How to tackle the climate crisis

I was interviewed by A News about solutions for climate change, energy, renewables, inequality, and COP26.

A News interviewed me today about the climate crisis. The nearly 15-minute interview is attached below in a YouTube link, followed by an unpolished typed-out version, with only a few tiny changes for the readability.

Comments and questions are always welcome. You can use the comment button for public comments at the end, or if you only want to write to me, the easiest is to reply to the email.

A News: Alexander Verbeek on climate change, or, more to the point: the climate crisis.

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirms that human activities are having a profound effect on the climate. But more happily: the International Energy Agency's World Energy Outlook 2021 shows that we know what to do about it in substantial detail and at an affordable cost. Yet, we're not doing what we need or what we should do, so emissions continue to rise. Will that change a cop 26 in Glasgow?

Joining us to shed some light on the hottest topic of this century is the editor of the popular newsletter, "The Planet," Mr. Alexander Verbeek. Thank you so much for joining us here today on A News; a pleasure to see you sir. Our first question is: the World Energy Outlook has broken the solution into four sorts of parts, it says, I simplified as A: actual policies by governments, B: announced pledges, C: sustainable development, and D: net-zero by 2050. It seems as a plan that can be executed but what are the biggest hurdles of these governments.

Alexander Verbeek: Thank you for inviting me here, the way you summarize now in just four points, it sounds like we can just do this. It is, of course, extremely difficult. So what the International Energy Agency has developed is a roadmap for the global energy sector to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. And the beauty of this plan is that it makes sure that there will still be stable and affordable energy supplies that you need for economic growth. It would also create a lot of jobs. So it is a neat plan, but there are a lot of conditions. And an essential condition for this plan is that governments should be really firm in delivering the right policies, and they don't always have the best record in this field. And what we also need is a lot of international cooperation.

So, when talking about these conditions and requirements that you mentioned, I think the report says that the energy efficiencies should improve at about three times to rates that it's improving at the moment, so that's a huge effort. What we also need is a lot of prioritizing of research and development. We need new technologies for hydrogen, we need better batteries, and we need direct air capture and storage. So let's say that the co2 that leaves a factory, for instance, that you can capture it there, and avoid that it gets into the air. And those techniques, especially the last one, are more on the drawing table than that they are actually in use yet. So, we have at the moment the knowledge and the technology to make a really good push towards net-zero by 2050. And in the meantime, we need to work on the development of the techniques that we need after 2050, to make sure that we have a functioning economy, which will look very different than what we have now, but that that does deliver energy to everybody that needs it.

A News: In our previous report just now, we were talking about the UK and how they're thinking about not drilling anymore for oil offshore, but you know, the European Union, or Europe, has already an energy crisis. This boils down to, basically, China, not using coal anymore, hence using gas. The point I'm trying to get to sir is this slow or this drastic change that everybody needs to do - it's going to be expensive. And are governments going to be able to subsidize everybody's living conditions enough for this to work? I'm afraid they are going to give up because it's going to be so expensive. Are these fears that we should be considering?

Alexander Verbeek: Well, first of all, we should never give up. We are now actively destroying the planet where our children and grandchildren will have to live and their children, which was never a good plan in the first place. So, the track we are on - we have to leave it, whether we like it or not.

The good news is that the way that the IEA, the International Energy Agency, has calculated it, and by the way, don't forget this used to be the darling of the fossil fuel energy industry and now they're really pushing renewables, these people are not some kinds of green activists, this is the International Energy Agency and the way that they've calculated it is that these costs will rise. Compared to the world GDP would be a ratio of 0.4% of the extra cost that we will make, that is trillions, but it's 0.4%. We would gain so much out of it, in terms of GDP, which I don't think is the most important, but it would give a rise of GDP to 4%. So it actually makes economically good sense to do this on top of what should be the real priority that we save the planet that we will have better health for the people.

There are like seven or nine million people every year that die of air pollution and that is also related to climate change. We will get a more fair planet, more healthy, cleaner air, and a better planet. I would say this is the deal that we should follow, and it's a narrow path, it's very difficult to get there, there are a lot of requirements, especially good governance from all governments in the world, and they work together. But the way this has been calculated, I would say this is the path to follow.

A News: Alright well let's go back to that governments out of the three, the big three, like, I feel like I'm in Africa, seeing the big five with a big seven, but the big three consisting of China, USA, and India, they produce the most CO2. If these countries get to net-zero. Is that enough, or does everybody have to get on board? I know you're gonna say everybody's gonna have to go on board, I know you will say that, but it leads me to sort of like, there's a lot of countries out there that don't really have the technology or don't really have the power to get on board. What are your thoughts there?

Alexander Verbeek: Well, everybody, every country in the world (there is, what we have now, 192 or something countries in the world), they all have committed to the Paris agreement. So, yes, I just do what you predicted that I would say: everybody should do their part. But I am very much with you here. If you don't take just the biggest three, but if you take the biggest 15 emitters in the world, they are good for a bit more than 70% of the CO2 emissions. So if you would only negotiate with those 15 countries, you have basically covered the problem already for 70%.

So how do international negotiations work? (and I'm speaking here as a former diplomat who's been in many multilateral negotiations for many years). Although you negotiate with everybody in the room, in practice, everybody realizes that, let's say, a country like the Marshall Islands is not the same as China in emissions. So, you have a lot of coffee corner talks and talks and back rooms where the main players are sitting together, and you know that once they have made a deal, many others will come on board.

And I believe that a lot of these poorer countries, let's again take a country like the Marshall Islands that is really drowning because of sea-level rise that we have created with climate change, their real priority should be adaptation to the new circumstances. There isn't much to mitigate for the very simple reason that they hardly emit anything, there are not many, many people living there, there's no industries there they do a bit of fishing. So in practice, their priority is adaptation, and I believe that the richer countries in the world, that are in a position to do so, should help these countries for moral reasons. You should help each other always, but especially since they are bearing the burden of the problem that we have created.

A News: I want to talk about my third question whose responsibility is everybody's responsibility but let's talk about it quickly, while I have you here, I enjoy our conversation here, with cop 26 just around the corner at the end of the month, I believe October 31, so it will run for a couple of weeks: what can we expect from this? I mean is every country going to be there, that is 192 countries, it is gonna be busy. Is every country is gonna be there, is anything really going to be done, is it just a showboat, is it just something to look good for the media, is anything really gonna be signed away and agreed, or is this problem again going to be the problem can being kicked down the road and we'll talk about it again in another year? What are your thoughts on that?

Alexander Verbeek: Oh, that's a lot of questions. Every country will be there. Yes, I didn't make notes, but let's let's follow along these lines, but every country will be there; it's a meeting of stage parties. COP, for the people that always hear the word but don't know what it means, it's a "Conference of Parties," so parties to a treaty. So they will all be there, but will all the world leaders be there? As far as we know, we miss quite a few names of leaders of big countries, so the UK as the host we'll be there, France will be there, I think all EU countries will be there at a government level, President Biden will be there, but we don't know yet about [the leaders of] a number of countries, including some of the countries you just mentioned as big emitters, China, India, Russia. We have no confirmation yet whether they will come, but at least our delegations will be there.

And is it just kicking the can down the road? Well, for me as an environmentalist, you have probably heard me use those words for a long time. But this time it is much more than that; what you have every year (except for last year because of the pandemic), is a Conference of Parties, but some are more important than others.

Everybody remembers probably Paris in 2015, that was COP21. That was a really important one because all the countries in the world agreed to set a level: we can have no more warming than well below two degrees, and preferably no more than one and a half degrees Celsius. And COP26 is important because we promised that five years later (now postponed because of the pandemic, so six years later), we would strengthen the pledges, the NDCs, the National Determined Contributions. So the commitment that every country will do, to do the maximum efforts to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases that they would raise their ambitions. And that's why this is such an important conference.

So, will everybody do so? Well, I believe a lot of countries will come here with higher ambitions. Because in those past six years since Paris, we have now seen, I mean take your own news channel and look at A News how much attention you give nowadays to climate change compared to five years ago or ten years ago. Everybody can see what an existential threat climate change is, and governments see that; they feel the pressure from the population as well that they should take action. So I'm sure we will get more commitments.

Will all be enough, that we can really stop climate change at well below two degrees? Firstly I doubt whether we will get there. I think with all the commitments now, that are made based on Paris from six years ago, if every country would really do everything they promised (and countries are not always doing that, between you and me), then we would still have three degrees warming, so anything we can get lower now below that 2.7C at the end of the century, or 3C, depending on how you calculate that we gain a lot. Because it doesn't sound like much, but just zero point one degree already makes so much difference.

A News: Indeed, Alexander we know it is a lot. We have run out of time I am afraid. but just by this winter alone, the catastrophic climate changes that we're seeing in the weather alone. Is not going to be enough, we're running out of time, I thank you very much for joining me here today on A News. Take care and stay safe.


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