Chinese officials have ordered coal-fired power facilities to substantially increase output. The European Union is facing a backlash over its ambitious climate deal. US Vice President Joe Biden has written to OPEC members urging them to increase oil output.
So much for the battle against climate change; right now, it’s all about the energy crisis. It couldn’t have arrived at a better moment.
In only three weeks, world leaders and negotiators will gather in Glasgow, Scotland, for the COP26 international climate negotiations. Before the crisis, momentum was growing for putting a stop to coal and hastening the worldwide shift from climate-altering fossil fuels to renewables.
However, other experts are concerned that a rush back to fossil fuels at this point in history might impede down the transition, particularly on the phaseout of coal, which is now closer than at any previous time in history.
“The concern with China’s electricity shortage is that it looks to be reinforcing pro-coal forces’ claim that the shift to renewables is moving too quickly,” said Christine Shearer, program director for coal at the Global Energy Monitor, which analyzes the usage of fossil fuels throughout the world.
Winter is rapidly coming, and the global economy is recovering from the Covid-19 epidemic quicker than expected. As a result, governments are being compelled to turn to easily accessible energy sources. The infrastructure for harnessing electricity from renewables such as wind and solar is just insufficient to satisfy demand.
“A lot of decision-makers are worrying in some respects about the societal response,” Lisa Fischer, program head at E3G, a European climate think tank, said.
She claims that throwing more money at fossil fuels is not a solution, and that certain short-term fixes are incompatible with long-term sustainable goals.
A better approach would be to “turbocharge” financing for renewable energy and energy efficiency initiatives, as well as getting infrastructure projects off the ground that have been delayed by the pandemic.
And thus is the problem’ dichotomy: the globe may either “turbocharge” renewable energy initiatives, or slow down and rely more on fossil fuels, as is the case currently.
A geopolitical quagmire
Aside from the pandemic’s aftermath, there are numerous reasons for the energy shortage. Renewable energy has underperformed expectations since the summer in the UK and continental Europe was less windy than normal, resulting in wind power underperformance. Lower rainfall in China meant that the country’s hydropower facilities produced less energy.
Furthermore, Russia has been accused of delaying gas supplies to Europe in order to hasten the licensing of its Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which travels beneath the Baltic Sea and into Germany. Last month, Gazprom disputed the charge to CNN, but on Thursday, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak stated directly that if Berlin approved the project, gas prices would fall.
China has left mountains of coal bought from Australia lying at docks for months, refusing to show Australia that it is prepared to receive its exports as the two nations continue at odds over Canberra’s demands for an inquiry into the origins of Covid-19. This has only exacerbated the country’s electricity crisis.
According to state media, Chinese officials ordered firms in the country’s industrial heartlands last month to limit energy use in order to cut power demand. As a result of the supply cuts, some provinces experienced blackouts in their homes. However, as the crisis worsens and worldwide demand for Chinese goods rises, Beijing changed course, ordering coal miners to increase production by 100 million metric tons, according to official media.
China was already fueling its economic recovery with dozens of new coal plants, but the recent rise in output is a concern for COP26, since China was just beginning to show signals that it was ready to play a role in placing a cap on fossil fuels.
Just two weeks ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping stated that his government will no longer fund coal projects overseas, thereby eliminating China as the world’s largest financial backer of fossil fuels. However, it has subsequently been pressed to do more to reduce coal use at home.
China has said that it intends to peak emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. However, the frenzy of coal plant construction and increased production makes it an even more difficult aim to achieve.
A breakup in Europe
China is not alone in this regard. In the face of the catastrophe, European leaders are warning that it will be difficult to abandon fossil fuels.
To fulfill power demand, the United Kingdom reopened an outdated coal plant last month. To prevent comparable power outages, some European Union countries are contemplating keeping coal and oil-burning facilities operational past their scheduled shutdown dates.
It’s a setback for Europe’s significant advances from last year, when renewables outperformed fossil fuels for the first time. Renewable energy will provide 38 percent of power in 2020, compared to 37 percent from fossil fuels.
It has also sparked a schism in the European Parliament, where the climate fork in the road is plain to see. In the midst of a pressing crisis, some leaders argue that the EU’s Green Deal will lose momentum unless an effective short-term action plan is put in place to address consumers’ skyrocketing energy prices.
Viktor Orbán, the Prime Minister of Hungary, leads this side, blaming “bureaucrats in Brussels” for continuously rising the price of fossil fuel energy.
On the other side, Kadri Simson, the European Commissioner for Energy, stated that the Green Deal would give the “sole long-term solution to Europe’s energy issue,” and that more renewables and greater energy efficiency would be the solution.
“We have to acknowledge that the present price increase has little to do with our climate initiatives and a lot to do with our reliance on imported fossil fuels and their relative costs,” Simson said on Wednesday.
“In recent months, wind and solar have continued to provide the cheapest power in Europe. They aren’t affected by price fluctuations.”
In the United States, there is a knock-on effect.
In the United States, a crisis is building over rising gasoline costs, which is linked to the larger energy dilemma. Some countries who are unable to obtain sufficient natural gas are turning to oil to cover the power deficit.
After gasoline prices rose in August, Biden petitioned OPEC+ (a group of major oil-producing countries and their allies) to raise global oil production, arguing that more supply would lower prices at the pump.
It hasn’t worked, and OPEC+ said on Monday that it will only gradually increase supplies in the market. Biden’s proposals for more oil, in any case, are at odds with his climate strategy, which includes increasing the country’s electric car industry.
According to the International Energy Agency, the world must stop growing fossil fuel output by 2050 in order to achieve net-zero emissions, which means the quantity of greenhouse gases emitted is equal to the amount removed from the environment.
However, other analysts believe that in COP26, leaders will take the more difficult but more lucrative option. While the UK has reverted to coal for the time being, its Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy said on Thursday that it will entirely decarbonize its power industry 15 years sooner than previously anticipated.
“The background for the climate summit is highlighting the severe effects of depending on fossil fuels — to my opinion, that might be enough to drive those nations on the fence to really double down on renewables,” said Charles Moore, director of Ember Climate’s European Program.
“I think UK is a great example. The United Kingdom has announced its intention to completely decarbonize its power grid by 2035 “he stated
“That’s from the climate conference’s host.”