Davos 2018: climate change rhetoric and reality

24 January 2018 | Adaptation

Climate change is a hot topic in the snows of Davos this year.

The world leaders, business tycoons and celebrities jetting in to the annual World Economic Forum (Wef) have identified the biggest threats to prosperity as environmental.

A global risk survey places extreme weather events, natural disasters and failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation in the alarm zone for both likelihood and impact. So you can expect the topic to come up in speeches and panel sessions.

India’s Narendra Modi is the headliner, to be followed by Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron. All have something to boast about when it comes to climate protection. All have weaknesses they would rather you didn’t mention.

Then comes Donald Trump, who rejects the whole climate agenda, but may not have as much power as he thinks to reverse it.

This article will be updated throughout the week, to put their soundbites in context.

Fatih Birol, chief executive of the International Energy Agency

“Renewable energies, especially solar power, it is becoming the cheapest source of electricity generation in many countries and it is competing with traditional fuels for the power plants to build.”

The march of clean energy was one of four “transformative” trends Birol identified in a panel discussing energy policy. China’s “blue skies” drive to clean up air pollution was another.

So he’s bullish on renewables, right? Well, up to a point. The IEA has a record of underestimating the growth of wind and solar power in its annual forecasts. The analysis body examined and revised its assumptions in 2017, but some critics still see it as fundamentally conservative.

UN sustainable energy chief Rachel Kyte, for one, described IEA bias as “now very dangerous”, in an earlier panel. Gloomy predictions for renewables risk becoming self-fulfilling, she warned, if they prompt investors to keep sinking money into coal, oil and gas.

Narendra Modi, prime minister of India

In his first speech to the Wef, India’s prime minister described climate change as the number one threat to global progress and prosperity. He touted his country’s ambitious target to install 175GW of renewable electricity capacity by 2022.

Modi has made climate change a feature of his international presence and India has made enormous strides in expanding its clean energy sector. Under Modi, solar power has boomed, putting pressure on the dominant energy source, coal.

But India’s coal sector remains one of the largest future threats to global climate stability, with hundreds of new coal plants planned and a government committed to burning coal well into the future. Last month, India’s coal plants were granted a 5-year amnesty for compliance with air quality standard. India will only be able to argue that climate change is a rich world creation for so long.

“Everybody talks about reducing carbon emissions, but there are very few countries who back their words with their resources to help developing countries to adopt appropriate technologies. Very few of them come forward to help.”

The rich world has promised to transfer $100 billion a year by 2020 to help developing countries with climate change – and they are not there yet. Donald Trump’s refusal to honour US commitments does not help.

How big the shortfall is depends on who you ask. The UK and Australian governments have argued the goal can be met by leveraging more private money. But campaigners warn that commercially attractive projects do not help the poorest people, who are hardest hit by climate change. Some say only public grants should count.

To convince the doubters, governments, green funds and development banks need to turn commitments into results on the ground, fast.

“For the current frightful negative impact on the environment today there is a perfect remedy, ancient Indian philosophies. Harmony between man and nature.”

Indians are familiar with this type of language from Modi, whose nationalist political philosophy, Hindutva, is founded on the primacy of the Hindu faith. His government has often used the language of Hinduism to portray its ecological sensitivity.

The reality is very different. As Climate Home News reported in June, Modi’s tenure has been marked by the erosion of environmental protections, crushing of indigenous rights, lifting of penalties for companies that breach laws and pressure on civil society groups.



Source: Climate Change News