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Najib Saab Climate Driven by War 
17/7/2022
The war in Ukraine revealed the sensitivity of climate agreements to wars and major geopolitical developments, especially if they affect food and energy supplies and plunge the global economy into recession. No matter how stubbornly some may try to prove the opposite, there is no denying that fulfilling climate commitments will be drastically affected in the coming years by the results of this fierce war in Europe, which is ultimately a struggle over natural resources and influence. But the Ukraine bombshell may raise alarm bells for fundamental adjustments in food security and energy policies worldwide, to avoid similar shocks in the future. It seems that policy makers have finally discovered that achieving food and energy security cannot be limited to increasing supplies, but rather to rationalizing consumption, enhancing efficiency and encouraging local production.
 
This impression was reflected in the recent international meetings to follow up on the implementation of the resolutions of the Glasgow Climate Summit and to prepare for COP-27 summit in Sharm el-Sheikh in November. The member states of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held their annual meeting in Bonn, to review commitments to reduce emissions. While everyone expressed good intentions as a result of blanket agreement on the severity of the problem, disagreement over funding intensified. It turned out that the $100 billion that rich countries had long promised to secure annually as primary climate aid for poor countries had not yet been fully secured. This is compounded by the continuing dilemma to agree on a fund financed by rich industrial countries to compensate for the losses and damages resulting from their historical role in climate change.
 
Since talk about climate began in international forums, studies have shown that whereas most of the greenhouse gas emissions came from the major Western countries, starting with the Industrial Revolution, the greatest harm from climate change falls on poor countries, because of local environmental and natural factors on one hand, and their inability to face the problem with the required funding and technology, on the other. Therefore, developing countries did not stop demanding compensation from industrialized countries for the damage they caused to the world's environment during the last 200 years. While the principle itself is plausible, agreement on a mechanism for its implementation has remained elusive. The mere acceptance of paying any compensation for the historical responsibility for emissions opens the door to claims that may not expire within many decades. At the Glasgow Climate Conference, developing countries insisted on creating a fund to offset the historic responsibility, along with the general Climate Fund, which itself is still underfunded. Developing countries agreed to a settlement based on their acceptance of reducing carbon emissions in accordance with the Glasgow resolutions, in exchange for a promise from rich countries to continue working on the issue of establishing a fund for compensation for damages and losses, to reach an agreement ready to be endorsed at COP-27 in Sharm el-Sheikh. But the Bonn meeting failed to reach an agreement on a proposal on the fund, which was again deferred to the Sharm el-Sheikh summit.
 
The consequences of the Ukraine war must have cast a dark shadow over the Bonn meeting, for how can countries whose economies have suffered the largest shrinkage in decades commit to compensation that may reach trillions of dollars within 50 or 100 years, after they had avoided that in years of prosperity and opulence?
 
As soon as the Bonn sessions ended, US President Joe Biden convened the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (MEF), with high-level international participation. The Ukraine war and its impact on food and energy supplies dominated the discussions. The forum succeeded, however, in giving a positive impetus on the road to Sharm el-Sheikh. The US president renewed his commitment to Glasgow's pledges to cut carbon emissions, but added specific targets to them. He promised to accelerate carbon capture, recycling or storage applications, expand clean hydrogen in a few years as a key factor in the energy mix, and make half of the new cars sold in the US in 2030 "zero emissions", running on electricity or hydrogen. Speaking about the risks to food security from shortage of fertilizers due to the Ukraine war, Biden stressed rationalization and ending of waste, pointing as an example to the loss of half of the amount of nitrogen-based fertilizers due to inefficient agricultural practices, representing more than the total that the world needs to fill the current deficit in fertilizers.
 
In the same context, Biden warned that the amount of methane generated by the traditional American energy industries, including natural gas, oil and coal, which is disposed of by burning in open space, is sufficient, if captured and converted into hydrogen, to provide a clean alternative that meets all the needs of Europe from Russian gas. This, in Biden's opinion, solves the problem of emissions from burning methane, and contributes to solving the energy problem in Europe.
 
What Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, pledged at the MEF was no less than President Biden. She marked the year 2035 as the deadline to stop sales of any new cars that emit carbon, allocate about 300 billion euros until 2027 to support clean technologies, present a practical program to the Sharm el-Sheikh summit to seriously reduce emissions in the shipping sector, and allocate 600 billion dollars to support food security in countries most affected by climate change.
 
The Arab region was strongly represented at the global forum, with the noteworthy participation of the Saudi climate envoy, Minister Adel al-Jubeir, who called for an effective international response and mobilization of efforts to confront the challenges of climate change, taking into account the circumstances of developing countries, in view of helping them confront the negative effects, without impeding their programs for sustainable development. Al-Jubeir's speech gained exceptional strength because he supported it with a presentation of Saudi Arabia's plans and ongoing projects and measures to achieve global climate goals. The level of representation and the strong direct language reflected a clear Saudi decision to take a leading role in climate issues instead of just reacting to others' initiatives.
 
These are all noble and beautiful promises. But we will have to wait to see - in the midst of an economic crisis sweeping the world - whether Biden's programs will pass in Congress, and if von der Leyen's promises will pass the scrutiny of the European Union's governing bodies. However, there are those who strongly believe that the crisis triggered by Russia may open the way for accelerating steps for climate action based on clean production, enhancing efficiency and stopping waste.
 
 
 
 
 

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