The article speculates how the climate crisis has engulfed the world with evident examples of climate disasters in Pakistan, China in Asia to European and African continents. The article links the potential role that can be played by world leaders through climate diplomacy at the two key forums: COP 27 happening in Sharam El Sheikh, Egypt and G20 Summit in Bali. COP 27 also celebrated Young and Future Generations Day on 10th November to acknowledge the role of youth in climate change. At the same time, the article highlights how these two prime events can be challenged by the ongoing conflicts and issues between states- the Ukrainian War and the Cold War between China and the USA. While the Ukraine war itself is one of the sources of climate pollutants, it may also hamper joint potential strategies to tackle climate catastrophe.
Photo by Geralt (Pixabay)
The summer of 2022 reached record temperatures, leading to droughts in China, Africa, and Europe (US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2022). Floods in Pakistan have had a devastating impact on the country’s population (Reed & Bokhari, 2022). This is the background against which both this year’s G20 summit and COP27 will take place. On the 15th and 16th of November, the heads of state of the twenty biggest economies will convene in Bali, Indonesia. Almost three years after the first COVID outbreak, the theme of this year’s summit is ‘Recover Together, Recover Stronger’. One of the critical points on the agenda is the transition to green energy. Around the same time, the United Nations’ COP27 climate conference is convening from the 6th to the 18th of November in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt to discuss action to tackle climate change.
1.5 Degrees Celsius or 2.8 Degrees Celsius?
A year ago, countries’ climate legislation was already lagging behind to achieve the Paris Agreement’s goal of keeping global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius (Bearak, 2022). Instead, current energy policies translate into about a 2.8-degree rise in global temperature by 2100 (UNEP, 2022). Thus, COP27 and the Bali summit are taking place at a decisive time for the implementation of adequate climate policies. Indeed, the G20 accounts for about 80 per cent of global emissions: Calls for them to take responsibility and strengthen their pledges are increasing.
Geopolitical Tensions and Impacts on Climate Diplomacy
However, considerable challenges in climate diplomacy are piling up. Today, the Bali summit and COP27 are taking place against a background of growing geopolitical tensions, which could affect further cooperation on climate change. Despite a number of political obstacles, recent developments have also spurred leaders worldwide to introduce increasingly ambitious climate legislation. If they ride on this momentum and effectively navigate today’s geopolitical atmosphere, the transition to sustainability will be high on the agenda.
The case of the Ukraine War and Climate crisis
One of the biggest tensions is the Ukraine War. When Russia invaded Ukraine back in February, it exacerbated the tense diplomatic relations between the US and Europe on the one hand, and Russia and China on the other hand (Leonard, 2022). While the US and EU have been adamant in supporting Ukraine, China has backed Russia. Thus, the Ukraine War has sown division at a time when unity is needed to address climate change. Undoubtedly, hostilities will continue to form a political obstacle during the climate conferences this month (Suoneto & Harsono, 2022). In particular, they will become visible during the Bali summit, which Joe Biden, Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, and Volodymyr Zelensky (albeit remotely) are all expected to attend (Zhu, 2022). It would be the first time these leaders have met since the Ukraine War started.
Aside from the political strains, it has caused, the war in Ukraine is also having an environmental impact. Not only has it brought about massive damage to Ukraine’s ecosystem, but it has also led to more greenhouse gas emissions and increased risks to human health globally (OECD, 2022; Pereira et al., 2022). Moreover, due to increased inflation, the demand for fossil fuels has gone up, and oil and gas prices have reached their highest levels in years (Tollefson, 2022). In light of the war, climate action has become less of a priority for many European leaders: instead, they focus on guaranteeing energy to get through the winter. Germany, for instance, reactivated a coal-fired power plant to compensate for the lack of Russian gas (Deutsche Welle, 2022). In addition, most European heads of state were absent during a climate summit on African adaptation in Rotterdam in September (Mathiesen, 2022).
Renewable Alternatives to Russian Gas
Yet, in the long term, the war might not be as bad for the sustainability transition as initially feared: it could actually accelerate the transition, according to the International Energy Agency (Plumer, 2022). States have turned to renewable energy through wind turbines, solar panels, heat pumps, and electric vehicles as an important alternative to Russian gas (Clark, 2022). For instance, the EU has put forward its ambitious RepowerEU plan to boost green energy and thus decrease its dependency on Russian gas (Bloomberg, 2022; Clark, 2022). Hence, the need for energy security has spurred some climate-friendly policies. Furthermore, the high energy prices and a slowdown in both Chinese and European economic growth have also contributed to lower emissions (Plumer, 2022).
The US-China Rivarlary and Climate Diplomacy
The Ukraine War is not the only pressure on climate diplomacy. Today, the US-China rivalry also leaves a mark on everything in international politics. It is unlikely to cool down, especially since the US recently fueled the trade and tech war between the powers with its chip export control (Financial Times, 2022). In August, China and the US clashed over Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, resulting in a halt in climate talks between them (Lau, 2022). Their animosity could further impair climate diplomacy.
US-China competition also poses a serious challenge to the EU, which has to balance its traditional military dependency on the US with its close trade relations with China. In its current China strategy, the Union has labelled China as a cooperation partner in combating climate change (European Commission, 2019). The EU could play a mediating role to coordinate both Chinese and American climate policies.
Even though the US and China do not see eye to eye on many issues, they both recognize the importance of addressing climate change. President Biden has in many ways continued the hawkish China strategy of the previous Trump administration, but he has demonstrated a keenness to tackle climate change. Just two months ago, the Inflation Reduction Act was introduced, which includes 260 billion USD for renewable energy technologies (Bloomberg, 2022). For China, climate change has increasingly been acknowledged as a serious problem, especially under Xi Jinping. The CCP’s legitimacy depends on the social and economic welfare of the Chinese population, which is threatened by the consequences of climate change (Wang, 2020). Not only does climate change endanger China’s further economic growth, but it has also resulted in natural disasters and environmental degradation (Kalantzakos, 2017). Consequently, China decided to reach peak emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 (Dong et al., 2021). To do so, it has steadily been investing in renewable energy. In 2021, it produced 80 per cent of the world’s offshore wind-generated energy (Bloomberg, 2022). Seeing these developments on both the Chinese and American sides, it is not unthinkable that diplomats will continue to find each other to implement policies tackling climate change, similar to the US-China Joint Declaration at COP26 in Glasgow last year (Wang & Woodroofe, 2021).
Letting geopolitics get in the way of further climate cooperation would be disastrous. There is no time to waste, and climate action without China, the US, and Europe would be insufficient. After all, China is currently the biggest greenhouse gas emitter and the US and Europe have been responsible for much of the emissions since the Industrial Revolution (Tay, 2022). States will therefore have to put their differences aside and instead embrace climate cooperation. The technology that is needed to make the green transition is already there (Arbib et al., 2021). Now, the obstacles are political - and they are not insurmountable. It is up to the state officials at the Bali Summit and COP27 to get around them and start implementing rather than just discussing effective climate policies. Their success – or lack thereof - will be an important indication of the future of climate cooperation in this era of heightened geopolitical competition and environmental degradation.
This article represents the views of contributors to STEAR's online digital publication, and not those of STEAR, which takes no institutional positions.
Arbib, J., Dorr, A., & Seba, T. (2021, August). RethinkX: Disruptions, implications and choices: Rethinking climate change. RethinkX Disruption Implications Report.
Bearak, M. (2022, October 26). Climate pledges are falling short, and a chaotic future looks more like reality. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/26/climate/un-climate-pledges-warming.html
Bloomberg. (2022, September 23). Energy Transition Factbook.https://assets.bbhub.io/professional/sites/24/BloombergNEF-CEM-2022-Factbook.pd
Clark, P. (2022, November 1). There is no need for defeatism on climate change. Financial Times. https://www.ft.com/content/acec35
Deutsche Welle. (2022, August 22). Germany reactivates coal-fired power plant to save gas. https://www.dw.com/en/germany-reactivates-coal-fired-power-plant-to-save-gas/a-62893497
Dong, L., Miao, G. & Wen, W. (2021). China’s carbon neutrality policy: objectives, impacts and paths. East Asian Policy, 13(1), pp. 5-18.
Earth had its 6th-warmest August on record. (2022, September 14). US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.https://www.noaa.gov/news/earth-had-its-6th-warmest-august-on-record
European Commission. (2019, March 12). EU-China - a strategic outlook. https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/default/files/communication-eu-china-a-strategic-outlook.pdf
Financial Times. (2022, October 22). How the US chip export controls have turned the screws on China.https://www.ft.com/content/bbbdc7dc-0566-4a05-a7b3-27afd82580f3
Kalantzakos, S. (2017). The EU, US and China Tackling Climate Change: Policies and
Alliances for the Anthropocene. Taylor & Francis.
Lau, S. (2022, August 5). China suspends climate talks with the US. Politico.https://www.politico.eu/article/china-suspends-climate-talks-with-us/
Leonard, M. (2022, July 29). Russia’s war on Ukraine is viewed from China. European Council on Foreign Relations. https://ecfr.eu/article/russias-war-on-ukraine-viewed-from-china/
Mathiesen, K. (2022, August 25). European leaders to skip climate summit with Africa.Politico.https://www.politico.eu/article/european-leaders-to-skip-climate-summit-with-africa/
OECD. (2022, July 1). Environmental impacts of the war in Ukraine and prospects for a green reconstruction.https://www.oecd.org/ukraine-hub/policy-responses/environmental-impacts-of-the-war-in-ukraine-and-prospects-for-a-green-reconstruction-9e86d691/
Pereira, P., Bašić, F., Bogunovic, I., & Barcelo, D. (2022). Russian-Ukrainian war impacts the total environment. Science of The Total Environment, 837, 155865.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.155865
Plumer, B. (2022, October 27). War in Ukraine likely to speed, not slow, shift to clean energy, IEA says. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/27/climate/global-clean-energy-iea.html
Reed, J. & Bokhari, F. (2022, October 26). ‘It’s the fault of climate change’: Pakistan seeks‘justice’ after floods. Financial Times. https://www.ft.com/content/e69ece7d-11fb-4a8f-91ea-35b98d4b54db
Suoneto, N. & Harsono, H. (2022, April 12). The challenges facing Indonesia’s G20 presidency. The Diplomat. https://thediplomat.com/2022/04/the-challenges-facing-indonesias-g20-presidency/
Tay, A. (2022, April 5). By the numbers: China’s net-zero ambitions. Nature.https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-022-00802-3
Tollefson, J. (2022, April 5). What the war in Ukraine means for energy, climate and food. Nature. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-022-00969-9
UNEP. (2022, October 27). Emissions Gap Report 2022.https://www.unep.org/resources/emissions-gap-report-2022
Wang, B. (2020). China's Transition on Climate Change Communication and Governance:From Zero to Hero. Springer Singapore Pte.
Wang, B. & Woodroofe, T. (2021, November 19). ASPI Note: Understanding US-China
Climate Declaration. Asia Society.https://asiasociety.org/policy-institute/aspi-note-understanding-us-china-climate-declaration
Zhu, M. (2022, August 19). Xi and Putin to attend G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia’s Jokowi says. BBC. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-62600783