, Pakistan is the 5th most climate vulnerable nation on Earth. Last year alone there were 152 climate related events that killed 500 people and contributed to more than $3.7 billion in losses.
In his address to the Summit Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi indicated that he will focus on reducing India’s emissions and increasing forest cover in the country. Modi said India is heading towards fulfilling its commitments by increasing the nation’s use of clean and renewable sources of energy. He pointed out that India has seen its solar capacity grow from 2.63 GigaWatts in 2014 to 36 GigaWatts in 2020. Modi also said that the country has reduced its emission by 21 percent compared to 2005 levels.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson promoted the value of science in his address at the Summit saying, “together we can use scientific advances to protect our entire planet, our biosphere against a challenge far worse, far more destructive even than coronavirus”. He specifically pointed out the need to reduce emissions and radically cut dependence on fossil fuels as well as reform agricultural practices. He touted the UK’s 43 percent reduction in emissions and virtual elimination of coal. He referenced his Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution and the job creation potential of the low carbon economy as part of national efforts to recover from the COVID-19 downturn. Johnson said he wants to turn the UK into a wind energy superpower while increasing support for solar, hydro and hydrogen. He also intends to replace all combustion engines by electric in the next decade and make the UK more efficiency through building retrofits, green transport, nature protections and the implementation of carbon capture capture technologies. He vowed to move away from supporting drilling and mining for hydrocarbons and he pledged £11.6 billion towards green technology and global decarbonization. Johnson concluded by saying that the UK will reduce emissions 66 percent compared to 1990 levels over the next decade.
Even Israel has promised to stop using fossil fuels by 2050. In his Summit speech Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “Israel is totally committed to a successful transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy by 2050.” Israel joins many countries around the world that have committed to eliminating fossil fuel use by 2050. Austria, Sweden and California have vowed to do so even sooner.
It is clear that eradicating fossil fuels is key to keeping temperatures from surpassing the upper threshold temperature limit. This means we must decarbonize the energy and transportation sectors, in addition to substantial changes to infrastructure, industry, agriculture and waste treatment.