Sandrine Mathy is an environmental economist at the CNRS. In this interview, she reviews the countries’ commitments to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions which she considers encouraging but nevertheless insufficient because the two Asian giants, China and India, will continue to use coal. The expert explains to us the challenges of COP26 in the light of the economic negotiations that feed the question of financing the fight against climate change.
On the eve of COP26, what to think of the States’ commitments? Progress has been made since the Paris Agreement as a number of countries have stepped up their commitments, in particular the United States and Europe. In addition, around a hundred countries have announced, more or less firmly established in law, carbon neutrality objectives for the second half of the century. These signs are encouraging but not sufficient. Indeed, even if we approach the objective of + 2 ° C (since the upward revisions of contributions would lead to a warming of 2.4 ° C), we would currently be on a trajectory of 2.7 ° C. by the end of the century. Carbon neutrality commitments are problematic because they are not included in the objectives for 2030 nor are they associated with longer-term quantitative reduction objectives. COP26: +0.5 ° C of warming, what this changing? So what’s the problem with carbon neutrality?
As long as these goals ofare not effectively declined in national sectoral trajectories, one can doubt the achievement of these objectives. This doubt is reinforced by the observation of a resumption of the use of fossil fuels such as gas, Where , especially in China, which is causing the price of energy to skyrocket. For the year 2020, , for example, has built 40 gigawatts of thermal power plants, which means that they will still be in service for about 40 years, . However, stopping the use of fossil fuels, primarily coal, is one of the most urgent climate issues.
Today, the commitments of States are considered insufficient by scientists and by the UN, how to explain the gap between the climate emergency, the stated ambitions and the means?
For a long time and still too often today, the fight against climate change is seen as a constraint, as a cost. We must reduce thegreenhouse gases, but the benefits of climate action are neither taken into account nor noticeable in the short term. In the same way, one does not take into account in the the many co-benefits of these climate policies which, however, can materialize in the short term.
It is advisable to add the weight of the lobbies. The fact that the big oil majors have denied the problem and made sure, for years, that these issues are not taken seriously by the big names of this world. Indeed, talking about climate is talking about jobs, economy, exports, resource extraction and energy-related rents. These rents provide a large part of the income of producing and exporting countries.
There is room for maneuver to implement policies that take into account the challenges of fuel poverty
Behind all this, there are also very strong social issues. When we try to haveup to the challenges in France with the increase in decided by , we end up with the “yellow vests” crisis. We cannot deny the social issues, yet work in economics, sociology and political science shows that there is room for maneuver to implement policies that take into account the challenges of which would make it possible not to increase social inequalities.
Besides, aren’t the climate negotiations economic negotiations that do not speak their name?
Indeed, the problem may be that the COPs are economic negotiations that do not speak their name. We must undoubtedly stop disconnecting climate issues from economic and commercial issues. Perhaps everything should have been negotiated at the same time with more climate negotiations at the WTO. As long as we do not talk about the economy and international trade, it is not possible to respond to climate issues since, in any case, fighting against themeans that the oil-exporting countries or the coal-producing countries will lose their rents. This also involves thinking about the professional retraining of the extraction sector, miners, as well as other sectors dependent on fossil fuels …
Achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement can only be achieved through structural changes in the economy
At some point, it will takebecause achieving the objectives of the Paris Agreement can only be achieved through structural changes in the economy. It will not be possible to continue to patch up the economy because we will have to change a lot of things in our lifestyles and in our production methods. The showed our spending on imports. Our current economic system is extremely vulnerable, as can be seen from our dependence on imports and the repercussions of soaring energy prices linked to our dependence on fossil fuels. The advantage of tackling the climate issue collectively would be to think about the development of a more resilient system.
Climate regulations are still perceived by certain actors as obstacles to economic development, what economic mechanism can be implemented in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while being considered “acceptable”?
Carbon taxation is essential, but it must meet the challenges while taking into account the imperatives of social justice. A carbon tax must be introduced with a progressivity displayed over time so that it is anticipated by households and all economic players. The income generated should accompany the transition and help offset the efforts made by the poorest households. There is also a need for planning and support for the sectors which will have to decrease, in particular by preparing the professional retraining of workers in these sectors of activity.
Finally, a border adjustment tax is being discussed by the European Commission as part of its plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030. This tax would make it possible to no longer be afraid of losses in competitiveness at the continuation of the implementation of climate policies in Europe. It would make it less vulnerable to low-cost imports from countries lacking ambitious climate policies. As a first step, the European Commission proposes that it be restricted to certain sectors: the, l’ , the and the . The difficulty with this mechanism is to make it compatible with the WTO criteria which determine the rules of international trade.
The issue of financing the fight against climate change remains a sticking point in the negotiations. Of the 100 billion in annual aid promised by developed countries, only 80 billion have so far been found. Can the situation change? Can this issue become a sticking point in the upcoming negotiations?
This risks being a sticking point since developing countries do not accept that developed countries do not keep their promises. It was however a commitment of the Paris Agreement of 2015. The subject raises expectations and one can hope that announcements will be made during the COP26 to find the 20 billion missing.
It is also necessary to include more thanon the use of these funds and verify that they are allocated to projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, climate change mitigation and adaptation. There should also be more funding for adaptation, whereas today a very large part of this funding is aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Corollary of the question of the historical responsibility for global warming, the question of Losses and Damages (loss and damage) will come back to the table. Are repairs possible?
In the minds of developed countries, this is unthinkable. For the moment, the subject of loss and damage requires progress on the level of knowledge of responsibilities. It is still difficult to attribute climatic events to climate change, then there remains the question of how to take account of slow phenomena such asor the increase in average temperatures which have repercussions on the territories, , tourism etc.
What do you expect from COP26?
In my opinion, it would be important to obtain coal commitments there, especially when we look at China, where the commissioning of many coal-fired power stations is still planned. And this, despite the claim that China would reach the.
It takes very quickly. Many countries have announced that they will stop financing coal-fired power plants internationally, others that they will not build new coal-fired production capacities, but this is largely insufficient and we need firmer commitments to this level very urgently.
One of the expectations of COP26 will not be precisely to ask countries like China and India to do more on coal when developed countries have already made many commitments and are relying on technology. However, the developing countries argue of their right to development to still maintain coal?
China and India cannot be put on the same level. The level of emissions per capita in India remains very low due to the country’s economic backwardness while now that of a Chinese is equivalent to that of a European. The two Asian giants have planned to continue to use coal. China plans about 150 gigawatts of additional capacity of electricity produced from coal, while India is “only” about twenty gigawatts.
Today, the stake is clearly to make sure that China reduces its dependence on coal by posting more ambitious objectives. The difficulty will be to achieve this knowing that the trade war with the United States complicates the situation.
Interview by Julien Leprovost