New Delhi: The news that Germany would recommission its mothballed coal plants, to reduce its gas consumption  underlines once again the destabilizing effect of the ongoing war in Ukraine on the countries’ planned fight against climate change. The fact that it is a country like Germany which has always been at the forefront of the use of renewable energies, starting with its “Energiewende”, is a revealing comment on the needs of domestic political constraints. Indeed, its full significance becomes apparent when this move by Germany is read in conjunction with the proposal by one of its ruling coalition parties to explore the possibility of using fracking to bridge the gap between the ‘Offer and demand. Although this proposal has not found official favor, at least for now, it does indicate how far countries are willing to go to relieve their short-term energy, and resulting inflation, pains. This is likely to change further as Europe approaches winters and the primacy of ensuring the adequacy and affordability of energy supplies takes center stage. In this situation of ‘short-term consequences (of domestic energy shortages) versus long-term benefits (of action against climate change)’, it is difficult to find fault with any particular orientation of political decisions. Although no one is saying that the global energy system should minimize its dependence on fossil fuels; the only point worth emphasizing here is giving the same kind of understanding to developing countries like India, which receive differential treatment in addiction-centric “Phase down vs Phase out” types of debates coal. Let’s not forget that in the case of India, it is about meeting the basic energy needs of its vast population and less about maintaining a certain standard of living. And its energy needs will only increase given the extreme heat waves generated by climate change, again cooling solutions are needed for basic survival and productivity. But more importantly, the Russia-Ukraine war puts a big question mark over the assumptions underlying the Glasgow Climate Pact: “aim to turn the 2020s into a decade of climate action and support…. .including enhanced efforts to build resilience to climate change, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide the necessary financing for both….And they collectively agreed to work to close the gap between reduction plans of existing emissions and what is needed to reduce emissions, so that the rise in global average temperature can be limited to 1.5 degrees For the first time, nations are being called upon to phase out coal-fired power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies” . In retrospect, it appears that with the Cold War long behind it, the geopolitical status quo was taken for granted, certainly as far as the Global North was concerned. It was perhaps assumed that the fight against climate change was the only fight that countries should fight in a cooperative and collaborative way. But the ongoing war, that too in mainstream Europe, has upset the apple basket. It seems unlikely that the different scenarios modeled around levels of climate action have taken into account the potential for such basic conflicts. Maybe it’s time to rework on models that also take into account “higher ambitions” in a totally different, non-energetic context, and then prescribe the most achievable paths if the end goals are to be met as they should be. .
As we see, any national regime must necessarily focus on mitigating immediate challenges to its national and political interests, sometimes reversing its declared long-term policies, for while there are political consequences to inaction in the short term, the benefits of long-term actions would accrue only decades later. But it would be a mistake – from a climate action perspective – to make short-term, or so-called temporary, arrangements at face value. The new pipelines and LNG transport facilities proposed to help diversify gas supply in Europe are certainly not just a short-term arrangement given the resources invested in them. The associated risks of “climate lock-in” due to these assets may have long-term repercussions, even after ruling out the possibility that some of this infrastructure will be used for green hydrogen.
Moreover, while long-term goals and commitments – to be achieved by 2030, 2050 or 2070 – are essential, it is equally important to put in place shorter-term goals and associated actions. That these objectives should be monitored regularly and that the results are accessible to the public, stripped of official jargon; It’s obvious. The Bonn conference on climate change, which ended the other day, is said to have “made progress in several technical areas, but there is still a lot to be done”. It is essential that the COP 27 deliberations in Sharm el-Sheikh also take stock of the rapidly changing economic scenario since COP 26, especially from the perspective of developing countries who have to deal with the consequences of the conflict. as well as climate change.
[This piece was written exclusively for ETEnergyworld. Amit Kumar is Senior Fellow, WRI India and Former Senior Director, Social Transformation, TERI. Views expressed are personal.]