4 strategies for a UN breakthrough on energy and climate change


Two important events organized by the United Nations are coming up and it is widely hoped that they will help meet what the United Nations calls the “double challenge”: tackling climate change and ensuring that the poorest countries can develop in a sustainable way. Energy is a central theme in both.

For the first time in 40 years, the United Nations General Assembly is convening a world summit of world leaders focused solely on energy. If all goes according to plan on September 24, 2021 and in the meetings surrounding the summit, they will consider a roadmap that includes tripling investments in renewable energy and making modern and clean energy affordable for all and throughout the decade.

The second event is the United Nations climate conference in November, where negotiators representing nations around the world will be invited to step up their countries’ efforts to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. In a closed-door meeting on September 17 ahead of this conference, the United States and the European Union plan to announce a new effort in at least one area, according to Reuters: a global push to reduce nearly one-third methane emissions by 2030. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that comes from leaks from oil and gas infrastructure, coal mines, agriculture and landfills.

This year’s climate summit will be the first to assess progress in achieving the 2015 Paris climate agreement, and sticking points remain in how countries meet the promised targets. Resolving them will be important for the credibility of the agreement and the willingness of developing countries to commit to further progress.

As climate policy experts with decades of experience in international energy policy, we have identified four strategic priorities that would help lay the foundation for success in the fields of energy and climate change.

What has been accomplished so far?

Despite the ambitious targets of many countries, global greenhouse gas emissions have continued to increase. The year 2020 has been a brief exception – emissions have fallen dramatically due to the global pandemic – but that trend has already reversed as economies recover.

Statements released by world leaders after recent G7 and G20 meetings underscored recognition of the problem. Yet very few countries and companies have detailed plans and budgets in place to achieve their own high-level goals.

4 strategic priorities

Getting energy and climate policies around the world to move in the same direction is a daunting task. Here are four strategies that could help countries navigate this space:

1) Deploy carbon pricing and markets more widely.

Only a few countries, states and regions currently have carbon prices high enough to cause polluters to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions. The climate negotiations in Scotland will focus on putting in place rules suitable for global markets.

Ensuring that these markets operate smoothly and transparently is critical to effectively meeting the many net zero climate targets that have been announced by countries ranging from Japan and South Korea to the United States, China and the United States. ‘European Union. These include rules on the use of carbon offsets – they allow individuals or companies to invest in projects that help balance their own emissions – which are currently highly controversial and largely non-functional or transparent.

2) Focus attention on the “hard to decarbonize” sectors.

Shipping, road freight, and industries like cement and steel are all difficult places to cut emissions, in part because they don’t yet have tested and affordable substitutes for fossil fuels. While there are innovative ideas, competitiveness issues, such as companies moving production outside restricted areas to avoid regulations, have been a major obstacle to progress.

Europe is trying to overcome this obstacle by setting up a carbon border adjustment mechanism, with emission taxes on imports similar to those of European producers. The Biden administration is also exploring such rules.

3) Engage China and other emerging economies.

It is clear that coal, the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel, must be phased out quickly, and this is essential for both the UN’s energy and climate programs. Since more than half of the world’s coal is consumed in China, its stocks stand out, although other emerging economies such as India, Indonesia and Vietnam are also critical.

Who is leading the development of these new technologies and which companies will derive significant economic benefits from them. They will also support millions of new jobs and economic growth.

Fortunately, investors actively support these technologies. More and more investors are starting to believe in energy transitions and are investing in the development of associated technologies. Nonetheless, increased government support for research and development funding can catalyze these efforts.

There is also an opportunity to broaden innovation efforts beyond technology, to a systems approach that includes dimensions such as market design, social acceptance, fairness, regulatory frameworks and models. commercial. Energy systems are deeply interconnected with social problems, so changing them will not be successful if the solutions focus only on technology.

Not a single solution

It is likely that UN deliberations on energy and climate over the next few months will continue to advance in spurts. The real work needs to take place at a more practical implementation level, such as in states, provinces and municipalities. If there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that climate change mitigation will be a long task, not a one-off political announcement or celebrity endorsement. It takes more than just repeating platitudes.

Politicians need to show that the many emerging energy transitions are good for economies and communities, and can create sustainable jobs and tax revenues. While it is indisputable that the benefits of greenhouse gas mitigation far outweigh the cost, it is not always easy to marry this with short-term political cycles.


Morgan Bazilian, Professor of Public Policy and Director, Payne Institute, Colorado School of Mines and Dolf Gielen, Payne Institute Fellow, Colorado School of Mines


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