Countdown to COP27: What was announced at Joe Biden’s energy and climate forum?

The Forum was organised by the White House and held online

Last Thursday (16 June), UN climate talks in Germany closed without a formal agreement, with developing nations expressing “disappointment” and “regret” that EU member states and other wealthy nations were unwilling to show strong ambition on international finance and loss and damage. The EU and the US have stated that funding of $100bn per year should be channelled through existing pathways. Developing nations want a specific funding facility, and for additional money to be provided to make up for historic underpayments.

The talks are regarded as a major milestone on the road to COP27 in Egypt in November. At present, there is no requirement for a formal decision on loss and damage financing to be made at any COP before 2024. Developing nations want such a requirement added to this year’s agenda.

Before the dust could settle on Bonn, Biden hosted the Major Economies’ Forum on Energy and Climate on Friday (17 June), with world leaders convening online. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was notably absent – he chose to have COP26 President Alok Sharma attend in his place as he prepared for sinus surgery on Monday (20 June). The other nations represented were Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, China, Egypt, the European Commission, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Vietnam. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also joined the call.

On the agenda were:

  • A recap on nations’ progress with updating their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Agreement, which all nations agreed at COP26 to do before COP27.
  • The sharing of steps being taken to respond to energy security concerns in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
  • Announcements of nations joining existing collaborative initiatives on topics such as methane emissions.
  • The launch of new joint initiatives, including a US-Egypt partnership on climate adaptation in Africa.

It bears noting that, aside from having the finger pointed at it by developing nations, the Biden administration is facing challenges in delivering its headline climate ambitions due to opposition from within. Republicans and some influential democrats, including coal baron Joe Manchin,  have forced Biden to scale back funding for his headline ‘Build Back Better’ bill. Later this month, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could be stripped of its powers to regulate greenhouse gas emissions in the future, following years of legal campaigning from similar factions.

Here, edie recaps on the key announcements, inviting readers to consider the remaining gaps in national and international ambition and action on climate ahead of COP27.

New initiatives launched

Biden confirmed that his administration, and that of Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah El-Sisi are partnering to develop a new initiative focused on improving climate resilience across Africa. Details are sparse at present and more information will be provided pre-COP27.  A major climate science report published in February confirmed that 3.3 billion people globally are already “highly vulnerable” to physical climate impacts, warning that unprecedented action would be needed to give these communities the prospect of a “liveable” future by 2050. Developing regions including sub-Saharan Africa are among those already severely affected, and forecast to bear the brunt of climate impacts in the coming decades.

Separately, Biden launched a new Global Fertiliser Challenge with a goal of raising $100m of support ahead of COP27. The Challenge has been launched in response to the fact that Russia and Ukraine are significant grain and fertiliser exporters, with the war jeopardising food security across the world. To put the funding target into context, the US has set aside $500m for fertiliser production and efficiency domestically.

Under the new Challenge, wealthy nations are being encouraged to reduce their fertiliser use through improving efficiencies on farms and the avoidance of waste. It is estimated that half of the fertilisers imported by major economies do not reach the intended crop. The fertilisers that are freed up could then be used to ensure supply in developing nations. Wealthy nations are also being called on to fund the delivery of fertilisers to developing nations and to fund the development of more sustainable fertilisers. Germany, the EU and Norway are already confirmed to support the Global Fertiliser Challenge.

Additionally, Biden asked nations to consider supporting a collective target to provide $90bn of public investment in clean energy technologies this decade. The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) 2050 net-zero roadmap is predicated on this level of investment being made. Priority technologies include green hydrogen, large-scale energy storage, advanced nuclear, offshore wind and carbon capture. The target could be set through the existing First Movers Coalition, launched last year by the US and the World Economic Forum.

New members for existing initiatives

It was announced at the Forum that 120 nations have now signed the Global Methane Pledge. The Pledge was jointly launched by the US and EU ahead of COP26, with signatories called upon to cut methane emissions by 30% by 2030. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas and major methane producers include the oil and gas sector and animal agriculture. One of the latest joiners is Egypt, for whom the commitment will apply to the energy industry only. This sector-specific commitment opened this month for the first time and is intended for nations with more sizeable fossil fuel sectors and smaller animal agriculture sectors.

Separately, the US sought international support for its domestic commitment to ensure that half of all light-duty vehicle sales made by 2030 are zero-emission. Support was offered by Canada, Chile, the EU, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Norway and the US. Several of these markets have more ambitious targets already. For example, the UK is ending new petrol and diesel car and van sales – including plug-in hybrid sales – in 2030.

Finally, the next steps were unveiled for international action on decarbonising shipping, following the launch of the Clydebank Declaration on shipping corridors at COP26 and the US’s Zero Emission Shipping: Mission Innovation funding.

Biden confirmed that, in partnership with Norway, the US Government will launch a ‘Green Shipping Challenge’ at or before COP27. Canada, Chile, the EU, France, Germany, Indonesia, South Korea, Mexico, Norway and the UK all indicated their support. The Challenge will set out “concrete steps” for supporters, including targets for producing alternative shipping fuels and other technologies needed for zero-emission shipping corridors.

Biden called the goals detailed in new and existing initiatives “achievable, in his view”, adding that meeting them would deliver “incredible opportunities” economically and socially as well as environmentally.

NDC updates

The Glasgow Climate Pact – the final outcome from COP26 – included a requirement for all nations to update Paris Agreement NDCs ahead of COP27. This requirement was included in recognition of the fact that current levels of commitments are not aligned with limiting the global temperature increase to either of the Agreement’s temperature pathways – 1.5C or ‘well-below’ 2C.

As has been the case in previous years, we are likely to see most of the updated NDCs being published right before COP27 – or even in the first few days of the summit.

At Biden’s Forum, COP27 host Egypt stated that it is “putting the finishing touches” on an updated NDC, which will include new sector-specific targets. Chile, Indonesia, Mexico, Turkey, the UAE and Vietnam all stated that they intend to submit updated NDCs this year.

Australia stated that it has already submitted an updated NDC to the UN this month, following the ousting of Scott Morrison as Prime Minister at its recent election. The previous NDC, submitted in 2021, was headlined by commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28% against a 2005 baseline by 2030. The new 2030 reduction target is 43%.

Biden told attendees: “Glasgow was just the kick-off for a decade of ambition, action, and innovation.  And we look toward COP27.  We have to — we have to dedicate ourselves, as we look forward to it, to delivering on existing goals and undertaking additional efforts to boost our progress.”

Guterres calls for rapid transition away from fossil fuels

Guterres has been increasingly vocal about the need to accelerate the global clean energy transition in recent months. Earlier this year, he called clean energy adoption “the peace plan for the 21st century”, advocating for an end to wars waged over energy access and with nations using their fossil fuel exporter status as a weapon.

At Biden’s Forum, Guterres once again used his platform to state that: “Nothing could be more clear or present than the danger of fossil fuel expansion. Even in the short-term, fossil fuels don’t make political or economic sense.”

He said: “We seem trapped in a world where fossil fuel producers and financiers have humanity by the throat. For decades, the fossil fuel industry has invested heavily in pseudoscience and public relations – with a false narrative to minimise their responsibility for climate change and undermine ambitious climate policies…They exploited precisely the same scandalous tactics as big tobacco decades before. Like tobacco interests, fossil fuel interests and their financial accomplices must not escape responsibility.”

As noted above, the US Federal Government is facing challenges from Republicans – and some Democrats with coal and oil interests – in delivering the extent of its climate finance commitments and maintaining key targets. Guterres’ address was doubtless intended to be heard by Biden and his teams.

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