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If you could describe this topic in one snappy sentence, what would it be?
The war in Ukraine, will it be a help or a hindrance for the world's net zero goals? By the end of the COP26 Summit in Glasgow last year, there was a real sense of optimism and progress. Around 80 per cent of the world's emissions were covered by net zero targets. And the final deal saw 197 countries say they're going to phase down coal and phase down fossil fuel subsidies. But just a few months later, the global energy picture has really changed.
Rather than coal use declining, it actually surged over the winter as the post-pandemic economy roared back to life. The war in Ukraine will boost coal demand even further in the short term. In Europe, countries are saying they need to burn more coal this winter to make up for lost Russian gas supplies. And in Asia, coal is still a very dominant fuel.
The optimistic view is that the war has actually lent a new sense of urgency to the transition away from oil, gas, and coal. And moves are being made, in Europe at least, to wean the continent off of oil and gas. But the bad news is that outside of Europe much of the rest of the world seems to be going the wrong direction in climate terms.
In the US, the Biden administration is encouraging companies to produce more oil and gas. And China is also building more pipelines so it can import more gas from its neighbour, Russia. But even in Europe, it will be very hard to cut dependence on Russian energy.
Take gas, for example. Last year, Europe got about 30 per cent of its natural gas from Russia. Around 1/3 of that amount can be replaced by Liquefied Natural Gas. But the challenge with LNG is that it requires specialised infrastructure and ports and ships. You can't just snap your fingers and get it overnight.
Another option to replace Russian gas supplies is nuclear power. And we have seen kind of a revival in this industry in Europe since the war began. And then of course there's renewables. And we're likely to see a huge boost in renewable investment in the coming months. But the challenge is renewables take time to build. One thing clean energy companies are asking for right now is that governments speed up the permitting process so that new wind farms and solar farms can be built as quickly as possible.
And we can't forget the politics of all of this. The war in Ukraine has undermined this delicate diplomacy that underpins the UN COP process, the summits, and the Paris Climate Accord. Any action on climate change can only be successful if big emitters, such as Russia and China, are also included. And there's already signs that China is less involved in preparations for the COP27 Summit which takes place this autumn in Egypt.
So some people think the war is only a short-term thing, and this is just a speed bump. But the reason this is all so important is that we have a very limited window to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees compared to pre-industrial levels. To achieve that target, the world will have to cut emissions in half by 2030, which is just eight years away. Right now it seems like Europe might be getting back on track with its clean energy ambitions, but Europe is only 11 per cent of global emissions. So it's very hard for that to outweigh what's happening in the rest of the world.
At the end of the day, climate change can only be tackled if every country in the world works together, and that's the thing that I worry about most right now. The world is at war. And that means that climate diplomacy and setting better climate targets are going to take a backseat. The world was already behind on its climate goals before the war began. And although there may be some specific countries and specific areas where the war has been a catalyst for clean energy development, my personal view is this sets us even further behind on our net-zero targets.