Crises and Geopolitics Weigh Heavily on Global Climate Talks – But Opportunity Awaits

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

As the COP27 United Nations Climate Change Conference gets underway in Egypt, a key question is what the impact will be of the economic crisis triggered by the pandemic on the ambitions of countries to cut carbon emissions and on the funding available to help developing economies deal with global warming. Complicating the global negotiations are Russia’s war in Ukraine and the mounting strategic competition between China and the West, particularly the US. Economist Frank Jotzo of Australian National University and climate researcher Wesley Morgan of Griffith University consider the challenges and opportunities of the global climate talks.

Crises and Geopolitics Weigh Heavily on Global Climate Talks – But Opportunity Awaits

Climate action protest in Brussels, Belgium, on October 23: The world is a much less stable place than it was a year ago at the Glasgow climate change conference (Credit: Alexandros Michailidis /

The world is much less stable than it was 12 months ago at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow but the adversities are unlikely to derail climate change action longer term. COP26 forged some promising agreements and announcements to push ahead with climate action.

This year’s COP27 in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, from November 6 to 18 takes place in a very different world, following Russia’s war in Ukraine and the resulting turmoil in energy markets – not to mention the continuing economic stress and hardship from the receding pandemic. Increasing strategic competition between China and the West particularly the United States, worry about energy supply security, and the struggle with high energy prices and inflation take precedence right now. These are spanners thrown into the works of global climate policy. But in some ways, they may make it easier to act on climate change in the longer term.

Where’s the money?

The most contentious issue in climate negotiations is money. It is accepted that rich countries need to help the developing world financially to reduce emissions and deal with climate change. How and how much has been a big topic in climate negotiations for decades. But developing economies do not see money flowing their way at anywhere near the scale needed.

The finance pledges from the 2015 Paris Agreement have still not been properly met. At COP26 last year, developed countries promised to double their climate adaptation finance to developing economies by 2025, in response to the fact that the gaps are largest for this type of climate finance which developing economies need most. But developed economies have big public debts from the Covid-19 pandemic, and huge pressure at home to help people and businesses cope with energy bills. The German government alone is preparing to spend around €200 billion (US$200 billion) to buffer gas and electricity price rises. And interest rates are rising.

So, funding pledges now look much harder to fulfil. This could become a particularly sore point as this year’s COP is hosted in Africa, a continent highly vulnerable to climate change and with generally poor financial resources. It is likely there will be a strong focus on climate change adaptation and international equity.

In a basket yet harder is the so-called “loss and damage” debate. Developing countries argue that they should receive financial compensation for inevitable climate damages, given that it is mostly the rich that have caused climate change. The moral case is sound, but the politics in most rich countries is firmly stacked against sending money to poorer countries as compensation, as distinct from support for actions to reduce emissions or help deal with climate impacts. Loss and damage could become a bigger and bigger roadblock in climate negotiations.

Race to the top

Stepping back from controversies over money, the overarching topic for international climate policy is ambition. The Paris Agreement framework is geared to continually ratchet up the ambition in countries’ commitments to cut emissions. Last year’s COP decided that countries that had not yet updated their 2030 emissions targets should do so by now. But only a few have done so, and the overall strength of pledges remains insufficient.

Better days: Then US secretary of state John Kerry, now the US special presidential envoy for climate, with China’s climate point person Xie Zhenhua at COP21 in Paris in 2015 (Credit: US Department of State)

Better days: Then US secretary of state John Kerry, now the US special presidential envoy for climate, with China’s climate point person Xie Zhenhua at COP21 in Paris in 2015 (Credit: US Department of State)

The next important marker will be countries’ emissions targets for 2035, and COP27 is a waypoint to these. How climate ambition will fare over coming years as governments focus on national security and energy affordability is uncertain. Where geopolitical and energy pressure shifts policy and politics and especially where it has installed populist or right-wing governments, climate policy will tend to take a back seat. But it may also come back strongly on the agenda. This could come as a corollary of clean energy and industry policy, because of rising concerns about climate impacts, or as a way to strengthen international alliances between like-minded nations.

The impact of Russia’s Ukraine war

Russia’s incursion in Ukraine in February sent shockwaves through global energy markets. The war forced a rethink on energy security in Europe especially, as it exposed a reliance on Russian energy. Russia is a major fossil fuel producer – the world’s largest exporter of gas, second largest of oil, and third largest of coal. Europe is especially reliant on Russian gas. Before the invasion, 40 percent of the gas used to heat European homes and drive industrial processes came from Russia.

In the short term, the war has seen European policymakers scrambling to find new sources of gas ahead of the upcoming winter – the first in 50 years without Russian energy supplies. European countries are compensating for lacking Russian gas by slowing the shift away from coal and nuclear power, by building infrastructure to import gas from elsewhere, accelerating renewable energy deployment and saving energy. Major economies like Germany have built new import terminals to switch from piped Russian gas to liquefied gas shipments from the US and the Middle East. France has also moved to keep existing nuclear power plants online, while other countries are burning more coal.

These short-term measures, however, are not long-term climate solutions. High energy prices in world markets encourage continued investment in new coal, oil and gas production, which runs counter to the climate objective. But they also promote investment in clean energy supply, investments to use energy more efficiently, and shifting from fossil fuels to electricity for example through heat pumps and electric cars. The sky-high prices of 2022 will not last.

It appears Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has done more to speed up the clean energy transition in Europe than anyone else, by making the transition to clean energy an issue of security. Europe’s big Russia lesson is that dependence on energy imports can be dangerous. Diversification of import sources helps but there is a fundamental sense that a safe energy supply needs domestic energy production. For any country not rich in fossil fuels this means renewable energy, or in some cases nuclear – climate-friendly options that also avoid the risk of future energy price shocks. In the words of Germany’s finance minister, “renewable energy is freedom energy”.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has highlighted the benefits of renewables for energy security. Countries moving away from coal, oil and gas will be less captive to the nations that produce them, and less exposed to international price hikes and disruptions to supply chains. Almost all major EU economies have raised their renewable energy targets in response to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. In May, the European Union set out a plan – called REPowerEU – to cut Russian gas imports by two thirds this year and to end them altogether before the decade is out. The strategy will cut Europe’s overall gas use – not just Russian gas – by a third by 2030. It also sets more ambitious 2030 targets for renewable energy and energy savings; and requirements for new buildings to add rooftop solar installations.

Rising investment in clean energy

The new US Inflation Reduction Act gives huge subsidies for American clean energy industries. Europe supports its own emerging zero-carbon industries, as does China and other East Asian countries. The Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) in its flagship annual report released last week, finds that global clean energy investment is poised to rise quickly.

For countries strong in clean energy technology, there can be a positive feedback effect on climate policy. If domestic industries benefit from the shift to zero carbon energy, then that is an extra reason for setting stronger emissions targets, and encouraging other countries to do the same.

And those greater investments in advanced green technologies tend to bring prices down, also making large scale deployment more affordable in developing countries. This has been seen in the dramatic reductions in the cost of solar panels over the years, and it can be the case with other technologies from energy storage to electric cars.

The quest for industrial leadership in the shift to zero-emissions energy, industrial and transport systems holds real promise to drive global greenhouse gas emissions down. In this light, the COP27 climate negotiations offer a chance for countries to affirm their commitment to cut emissions and strengthen their targets. That will hardly make up for the troubled state of affairs on climate finance. But it could be helpful in keeping the global climate talks on a positive track in difficult times.

Credit: John Lang @johnlangab, Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit – Full graphic may be found at

Great power rivalry and geopolitical uncertainty

Geopolitical shifts may cause some countries to reposition on international climate action. New alliances could emerge, and ideas like the G7 “climate club” could blossom. Souring diplomatic relations between the world’s leading economies and biggest polluters could supercharge the race to net zero.

Indeed, COP27 is being held amid heightened major-power geopolitical, strategic and technological competition. Growing rivalry between the US and China will make global consensus harder to achieve, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine complicating matters. It is not all bad news, however. Even as East-West competition hampers unified climate action, it is also accelerating the global shift to clean energy.

The US and China are key to tackling the global climate crisis. They are the world’s largest economies and biggest polluters. Together, they represent 38 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Any action they take to cut emissions will determine how fast the world continues to warm.

Collaboration between these two carbon titans has been key to recent global action on climate. A bilateral deal between the US and China paved the way for the breakthrough 2015 Paris Agreement, which has been signed by more than 190 countries and provides a framework for addressing the climate crisis.

Both the US and China reinforced global cooperation at last year’s COP26 talks. The US committed to cutting its emissions by 50 percent by 2030 and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. China committed to a peak in carbon emissions by 2030, and to achieving carbon neutrality by 2060. They also issued a joint statement on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s, in which both nations committed to “accelerate the transition to a global net zero economy” and pledged to deliver new emissions targets in 2025.

Since COP26, diplomatic relations have soured amid growing talk of a new Cold War. Taiwan has become a flashpoint. When US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August, Beijing responded by suspending a China-US Climate Working Group and cancelled planned bilateral meetings covering issues such as methane emissions, forestry and clean energy.

New climate legislation in the US signals Washington is serious about becoming a clean energy powerhouse. The Inflation Reduction Act – passed by Congress in September – allocates more than US$369 billion to the transition to renewable energy. This is the single largest climate spend in US history and eclipses the next-largest investment in clean energy – US$90 billion from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Measures contained in the Inflation Reduction Act are expected to create 60 gigawatts of renewables capacity each year – double the amount the US deployed last year.

The US legislation is also intended to displace China as a key supplier of clean technology and components for solar, wind and batteries. Through a range of incentives, the Inflation Reduction Act aims to establish a clean technology manufacturing base in the US. Carmichael Roberts from Bill Gates-backed Breakthrough Energy Ventures estimated the legislation will spur the creation of up to 1,000 new clean tech companies.

Still, the US has a lot of catching up to do. China is the world’s largest emitter (though not on a per capita basis) – driven by its reliance on coal-fired power – but it is also the clear global leader in clean energy production and deployment. While the US installed 30 gigawatts of renewable energy last year, China deployed 180GW. In 2021, China alone accounted for 46 percent of the world’s construction of new renewable energy infrastructure. China also dominates global production of solar panels, batteries, wind-turbines and electric vehicles. More than 80 percent of solar panel production is concentrated in China, and this is expected to reach over 95 percent by 2025.

Geopolitical rivalry will make it harder to arrive at consensus during COP27 climate negotiations. But it is also clear that competition among major powers is accelerating – not slowing – the global shift to clean energy. The signal through the noise is that the end of the fossil fuel era is coming closer.

The direction of travel is now clear. The majority of countries – together representing more than 90 percent of the world economy – have committed to achieving net-zero emissions in the coming decades. Most of the developed world has pledged to at least halve emissions this decade. As climate and energy policy moves to the center of global geopolitics, the world’s biggest economies – the US, China and Europe – are working to seize the economic and political advantages of leading the race to net zero. Thankfully, it is likely that competition is here to stay.

This article is an edited combination of two separate pieces written by the authors – Frank Jotzo of Australian National University and Wesley Morgan of Griffith University – and published under Creative Commons with 360info

Opinions expressed in articles published by AsiaGlobal Online reflect only those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of AsiaGlobal Online or the Asia Global Institute


Frank Jotzo

Frank Jotzo

Australian National University

Frank Jotzo is a professor of climate change economics and policy at the Australian National University. He has also been a senior author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Wesley Morgan

Wesley Morgan

Griffith University

Wesley Morgan is a senior researcher with the Climate Council, and a research fellow at the Griffith Asia Institute, hosted at Griffith University.

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