The United States actively blocked what would have been a major agreement between some of the world’s wealthiest nations to dramatically increase their development of renewable energy, largely because the proposal didn’t include language supporting carbon capture technologies, hydrogen fuel and other controversial solutions for addressing climate change, Inside Climate News has learned.
On Saturday, the Group of 20—or G20 for short—wrapped up its four-day summit in India without reaching a deal to phase down the use of fossil fuels. The nations also failed to agree on a proposal that would commit them to increasing investments in clean energy through 2030. The economic coalition consists of some of the biggest carbon-emitting nations in the world, including the U.S., China, India, Russia and members of the European Union. Altogether, G20 countries account for over three-quarters of global emissions.
The deadlocked deals, which come amid a summer of record-breaking global heat, are the latest indicators that the countries most responsible for causing the climate crisis could fail to reach similar agreements at the COP28 global climate talks in November—an outcome that experts have said could jeopardize key Paris Agreement targets. It also suggests that the U.S. and China, the two biggest contributors of climate-warming emissions, will struggle to find common ground on climate policy even as the countries attempt to patch up their shoddy relationship.
“With temperature records being set daily around the world and the impacts of climate change spiraling out of control, the world needed to hear a clarion call to action,” Alden Meyer, senior associate at the climate-focused think tank E3G, told the Financial Times. “Instead, what we got was very weak tea.”
At the heart of the Paris climate accord are two central goals. The first is to keep average global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. The second and more ambitious target is to limit that warming to just 1.5 degrees, which scientists say would help to stave off some of the most catastrophic consequences of climate change.
Under the current commitments of the Paris Agreement, most experts believe the world is on track to warm about 2.5 degrees Celsius by 2100. So to keep either of those Paris Agreement targets alive, nations must do more than their current commitments to reduce emissions—primarily by slashing fossil fuel use and building out far more solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy.
The proposal at the summit called for the coalition members to triple their development of renewable energy by 2030. Several analyses, including by the International Energy Agency, have concluded that nations must spend more than three times as much on clean energy than they currently do to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and to have any chance of keeping the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 degree target alive.
The G20 deal failed largely because several major fossil fuel-producing nations joined Saudi Arabia to oppose them, according to the Financial Times and Reuters. Among those opposing the proposals were Russia, China, South Africa and Indonesia, the reports said.
But the United States also played a role in blocking the renewable energy proposal, according to a source familiar with the draft agreement who agreed to speak with Inside Climate News on condition of anonymity because talking openly would damage their relationship with key government partners.
“The U.S. was not very keen on having the tripling target year in the chair summary” and “piggy backed on opposition from KSA (Saudi Arabia), China and Russia,” the source told me, referring to the public report the group releases when full consensus isn’t reached during negotiations. “The U.S. and others wanted clean technologies instead of just renewable energy since that would encompass nuclear, carbon capture and storage—and direct air capture—and all kinds of hydrogen, not just green.”
The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment before publication of this report.
Carbon capture technologies pull carbon dioxide out of industrial emissions before they reach the atmosphere, while direct air capture technologies suck up CO2 emissions already in the atmosphere. Hydrogen gas, which burns without creating carbon dioxide, is considered a “clean” fuel when it’s produced from renewable sources rather than from fossil fuels. All three technologies have been widely criticized by environmental groups who say the technologies draw resources away from more proven solutions like solar and wind and allow governments to keep funding fossil fuel production while essentially promising to deal with the climate emissions later.
The technologies, which have been largely promoted by the fossil fuel industry, have also seen major political support from President Joe Biden, who was elected in part because of his commitment to tackling climate change. The U.S. has committed $12 billion in federal funding to developing a domestic industry for carbon capture and storage and direct air capture. That includes $3.7 billion in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that Biden signed into law in 2021. That legislation also commits $8 billion to developing so-called clean hydrogen hubs.
Getting nations to commit to a reduction in fossil fuel use has remained an elusive achievement for the climate movement, both at economic forums like G20 and ones created explicitly to address climate change, like the United Nations’ global climate talks. COP27, held in Egypt last year, ended without an agreement to phase out or even phase down fossil fuels, prompting harsh criticism from climate activists who say the fossil fuel industry has too much influence over the U.N. talks.
Anand Gopal, the executive director of policy research for Energy Innovation, a nonpartisan energy and climate policy think tank, said global climate agreements have always struggled to reach consensus around certain questions, including whether nations should commit to reducing their fossil fuel use and how much richer nations, which are most responsible for causing the climate crisis, should pay developing countries that disproportionately bear its consequences.
“It’s disappointing that they could not reach an agreement on either of these, but not surprising,” he told me. “I don’t know if the particular G20 outcome is a clear indicator of how (COP28) might go. However, I wouldn’t have very high hopes around the same questions being resolved by the time November rolls around.”
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