A heatwave spread across Europe this last week; thermometers soared past 40C as temperatures broke new records. Schools close to Paris were forced to close; Germany introduced speed restrictions on its autobahns; and a Spanish meteorologist tweeted a map of the country’s weather forecast with the caption: “Hell is coming.”
Temperatures are also running high in the climate change debate ahead of the G20 meeting in Osaka. Japan is set to omit references to “global warming” and “decarbonisation” from a G20 communiqué in a bid to please the US. This comes just days after four central European states — Estonia, Czech Republic, Poland and Bulgaria — stopped the EU from committing to a 2050 net zero carbon emissions target last week.
Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, is trying to prevent the publication of the IPCC Report. Last week Republican senators in Oregon fled the state to block the passage of a landmark bill that would commit the state, like neighbouring California, to ambitious reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. School strikes by teenagers and direct action, such as that by Extinction Rebellion, who demand governments “tell the truth”, have become a regular occurrence in recent months. Yet, international progress on fighting climate change is in danger of stalling. Bold and decisive leadership is needed if temperatures are to be prevented from rising to catastrophic levels. Countries that depend on fossil fuels will ultimately face a choice between foot-dragging or being left behind by technological progress. Renewables are often beating traditional sources on cost as well as on carbon emissions. Blocking international agreements will not keep coal viable.
Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, is rightly making a stand. He has pledged to refuse to sign any G20 communiqué that leaves out a reference to the 2015 Paris agreement on combating climate change.
Bottom-up pressure seems to be working where top-down international conferences stumble. Green parties were big gainers in last months’ European Parliament elections. France and Britain are pushing ahead on their own with net zero targets; Bavaria, a German state not usually known for its radicalism, is going further than the national government to end the use of coal. In the US, city mayors and state governments are stepping in to compensate for the lack of federal government action. Britain, France and California are all relatively large economies but ultimately tackling climate change will depend on action by the largest emitters — China, the US, India and the EU.
This makes global co-operation essential, despite some countries blocking progress since the Paris accord. Governments will need to step up just to meet the Paris targets in coming years. It means being honest with companies, workers and taxpayers about the costs. Spain’s programme to phase out coal, which involved early retirement for miners and payments to coal-dependent regions, provides one model for a so-called “just transition” which spreads costs fairly. Frustrating international agreements can do nothing but delay the inevitable.
The reality of climate change will catch up with politicians. That may be in the form of angry voters on the streets, or of extreme weather that makes cities uninhabitable and crops fail. As fugitive Oregon senators and G20 leaders in Osaka will eventually find, running away is not an option.
See also: https://on.ft.com/2KJQuB4