Pausing transition to replace Russian fuel is 'madness'

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Neglecting net zero policies in favour of short-term actions to replace Russian fossil fuels is "madness", and could close the window for limiting global warming to 1.5°C, UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres said today.

The conflict in Ukraine is a threat to "the food and energy markets with major implications for the global climate agenda", Guterres said, adding that short-term measures being taken by some countries to replace Russian oil and gas could create long-term fossil fuel dependence.

The timeline to cut emissions to hit the Paris climate agreement's goal to limit global warming to 1.5°C is "extremely tight", he said. "Instead of hitting the brakes on the decarbonisation of the global economy, now is the time to [press] the pedal … towards a renewable energy future," he said.

The US, UK, Canada and Australia have either banned or are phasing out Russian oil imports in response to the Ukraine crisis. The EU has yet to follow suit but countries across Europe are looking at ways to reduce their reliance on Russian energy and safeguard energy security. The race to cut Russian fossil fuel dependence has even led some European countries, including the UK, Germany and Italy, to consider postponing the closure of some coal plants.

Accelerating the phasing out of coal and all fossil fuels while implementing "a rapid, just and sustainable energy transition" is the only "true pathway" to energy security, according to Guterres. "Addiction to fossil fuels is mutually assured destruction," he said. "[Recent] events made it all too clear that the continued reliance on fossil fuels put the global economy and energy security at the mercy of geopolitical shocks and crises."


Goodbye kiss

Countries must honour the pledge made during last year's UN Cop 26 climate conference in Glasgow to strengthen their national climate plans every year until they meet the Paris goal, and the climate finance that has been promised needs to be unlocked, Guterres said.

"If we continue more of the same, we can kiss 1.5°C goodbye. Even 2°C might be out of reach," he said, adding that the issue of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 was not solved in Glasgow. "The problem is getting worse, and according to national commitments, global emissions are set to increase by 14pc in the 2020s," he said.

Guterres said G20 countries hold the key to stop global warming. "A growing number have announced meaningful emissions reductions by 2030, with a handful of holdouts such as Australia." At the same time, "development imperatives" and a dependence on coal are standing in the way of similar commitments from some major emerging economies — including China, India and Indonesia, he said.

But the planet "cannot afford the climate blame game", he said, adding that more coalitions to help major emerging economies with the resources and technology to accelerate the transition from coal to renewable energy are needed. "These countries often hit many roadblocks on the road for renewable energy," Guterres said.

Some notable coal consumers — including Morocco, Poland, Ukraine and Vietnam — signed up to a coal phase-out coalition at Cop 26, but countries representing more than 85pc of global coal-fired capacity were absent from the landmark agreement.


By Caroline Varin

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