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Will COP27 be a Mere Diplomatic Gathering?

By Yi Wang

As the UN climate change summit (COP27) will be held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt in November, politicians, environmentalists, and industrialists from all over the world are full of expectations and doubts about what it may bring.

The COP26 last year held in Glasgow forged some promising agreements, from phasing out “inefficient” fossil fuel subsidies to China and India pledging to phase down coal use, and the summit also gave the green light for the establishment of a global carbon trading market system.

Yet, the war in Ukraine changes everything, where it seriously endangers energy security, and drives global inflation. Geopolitical interference has artificially disrupted the global energy situation, especially impacting the European energy supply. Changes in the global energy supply and demand pattern affect the daily livelihoods and even the basic survival of people across the globe. In the short term, "available energy source" has become far more important than " environmentally friendly energy source".

As the war ravages Ukraine, other parts of the world are facing extreme weather. Severe droughts sweep across the northern hemisphere. One of the hardest-hit regions is the Horn of Africa, which has experienced four consecutive rainy seasons without a drop of water, whilst the Yangtze River Basin of China dries up. Climate change spells catastrophe and it is an increasingly pressing matter that affects every single person on this planet.

The most direct impact of it is food security. Insufficient rainfall in India this year has affected agricultural production in several regions, including West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh, which account for a quarter of total rice production. In Germany, France, the Netherlands, and other important potato-growing countries in Europe, the potato harvest in 2022 is expected to be significantly reduced. More and more key agricultural producers have decided to restrict their food exports. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the past two years has already tightened the global food supply. Now, with the impact of the Russian-Ukrainian war, the world has begun to witness a food crisis. The number of those facing acute food insecurity has soared, from 135 million before 2019 to the current 345 million, according to the World Food Programme.

We should, therefore, understand that solving the problem of global climate change is a worldwide and systematic battle that involves all, an urgent top priority one at that. The objective of the summit should then be on formulating pragmatic solutions without being overly cynical.

There are two aspects that the COP27 agenda should focus on, the first on the list would be the further optimisation of the UN cooperation and consultation mechanism.

In the response to climate change, there are more and more calls for equal participation, fair transformation, and organisational cooperation. The UN will need to work with private companies, non-profit organisations, civil society, and academia in developing countries to assist in obtaining necessary and reliable data. Market openness and fair competition too will be indispensable in this. It would also be crucial for the UN to work closely with think tanks in research projects involving a wide range of policy issues, in addition to information sharing. In terms of the optimisation of such a mechanism, the business community will need to get involved as well. In fact, the financial risks and major issues that climate change poses to businesses make it imperative for more business executives to be strategically aware of the risks. Whether risk management or business opportunity development, relevant concepts should be integrated into corporate culture and development strategies. In this regard, the UN will need to be more proactively providing training and guidance to professionals worldwide.

The second aspect is developing and implementing hydrogen energy solutions. Driven by the carbon reduction agenda, the development of the use of hydrogen energy is increasingly regarded as an important means of low-carbon energy alternative. The European Hydrogen Energy Strategy (2020) clearly stated that by 2024, electrolyser with an installed capacity of 6GW will be built in the EU, and the annual output of green hydrogen will exceed 1 million tonnes. By 2030, the annual output of green hydrogen will reach 10 million tonnes. Meanwhile, the UK has released the Hydrogen and CCUS and Investor Roadmaps, setting its support for the sector over the next decade, which will attract £9b of private investment into its hydrogen projects.

On the other side of the globe, the proportion of fossil fuels in China's energy consumption currently exceeds 84%, which certainly does not meet the requirements of future climate change. On March 23, 2022, the country’s National Development and Reform Commission and the National Energy Administration jointly issued the Medium and Long-Term Plan for the Development of Hydrogen Energy Industry (2021-2035), which is the top-level design for the development of China's hydrogen energy industry.

The development of hydrogen energy will transcend the significance and value of energy transformation itself. Under the multiple pressures of economic development, intensified geopolitical friction, and global climate change, China's energy security will inevitably manifest itself as "comprehensive security". In the end, it will have substantial contributions to global climate change, and also contribute to China's Energy security.

A fairer and more inclusive approach that balances conscience and interests will give more people the opportunity to participate in addressing the world's most pressing issues. As things stand, the UN will need a set of key performance indicators (KPIs) to supervise the actions in regard to climate change. COP27 should not become yet another diplomatic gathering that does not contribute to actual problem-solving.

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