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The Day After COP28: The Heat Is On

For the first time in thirty years of climate negotiations, Conferences of the Parties (COPs) have started pivoting from greenhouse gas emission to energy pledges

By: EBR - Posted: Wednesday, January 10, 2024

But beyond helping to secure multilateral language on energy, the EU needs to take a good look at the coherence of its policies at home to turn this win into a racetrack for transformation.
But beyond helping to secure multilateral language on energy, the EU needs to take a good look at the coherence of its policies at home to turn this win into a racetrack for transformation.

by Olivia Lazard*

For the first time in thirty years of climate negotiations, Conferences of the Parties (COPs) have started pivoting from greenhouse gas emission to energy pledges. This is a real breakthrough, which the EU contributed to.

But beyond helping to secure multilateral language on energy, the EU needs to take a good look at the coherence of its policies at home to turn this win into a racetrack for transformation.

First and foremost, this requires a reality check with the state of the planet. In 2023, climate indicators shattered past records. Days before COP28, the daily global temperature average temporarily surpassed the 2°C threshold. In the same period, Columbia University’s James Hansen et al. published new research indicating the world will likely breach the 1.5°C threshold within the next few years for good, and head toward a 2°C increase of global temperatures by the end of next decade. Additionally, the global tipping point report confirmed during COP that at least five critical ecological thresholds are close to being crossed.

At COP28 in Dubai, the EU was among the forces gathering support for tripling renewable energy deployments by 2030. To stimulate deployment, the bloc needs to develop a coherent approach to mineral and clean tech supply chains, all the way down to mining. Ahead of the COP, the European Parliament approved the Critical Raw Materials Act (CRMA) and secured strategic partnerships with mineral-endowed countries in different regions of the world. This is progress, but there are a few catches that the EU needs to urgently examine.

First, the CRMA focuses more on the processing of minerals than on mining. But mineral bottlenecks are expected in the next few years, most notably for materials like copper, without which electrification is impossible. The EU’s risk aversion to extractive activities is dangerous in light of potential shortages that could threaten decarbonization and in light of the interest its systems rivals—China and Russia—lend to mining and extractive industries.

Underestimating the importance of supply chain basecamps is risky for two reasons. First, repercussions on price shocks may negatively impact European companies in the clean tech sectors and dampen European competitivity in a race for technology and soft power on climate security. Second, the EU will have little means to influence the standards and extractive practices. In a world where transition minerals happen to be in some of the most ecologically sensitive zones, the EU can simply not afford to look the other way when it comes to mining.

Upping standards, enforcing application, and determining what responsible supply chains should be is in the EU’s best interest. All this is necessary to ensure the stability of supply while making sure demand does not lead to a chaotic plundering of our planet. The EU, therefore, needs to shore up funding for extractive operations, including those outside its borders. This requires new approaches to risk evaluations.

The paradox of the energy transition is that mining is essential but should not happen in sensitive locations with reduced ecological carrying capacity, high ecological value, and climate vulnerabilities baked in. It is imperative to assess where it is safe to mine, under what circumstances, and where it is not—a key exercise that the University of Exeter is now starting with the aim of producing risk assessments adapted to the ecological realities of our planet.

On top of that, strategic partnerships need to be designed for geostrategic de-risking more generally, not just the de-risking of industrial supply chains for the EU. They should also serve as catalysts to rethink climate finance, adaptive development, and regenerative policies.

Research has highlighted that climate finance is largely hollow and misallocated. While the EU thinks of itself as a leading provider of climate finance, the reality is that its indicators are not stringent enough about what constitutes climate action, especially in countries that need finance the most. De-risking supply chains for the EU starts by de-risking its strategic partners’ climate and ecological vulnerabilities, which actually provide the foundations for industrial activity on the one hand and the reform of the international security architecture on the other.

In other words, strategic partnerships should be conceptualized as sentinels to rethink the roles of middle powers, whose agency will determine the outcomes of the twin transitions and of the international power framework transition. If it was not clear before, the EU’s own multidimensional security depends on it.

This is why Charles Michel’s proposition to reduce the Strategic Technologies for European Platform (STEP) renewables fund from €10 billion ($11 billion) to just €1.5 billion ($1.6 billion) is misguided, to put it mildly. This fund is critical to Europe’s ability to deliver on climate goals and industrial competitivity. Cutting it does not just undermine the EU’s credibility right after COP, it puts the union at risk of faltering under the combined pressured of climate disruptions, lack of economic competitivity, inflation, and ultimately, stagflation. This is a grave strategic mistake.

The past year has revealed that the EU is less of a prime climate leader than it thought it was and yet it has made clear that European security intimately depends on delivering a strategic transition at home and abroad. European capitals and the Council should do well to remember this as Europe enters its electoral period, which will coincide with an El Nino peak in 2024, leading to hard economic and geopolitical shocks.

This next year should therefore teach the EU to prepare for disruptions that are now becoming structural—and therefore predictable. If it prepares adequately, the EU might be able to preempt the next steps in international negotiations on climate: negotiations over supply chain for critical minerals, and over time, on energy modulations. The world is fast headed in this direction, which may seem improbable today. But that’s where three decades of wasted climate action lead: perpetual crisis management and forced transformation.

*fellow at Carnegie Europe, her research focuses on the geopolitics of climate, the transition ushered by climate change, and the risks of conflict and fragility associated to climate change and environmental collapse
**first published in: Carnegieeurope.eu

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