Jan 16, 2024 - Energy & Environment

Global climate policy faces stormy waters in 2024

Illustration of an hourglass with a tornado and lightning in the top portion

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

As climate scientists debate whether the pace of global warming is accelerating, policymakers face myriad obstacles this year as they try to cut greenhouse gas emissions and finance the energy transition.

Why it matters: Rapid emissions cuts are required to avert the most dangerous impacts from climate change, studies show. In light of this, time is increasingly of the essence.

The big picture: Geopolitical chess pieces are moving in such a way that it's difficult to see how 2024 advances the agreements struck last year, including COP28's declaration to "transition away from fossil fuels."

  • More than 100 days after the fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza began, the threat of a much wider regional war is more real than ever. Escalating tensions in the Red Sea, Yemen, Iraq, Syria and along the Israel-Lebanon border are stoking fears of a Middle East crisis.
  • The war in Ukraine is showing few signs of resolution, and there is a growing danger that Russia could consolidate its battlefield gains in the absence of further U.S. assistance, which has been held up by Congress.
  • In Europe, right-wing political parties have made headway in Germany, the Netherlands and France, in part by tapping into frustration with green energy policies.
  • And, with Biden's climate envoy John Kerry stepping away from his post, the U.S. is losing its most prominent climate figure on the international stage. Kerry had the rare political capital to meet with heads of state and climate policy counterparts alike.

Of note: His departure may sap some of the ability of the U.S. to try to lead internationally on climate, though that also depends on who is picked to replace him.

Zoom in: Jason Bordoff, who heads Columbia University's Center on Global Energy Policy, said 2024's most important climate work may get done on the national level, in order to better implement commitments that are way off track.

  • "The better job we're able to do at taking national action consistent with international agreements, the easier future international agreements, and more meaningful future international agreements will be," he said.
  • He noted the potential for geopolitical tension to get in the way of the clean energy transition. "I think the past year has offered people a painful reminder that war and conflict just sap resources and attention away from other priorities," he tells Axios.

The intrigue: Another factor that may contribute to a world that treads water on climate action this year is the uncertainty surrounding the U.S. presidential election.

  • President Biden reentered the Paris Agreement and is working to implement the biggest climate legislation on record.
  • Former President Donald Trump, the likely Republican nominee, withdrew the U.S. from Paris in 2017 and still casts doubt on the validity of mainstream climate science.
  • The huge stakes of the election and closeness of the expected race could make some countries hedge their bets.
  • Then again, it could also make some nations that are fully on board with climate action eager to speed up their work with the U.S., Bordoff adds.

Between the lines: The selection of Baku, Azerbaijan, as the site of the next climate summit means that a second petro-state in a row will be the host, raising questions about its impartiality.

  • Much remains to be implemented after COP28, including operationalizing the climate loss and damage fund to provide money to developing nations hit hard by climate impacts.
  • Countries also are supposed to come forward with new, stronger emissions reduction pledges by 2025, which would cover the period through 2035.
  • There are also nitty-gritty details on climate adaptation efforts to be worked out, and many countries may push to get more clear and ambitious language than the energy transition sentence included in the Dubai agreement.

Yes, but: According to climate and energy expert Amy Myers Jaffe, countries are increasingly recognizing the need to decarbonize their economies and are pondering major steps to getting there, regardless of the COP process.

What they're saying: "I really do believe that the narrative that somehow all this progress has to come about through these nationally determined pledges, is is kind of old thinking," Myers Jaffe told Axios.

  • "When I talk to these big capitals in these big emerging markets, the understanding that there's a future in an economy that's decarbonized seems pretty universal, where I think the sticking point is, is in global climate finance."
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