At the World Climate Conference in Dubai, the planet's two biggest climate sinners, China and the USA, spoke out in more detail for the first time - or not. The two world powers, otherwise at odds on many points, agreed at the weekend to ignore the proverbial elephant in the room: This refers to the exit from oil, gas and coal, which is being demanded by dozens of states and hundreds of environmental organizations. US Vice President Kamala Harris made no mention of the issue in her speech to the plenary session. And also in the statement by the Chinese deputy head of government: booming silence.
This is not a wonder. The USA, for example, is now the largest oil producer in the world and at the same time the largest oil consumer. And the gigantic empire of China, which releases almost a third of all greenhouse gases worldwide, wants to rely on climate-damaging coal for decades to come and operate climate-neutrally by 2060 at the earliest.
In her speech, Harris praised US climate policy - only to warn that humanity has reached a decisive moment in the face of the worsening climate crisis. “Our collective actions – or worse, our inaction – will impact billions of people for decades to come.” Harris agreed to visit Dubai at short notice after her boss, US President Joe Biden, was criticized for his absence this winter.
Your own government is actually also called upon to act: after China, the USA emits the most climate-damaging greenhouse gases in the world, especially CO2 and methane. And: At just over 14 tons, per capita CO2 emissions are almost twice as high as in China. The US government's annual climate report states that greenhouse gas emissions are falling, but that this is not enough to meet climate commitments and goals. The bar is set relatively high: The USA wants to generate its electricity without CO2 emissions by 2035 and reduce its emissions to net zero by 2050 at the latest.
After all: At the weekend, US climate representative John Kerry announced that the USA would join an alliance of states to phase out coal. This is absolutely necessary in order to keep within reach the goal agreed in Paris in 2015 of limiting global warming to, if possible, 1.5 degrees compared to pre-industrial times. The end date would be 2035 at the latest – which experts consider to be insufficient.
The climate crisis is now also playing out in real time in the USA: In recent years, the country has repeatedly been hit by extreme weather events - including record heat, drought, violent tropical storms, torrential rain and devastating forest fires. Metropolises like New York and Washington disappeared in dense orange smoke particles from the forest fires in Canada in the summer.
And China? In his speech, Vice Prime Minister Ding Xuexiang first of all emphasized in detail that China is a pioneer when it comes to energy transition. “We are the world’s largest manufacturer and seller of electric cars,” he reported. Half of all electric cars worldwide are on the road in China. And now only half of the energy comes from fossil sources. 50 percent of the world's wind turbines come from China and 80 percent of all solar systems.
In fact, there have been a number of positive developments recently. In mid-November, an analysis by the Helsinki-based Center for Energy Research and Clean Air (CREA) caused a stir. According to the calculations, China's greenhouse gas emissions could decline "structurally" as early as next year. Emissions will continue to rise in 2023. At the same time, however, wind and solar energy have been expanded at an unprecedented pace.
Officially, the gigantic empire of China, where half of the world's coal-fired power plants operate, only wants to gradually reduce its emissions from 2030 - which experts consider to be incompatible with the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. If the boom in renewable energies continues, things could move much faster.
The greatest growth has occurred in solar energy, where an installed capacity of around 210 gigawatts is expected for 2023, according to CREA. This means that China has created twice as much solar energy capacity in just one year as the USA as a whole, writes CREA analyst Lauri Myllyvirta.
A great success in the preparation of COP28 was that, after a top meeting in the USA, Washington and Beijing now want to pull together again on climate protection. Both governments recently supported the G20 countries' commitment to triple renewable energy by 2030 compared to 2020. However, the major powers had already agreed to work together once, in Glasgow in 2021, with much fanfare. However, this came to a standstill again due to the deterioration in relations.