TINOS, Nov 7 (Reuters Breakingviews) - Joe Biden and other rich country leaders will get a lot of flak from poorer countries when they arrive at the United Nations climate conference in Egypt later this week. But if the United States’ president joins up his existing policies across geopolitics, trade and climate, he can change the narrative.
Biden can drive forward ”Just Energy Transition Partnerships” (JETPs), which aim to fast-track the decarbonisation of developing economies, with countries such as India. This will advance Western interests, while saving the planet. Off Grid Hybrid Solar System
The countries of the Global South will rightly criticise rich countries for failing yet again to meet their promise to provide $100 billion a year in climate finance. America deserves the biggest share of the blame.
States such as Pakistan will also complain that they are already suffering the consequences of climate change despite having done very little to cause it. Again, America merits the lion’s share of the criticism – although other rich countries and China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, are also big culprits.
Many countries, both rich and poor, are also unhappy about the Inflation Reduction Act, Biden’s landmark climate legislation. It is brilliant that the U.S. leader is subsidising the rollout of clean green technology in America. But this legislation also has a protectionist twist, as it encourages domestic production at the expense of foreign manufacturers.
Biden risks alienating potential friends at the same time that he is stressing the importance of alliances to contain the threat of China. As the United States cuts its dependency on Chinese-sourced rare earths, solar panels and the like, it doesn’t have to make all of this in America.
It will be cheaper to spread production around friendly countries according to their comparative advantage. That is the point of “friend-shoring”, a plan to build up trade links with allies, which Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has championed. Does Biden’s left hand know what his right hand is doing?
America and other rich countries have a series of policies which could accelerate the just transition across the Global South. It now needs to pull them together into a coherent package.
The Group of Seven large industrialised nations have created a $600 billion partnership for infrastructure and investment with the developing world, as a green alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
South Africa announced the first JETP at last year’s U.N. climate conference – via an $8.5 billion partnership with rich countries that is ultimately supposed to unlock huge amounts of private capital. Indonesia, Vietnam and Senegal may unveil their own partnerships this month. A deal with India is also in the works, though that will take longer.
The United States and allies have pushed the World Bank and other multilateral development banks to use their balance sheets better to fight climate change. This is a first step in assembling the vast war chest that will be needed to fund just transitions.
America and other rich countries will need to use more public finance to crowd in trillions of dollars of private capital.
The geopolitical risk of inaction is huge. If America and other rich countries don’t supercharge just transitions across the Global South, developing countries won’t accept being stuck in poverty.
Some will turn to China. Some will take the dirty path to development. And millions of their citizens will flee to rich cooler countries to escape poverty and climate catastrophe. This will fan the flames of bigoted nationalism in Europe and America.
Developing countries don’t just want to fight climate change. They want to drag themselves out of poverty and create good jobs. It’s in America’s interests to help them. That means opening up trade opportunities and transferring technology, as well as investing in their green industrial revolutions.
This will, of course, cost money. Developing and emerging economies, excluding China, need $1 trillion a year in investment, according to a new report from the Rockefeller Foundation. The vast majority of this will have to come from private investors, though America and other rich countries need to use more public finance to unlock that capital.
But there can be big returns on that investment. And the cost pales into insignificance by comparison with fighting a fully fledged Cold War, let alone a hot one, with China.
The JETP with South Africa focuses on energy. The country both produces and consumes vast amounts of coal. So it needs financial help to run down coal mines and coal-fired power plants, to retrain workers and to ramp up renewable energy.
Energy will be the core of other JETPs too. Indonesia, for example, produces and consumes a lot of coal, while Vietnam is a big user.
Other countries, such as Bangladesh, are suffering from being too dependent on fossil fuel imports. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Europe has outbid it for gas and there have been widespread blackouts. It needs help to accelerate the rollout of renewable energy.
But energy is not the whole story. Countries also need to transform agriculture, transport, heavy industry and construction. And they need help adapting to the ravages of climate change.
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s election as Brazil’s president means there is now a big opportunity to save the world’s rainforests and make agricultural practices more climate friendly. Forestry and land use need to be central to partnerships with Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo too.
India, the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, is the best example of why joined-up thinking is necessary. It uses a lot of coal for power generation, because it produces very little oil and gas.
Narendra Modi also has huge ambitions in solar energy and other clean technologies such as green hydrogen. The Indian prime minister wants to export these as well as use them at home. India sees a chance to displace China in some of the supply chains of the green industrial revolution. And it has several big industrialists, including Gautam Adani and Mukesh Ambani, who are betting big time on this.
If America and other rich countries negotiate a whole-economy transformation with India, they will kill two birds with one stone. They will help combat climate change and wean themselves off excessive dependency on China. After Biden leaves COP27, he will head to Indonesia for the Group of 20 summit of major economies. Now is the time to think big and act boldly.
(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres told countries gathered at the start of the COP27 summit in Egypt on Monday they face a stark choice: work together now to cut emissions or condemn future generations to climate catastrophe.
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