For the first time, the US shows its support for the UN agreement to gradually reduce the use of fossil fuels

During UN climate change negotiations in Egypt on Wednesday, the United States signaled its support for the adoption of language calling for phasing out the use of fossil fuels. — a major symbolic shift for the world’s largest oil and gas producer.

The possible amendment to an agreement between 190 nations that is under discussion is symbolic and would not have any enforcement mechanism. Instead, like the existing climate agreement, the Glasgow Climate Pact, calls on participating countries to pursue the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the goal of gradually reducing the use of fossil fuels will be aspirational. .

Climate change activists who have been campaigning for The climate change conference, known as COP27, to incorporate the goal of moving away from the use of fossil fuels greeted the news as a triumph. At previous climate change conferences, the United States and other major oil and gas producers have refused to sign on to similar language.

“It is a breakthrough for the United States to support a global reduction in fossil fuels after nearly three decades without mentioning them in these climate agreements,” Jean Su, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s energy justice program, said in a statement. statement emailed to Yahoo News.

Presidential Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry speaks at a podium.

Presidential Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry at the UN Climate Change Conference November 9 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. (Peter Dejong/AP)

But the new US support comes with one condition: that the phase-out relates only to “unabridged” fossil fuels, that is, those burned without technology to capture carbon dioxide emissions in the stack. That technology, known as carbon capture and storage, or CCS, is in use in only 18 facilities around the world, almost all of them industrial. CCS has been used in only one coal-fired power plant in the United States, but it could allow fossil fuel use to continue with less damage to the climate if widely adopted. The recently passed Cut Inflation Act, which will spend $369 billion reducing US greenhouse gas emissions over 10 years, includes financing for research and development of carbon capture technology.

Presidential special climate envoy John Kerry, who heads the US delegation at the conference, known as COP27, told Bloomberg News on Wednesday that the Biden administration will accept a broader call for a phase-out of fossil fuels than the one incorporated at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, last year. At that conference, the Glasgow Climate Pact only included a commitment to gradually reduce coal use without abating.

“It has to be non-stop oil and gas,” Kerry said in an interview in Sharm el-Sheikh. “Gradual reduction, without ceasing, over time. Time is a question, but ‘phasing down’ is the language we support.”

The use of “phasing down,” which is softer than, say, the “absolute end” to fossil fuel use sought by many environmentalists and indigenous rights activists – also gives countries like the US leeway.

Attendees photograph each other near an arch that has a sign reading: COP27, Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt 2022.

Attendees outside the main entrance of the COP27 climate conference on November 6 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Still, at this year’s conference, India also pushed through a broader anti-fossil fuel amendment. On Tuesday, the European Union said it would join Britain and a coalition of small island nations backing India’s proposal.

Climate change activists, many of whom oppose the use of carbon capture Because it is seen as a way to keep fossil fuels in the energy mix, he expressed reservations about Kerry’s terms.

“Limiting such a phase-out to ‘relentless’ fossil fuels could open up a Pandora’s box of bogus solutions from polluters, such as carbon capture, which only spreads devastating damage,” Su said. “We need words that reflect the reality that new fossil fuels condemn us to an uninhabitable planet.”

Whatever words are included in the final text at the end of this week, none will guarantee that any country will actually shut down its gas-fired power plants and replace them with solar panels or wind turbines. No one is discussing concrete targets to reduce the use of fossil fuels, and even if they were, the climate deal being discussed is not a legally binding treaty.

But many nations, including the US, have previously resisted anti-fossil fuel language because the direction set out in the deal influences policy. The Biden administration, for example, has been strongly committed to trying to get the US to meet the goal first promised in the 2015 Paris climate accord of cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by the year 2030. President Biden’s Build Back Better proposal was designed to achieve that goal. After opposition from Republicans and Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., forced Biden to drop some of the weather provisions, Manchin agreed to support the Cut Inflation Act, which is projected to achieve 40% reduction emissions by 2030 through subsidies for electricity. vehicles and clean energy.

Similarly, a coalition of countries including the US and Japan announced on Tuesday that they will be providing $20 billion in public and private grants and loans to help Indonesia decommission coal plants and replace them with clean power generation, though no binding agreements exist.

Since the rise of fracking, the United States has become the largest oil producer and the world’s largest producer of natural gas, making opposition to the production and use of fossil fuels politically difficult for US politicians. Projecting the death of the coal industry, which has been in decline for decades, has drawn a fierce backlash from Democrats, including Hillary Clinton. Earlier this month biden said “we are going to be closing these [coal] plants all over the United States and have wind and solar power.” That led Manchin to call the president’s comments “outrageous and divorced from reality,” forcing the White House to Go backwards.

Kerry’s requirement that the provision apply only to fossil fuels without diminishing could assuage internal criticism. However, other major oil and gas producing nations may reject the proposal. Saudi Arabia’s energy minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, has said in interviews at COP27 that the country continues to see a role for oil and gas for the foreseeable future and that it is seeking to minimize emissions from oil and gas production while developing its capacity to produce and one day export clean energy. And in the US, the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives on Wednesday will likely mean the end of new clean energy spending, regardless of what is included in this year’s climate deal.

The conference is scheduled to end on Friday, but observers are already predicting it will drag on as thorny issues like the future of fossil fuels and compensation for the poorest countries suffering natural disasters related to climate change.

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