Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Shivam Patel at Reuters reports that the G20 summit in New Delhi made no specific, agreed-upon statement on climate and energy goals. The 20 richest countries in the world agreed to triple renewable energy by 2030 and to cut way back on coal, but did not set out specifics. They also said nothing about electrifying transportation to avoid use of petroleum. (Cough [Saudi Arabia] cough.)
Reuters says 3 officials told it that there was also a proposal to cut carbon dioxide pollution by 60% by 2035, but that it was shot down by Russia, China, Saudi Arabia and India. These are among the four dirtiest countries in the world with regard to carbon pollution, and two of them, Russia and Saudi Arabia, depend on hydrocarbons for much of their gross domestic product.
General goals such as cutting back on coal are useless without specifics.
China, the world’s largest user of coal, says it won’t even stop building new coal plants until 2030 and it isn’t trying to become carbon neutral until 2060. Some 55% of all the coal consumed in the world is consumed by China. The only good thing you can say is that coal use has somewhat leveled off since 2010, as gigawatts of solar and wind were added to the Chinese grid:
India’s coal use was up 4% in 2022 over 2021, and its use tripled from 1998 to 2022. That’s not really what you would call, like, cutting back. But if coal use grew more slowly in 2022 than some previous years, that would be enough to let India say it was cutting back.
So the summit statement is meaningless.
As for tripling renewables, that is a low bar for some of these countries. Saudi Arabia appears only to have about 2 gigawatts of renewable energy, though its goal was 25 gigs by 2023. It has done almost nothing compared to a poor country like Morocco, which now gets some 40% of its electricity from renewables. So having 6 gigawatts of renewables by 2030 would be relatively easy for the Kingdom to accomplish, though it isn’t clear that they will do even that.
Russia likewise has almost no renewable energy and only hopes that wind and solar make up 10% of its grid by 2040. So it is easy for Moscow to pledge to do more, since it has done so little, as with Riyadh.
In contrast, China seems on track to produce 1,200 gigawatts of wind and solar by 2025, a year and a half from now, and it will likely reach this milestone 5 years early, since that was the original goal for 2030. Already this year, renewable sources of energy are supplying 50.9% of the country’s electricity, i.e. more than half. It clearly doesn’t need to build any new coal plants at all, but seems dedicated to drawing out coal use as long as possible. It has been suggested to me that President Xi Jinping is afraid of the workers in the coal industry — some 3 million of them.
India is another coal disaster, with some 66 percent of its electricity now being generated that way. It could cut back to “only” 65% and still meet the terms of the vague summit communique. Still, India has increased its non-fossil fuel power capacity by 400% in the past 8 years (counting big hydro and nuclear) and in some recent years (not this one) they have provided over 40% of the country’s electricity. I suppose it isn’t impossible that India could triple its non-fossil fuel power by a factor of 3 in the rest of this decade, given what it did the past 8 years. I mean, if India has a lot of anything, it is sunshine and wind.
So this is why the G20 shouldn’t be a thing. What could be more arbitrary than for countries to claim global influence based merely on their gross domestic product? It should be the United Nations taking these decisions, not the countries in thrall to or identical with Big Oil and Big Coal.