G7 to phase out fossil fuels

If business as usual continues, the world will warm by an average of up to 6°C this century, according to the United Nations’ climate unit. In a report released last year, it said this change would be “severe, pervasive and irreversible” and lead to the large-scale collapse of ecosystems. It placed the blame for this squarely on the burning of fossil fuels by humans, or anthropogenic global warming.

To avoid this, world governments have been gathering for the last 21 years in an attempt to create an agreement that would force every country to lower their carbon emissions. Most of these emissions come from coal-fired power stations, heavy industry and from chopping down large swathes of natural forests.

No global agreement has been signed to date. But an agreement should be signed this year, when countries meet at COP21 in Paris. Thanks to work done at COP17 in Durban, the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action says an agreement must be signed in 2015 and come into force in 2020. 

At the heart of this process is the symbolic target of lowering carbon emissions enough that average global temperatures do not increase by more than 2°C. In South Africa temperatures have already increased by 0.8°C, which has shifted rainfall patterns and led to unpredictable rain and drought cycles. 

COP20 in Lima in 2014 agreed that before COP21, each country would submit its plan for lowering carbon emissions and adapting to climate change, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions. 

But on Monday a report by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment found that if every government implemented the plans it had in place, there would only be a 75% reduction in the emissions required to keep temperature increases below 2°C.

It said, “While collectively these pledges are unlikely to be consistent with the international goal of avoiding global warming of more than 2°C, the existence of national legislation and policies should provide the opportunity for countries to strengthen the ambition of their emission cuts.”   

Christina Figueres, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Con­vention on Climate Change, said last month that 37 countries had submitted their plans and it seemed likely that these would not be ambitious enough to keep temperature increases below 2°C.   

South Africa will submit its intended contribution later in the year. But it has already committed to lower its carbon emissions by 42% by 2025 – provided there is technical and financial assistance from developed countries. 

Several other large polluters have agreed to voluntary reductions. In November the United States and China – two countries traditionally loathe to sign agreements on climate change – announced that they would both lower their greenhouse gas emissions. The US said it would lower its emissions by 28% by 2025, with China capping its emissions by 2030.

China’s transformation

A report released by the London School of Economics on Monday said China would probably meet this goal five years ahead of schedule. The authors said this would stimulate the global market for renewable technology – with the world’s largest polluter shifting towards a renewable economy – and dampen the market for fossil fuels. 

“China’s transformation has profound implications for the global economy, and greatly increases the prospects for keeping global greenhouse gas emissions within relatively safe limits,” the report said. 

And it was in this atmosphere that the G7 gathering in the Bavarian Alps released a statement saying, “Urgent and concrete action is needed to address climate change.”   

Under the heading of “climate change, energy and environment”, the grouping of the world’s seven largest economies said there needed to be a 40% to 70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. After that, world economies should aim to be completely free of fossil fuels by the end of the century, the statement said.

“This should enable all countries to follow a low-carbon and resilient development pathway in line with the global goal to hold the increase in global average temperature below 2°C.”   

The announcement is significant as it includes Canada and Japan, two countries which have recently worked against any global agreement to lower carbon emissions. 

The text also called on all countries to submit ambitious Intended Nationally Determined Contributions well before COP21 in November. To help developing countries lower their emissions and adapt to climate change, the statement said the G7 “reaffirms our strong commitment to the Copenhagen Accord to mobilize jointly $100-billion a year from 2020”. These funds would then go to developing countries through the Green Climate Fund, which will start operating later this year.  

The draft text for the Paris agreement still runs to 86 pages, with thousands of square brackets (indicating disagreement) and dozens of options for how strong the agreement should be. The scope of its ambition depends on political compromise at the November meeting. But it now has the momentum behind the process to ensure an agreement will be signed.

PW Botha wagged his finger and banned us in 1988 but we stood firm. We built a reputation for fearless journalism, then, and now. Through these last 35 years, the Mail & Guardian has always been on the right side of history.

These days, we are on the trail of the merry band of corporates and politicians robbing South Africa of its own potential.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Sipho Kings
Sipho is the Mail & Guardian's News Editor. He also does investigative environment journalism.
Advertisting

Soundtrack to a pandemic: Africa’s best coronavirus songs

Drawing on lessons from Ebola, African artists are using music to convey public health messaging. And they are doing it in style

In East Africa, the locusts are coming back for more

In February the devastating locust swarms were the biggest seen in East Africa for 70 years. Now they’re even bigger

Western Cape Judge Mushtak Parker faces second misconduct complaint

The Cape Bar Council says his conduct is ‘unbecoming the holding of judicial office’

‘My biggest fear was getting the virus and dying in...

South African Wuhan evacuee speaks about his nine-week ordeal

Press Releases

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world

SAB Zenzele special AGM rescheduled to March 25 2020

New voting arrangements are being made to safeguard the health of shareholders

Dimension Data launches Saturday School in PE

The Gauteng Saturday School has produced a number of success stories