x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Leaders 'failed on climate progress'

In spite of promising speeches, G20 fails to make notable progress on climate change, experts say.

Leaders and delegates attend a G20 session in Pittsburgh.
Leaders and delegates attend a G20 session in Pittsburgh.

In spite of promising speeches at the UN, leaders from the world's 20 biggest economies failed last week to confront hard decisions on limiting carbon pollution and helping poor countries adapt to global warming, experts said yesterday. A new international treaty on global warming, which will have far-reaching and opposing effects on the UAE's economy, is now far behind schedule, the senior UN climate official, Yvo de Boer, told Associated Press.

Negotiators hope to hammer out a final agreement in December in Copenhagen, and will meet again tomorrow in Bangkok. Group of 20 (G20) leaders of rich and developing economies put off a decision on how to fund poor nations' efforts to adapt to the harmful effects of climate change, such as droughts and flooding, and directed finance ministers from member states to present "a range of possible options for climate change financing" at their next meeting in November.

Although they agreed to end fossil fuel subsidies, which encourage greater carbon emissions, G20 leaders could not agree on the level of total emissions cuts required by industrialised countries, which are responsible for the bulk of reductions. Climate change advocates were quick to paint the meeting as a failure, saying political leaders needed to do more than promise action. "Overall, the Pittsburgh G20 summit represents a missed opportunity to move the ball forward on climate change," said Alden Meyer, the director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, an American group that argues for significant carbon reductions.

"On the critical issue of funding for developing countries to deploy clean technologies, reduce deforestation, and adapt to the impacts of global warming, the G20 leaders didn't take the bold steps needed to break the current deadlock in climate negotiations." The type of emissions cuts agreed at Copenhagen will have significant effects on the UAE's economy, experts say, and have the potential to boost the fortunes of some industries even as it reduces global consumption of oil.

Although the country has historically taken a position similar to other OPEC states and resisted strict new limits on carbon, the economic and strategic rationale has changed dramatically in recent years, said Mari Luomi, an expert on Gulf climate change policy at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs in Helsinki. Important issues for the UAE include the new treaty's effect on world oil demand, its protections for energy intensive industry that is shifting from high-cost regions in Europe and the US to the Middle East and Asia, and its financial support for carbon capture and storage, a costly technology that has the potential to prolong the fossil fuel era while reducing carbon emissions.

"So far Abu Dhabi Government officials and business environmentalists have kept the very ambitious national climate change agenda that is currently developing in Abu Dhabi strictly apart from the negotiations at the international level," Ms Luomi said. "By playing both a supporting and visible role in the negotiations, the UAE would attract a lot of positive attention, which would then add international interest in the new alternative energy and technology projects taking place in Abu Dhabi."

cstanton@thenational.ae