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Commentary. The U.S.-China agreement gives a boost to Russia and the E.U. to ratify the COP21 agreement.

With big polluters on board, Paris Agreement has a chance

On the eve of the G20 summit, United States and China have ratified the Paris Agreement on global climate policy. It sends a strong signal to the whole world and particularly for the most industrialized countries. In order for the agreement signed last December in Paris to achieve legal status, it must be ratified by countries representing at least 55 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Until now, it had been ratified by a score of countries; however, they only accounted for 1 percent of global emissions.

China and the U.S. — the top two greenhouse gas generators on the planet — account for 38 percent of global emissions. The ratification by the E.U., which represents about 12 percent of global emissions, must follow a more complex path. It must be ratified by all member states, and we expect the example set up by China and the U.S. will help the E.U. to speed up the process.

Even though the political signal is strong and sends a positive message for the protection of the planet, it should be seen as a starting point — required to give legally binding value to the content of the agreement — but not sufficient in itself. In fact, as is well known, there is no way the “voluntary commitments” presented in Paris will achieve the set objective — to maintain the global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius or, better yet, below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

On one hand, the acceleration from China and the U.S. can speed up the implementation of the agreement, but it also involves a serious revision of the reduction targets, which must be strengthened to keep the planet below the 2-degree threshold, not to mention the more stringent target of 1.5 degrees.

In spite of the fact that global CO2 emissions have stopped growing in the last two years — mainly due to the reduction in coal consumption recorded in China — they must soon begin to fall, and quickly. Fortunately, there has been an increase in investments in renewable sources, but it is still not enough; according to Greenpeace estimates, they should quadruple in the next decade. In addition, many of the G20 countries continue to plan the construction of new coal plants, even as others are being gradually shut down.

The “great energy evolution” that is needed to save the global climate is more viable today than most people realize, or than it was even just a few years ago. These days, a tender for the construction of a 120 MW power plant in Chile was won with an electricity price equal to half the cost of electricity from coal. Something unthinkable only five years ago is now happening in several countries.

According to the report Brown to Green by Climate Transparency, which presents an evaluation of the behavior of the G20 countries on the global climate, the countries that have invested the most in renewable energy are Brazil, Canada, India, South Africa, the E.U. and Italy. It also congratulates France for the completion of an agreement in Paris and Germany for raising the issue of decarbonization on the G7 agenda. On the other hand, it mentions precisely Italy, along with Japan and Turkey, among the worst countries for climate policy at the national level.

China’s serious approach is supported by some specific events that occurred in 2015: The production of wind (31GW) and solar (15GW) energy grew more than electricity demand, and coal consumption declined for the third consecutive year. In addition, the new renewable targets for China for five years are equal to adding green electricity to the entire production of Great Britain.

The paucity of policies in Italy can be observed in the decline in the renewable energy sector, as well as the total lack of dialogue between the government and the sector, and the measures to block self-consumption from renewable sources.

As evidenced by a Greenpeace report, Renewables in the Viewfinder, we have gone from 150,000 solar plants, which began operating in 2012, to 722 in 2015. The wind sector, which in a moderate growth scenario could generate more than 60,000 jobs, lost 4,000 jobs in 2014. At the same time, according to the IMF, subsidies to fossil energy are increasing in Italy.

In the aftermath of the referendum on drilling, the prime minister held a press conference with Eni and Enel to repeat what has already been decided or was already included in the business plans, as well as to announce Eni’s solar investments. Several hundred MW of solar energy is a positive thing in itself, but it remains very marginal compared to the total investments of the company, and especially in view of the fact that the industrial strategy has not changed.

It was basically a greenwashing message, however, strongly supported by the hype of the advertising campaign launched by the oil company in recent weeks.

In the middle of the referendum campaign, the president of the council reiterated on social media on #matteorisponde the target of a 50 percent production from renewable electricity set by the legislature. Is it so outrageous to ask whether and how this concrete goal proclaimed by Renzi — an objective aligned with the great transformation necessary for the execution of the Paris Agreements — will be put into practice? We are expecting an answer.

Giuseppe Onufrio is director of Greenpeace Italy.