Energy Prices And Climate Concerns Clash At COP26

This weekend, the leaders of the 20 largest economies in the world pledged to limit the rise of average global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial times. Also this weekend, U.S. President Joe Biden urged the oil and gas producing members of the group to increase output amid soaring prices.

And he wasn’t the only one.

The 1.5-degree commitment and the call for more fossil fuel production are so at odds that they would confuse anyone, especially since the climate crisis is routinely referred to as existential. And the action needed on this crisis, repeatedly emphasized by all reputable agencies and governments, is being hailed as urgent. So how does a pledge to limit global temperature changes square with calls for more oil production?

“We commit to tackle the existential challenge of climate change,” G20 said in a draft communiqué, as cited by Reuters on Friday. “We recognise that the impacts of climate change at 1.5 degrees are much lower than at 2 degrees and that immediate action must be taken to keep 1.5 degrees within reach.”

Indeed, the 1.5-degree scenario is the more ambitious one. As such, it is this scenario that has been seen by some scientists as already impossible to achieve. After all, this scenario would require a reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 50 percent over the next nine years and to net zero by 2050. The G20 leaders, however, made no firm commitments as to deadlines, only saying, per news reports, that it would aim for net-zero “by or around mid century”.

If emissions must be slashed so much and so quickly, then the call for more oil and gas now begins to sound even stranger as it goes against the G20 pledge.

The reason for such a confusing call, of course, is that energy bills begin to weigh heavily on households.

In France, some are struggling to pay their bills even though France gets more than two-thirds of its electricity from its nuclear power plants. In Germany, inflation surged to the highest level in 28 years because energy prices rose by 18.6 percent last month, making everything more expensive. During that month, the German government decided to scrap a renewable power fee that was designed to trigger more wind and solar capacity that would alleviate the utility bill burdens on households.

Unhappy households contain unhappy voters, so the call for more oil and gas production – and accusations towards OPEC+ that the energy price surge is its fault – are understandable, coming from elected officials. Yet environmentalist organizations such as Greenpeace are already unhappy with the G20 commitment, and they are made up of voters, too.

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