Germany called for governments around the world to work on setting an ambitious target for renewable energy that would “ring in the end of the fossil fuel age” and help prevent dangerous global warming.
Speaking at the start of a two-day meeting in Berlin attended by dozens of top climate envoys, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock noted on Tuesday the world needs to sharply cut greenhouse gas emissions in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).
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“But we also know that not all countries are prepared to do so,” she said. “That is why I want to open the debate … on whether we should and can reach a target on renewables at the next climate conference.”
Baerbock’s proposal flips the script on a previous push to set a deadline for phasing out all fossil fuels, which faced stiff resistance from major oil and gas exporting nations. They instead have backed the idea of capturing planet-warming emissions as a way to reduce greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.
Experts have said such technologies, known as carbon capture and storage, are not proven at scale and could require huge investments at the expense of cheaper alternatives, such as solar and wind power.
Triple green capacity by 2030
Sultan al-Jaber, a former oil company executive who will preside over the COP28 climate summit from November 30 to December 12, urged nations to triple renewables capacity by 2030.
“We will accelerate delivery in sectors like renewables that must triple capacity by 2030 and double it again by 2040,” al-Jaber said in a speech at the opening of the Petersberg Climate Dialogue – a meeting of climate diplomats in Berlin.
Al-Jaber’s call marked a public endorsement of a target laid out by the International Energy Agency. Last month, at a closed-door meeting with G7 leaders in Japan, he had also raised the target.
The COP28 chair also used his speech to call on developed countries to deliver a long-promised $100bn climate package for developing countries.
“Expectations are high. Trust is low. This is holding up progress, and as part of my outreach, I am requesting donor countries to provide a definitive assessment on the delivery of this commitment before COP28,” al-Jaber said.
‘End of the fossil-fuel age’
Addressing officials from about 40 countries attending the annual meeting, Baerbock said renewables such as solar and wind power are already the most cost-effective form of generating energy in most places around the world.
“Our goal for the [climate conference] in Dubai must be to ring in the end of the fossil fuel age,” she said.
The idea received a cool response from the United Arab Emirates, which will host this year’s UN climate summit.
“In a pragmatic, just and well-managed energy transition, we must be laser-focused on phasing out fossil fuel emissions, while phasing up and scaling up viable, affordable zero-carbon alternatives,” said al-Jaber. He placed particular emphasis on the word “emissions” as he spoke.
“We know that the energies used today will continue to be part of the global energy mix for the foreseeable future,” he added. “As such, we will work with the world to decarbonise the current energy system while we build a new one, capable of transitioning even the most heavy-emitting industries.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for an end to all fossil fuel use, which is blamed for the majority of global warming that has occurred since the start of the industrial era. But so far only coal has been put on notice with a commitment by nations two years ago to “phase down” its use.
Environmental campaigners say solutions also need to be found for millions of workers in the coal, oil and gas industry if it is to be wound down successfully, as well as alternative sources of energy for billions of people around the world who still rely on cheap fossil fuels.
“What we need to see coming out of COP28 is not just about fossil fuel phaseout, but equitable phaseout of fossil fuels,” said Harjeet Singh, head of global political strategy at Climate Action Network International.
Diplomats attending the meeting in Berlin will also be discussing how to ramp up various forms of financial aid for developing countries hardest hit by climate change.
US climate envoy John Kerry has said the total amount needed to help all countries make the economic transition to a green economy will run into the trillions of dollars. Experts have said that in addition to aid, large sums will need to come from the private sector. Other sources such as carbon taxes on air and sea travel have also been floated.
Pakistan’s Climate Minister Sherry Rehman made clear the impatience of countries such as her own, which is still grappling with the effects of last year’s devastating floods.
“We’re looking to move forward on finding paths to climate financing that is real, that is actionable, and that is delivered in time without institutionalised red tape to countries that are in need and countries that are in climate catastrophe,” she told reporters in Berlin.