Global Alternatives 2024
COP28: Towards a Just Energy Transition?
Valdai Club Conference Hall, Tsvetnoy boulevard 16/1, Moscow, Russia
List of speakers

On January 24, 2024, the Valdai Club hosted an expert discussion on the environmental agenda and the results of the COP28 climate conference in Dubai. The moderator was Oleg Barabanov, Programme Director of the Club.

Igor Makarov, head of the Department of World Economy and Head of the Laboratory for the Economics of Climate Change at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, who participated in COP28, called the issue of abandoning fossil fuels “the main drama of the conference.” The main result, in his opinion, is that it was possible to reach a compromise, called the “UAE consensus”. This compromise consists, firstly, in the fact that the parties agreed on softer language, providing for a “movement away” from fossil fuels instead of a “total rejection”. Second, a clause recognizing the role of “transition fuels” in facilitating the energy transition was added to the text of the final document. What exactly we are talking about is not explained, but traditionally such fuel means gas. Third, the final formulations mentioned a variety of channels for reducing emissions, which fully reflects the principle of technological neutrality promoted by Russia. Fourth, the final document emphasizes that the fight against climate change and the move towards carbon neutrality must be carried out in an equitable and fair manner. This would allow poorer countries to link emissions reduction targets to international aid.

Yakov Kuzyakov, head of the departments of forest soil science and agro-soil science at the University of Göttingen (Germany), noted that although the transition to renewable sources will occur, there are some areas of both industry and transport where it is impossible. A completely fair solution in this area is also impossible — the economic interests of different countries are too different, and a quick and easy replacement of energy sources with alternative ones is hardly feasible. Speaking about the absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by artificial and natural ecosystems, Kuzyakov noted the importance in this process of plantations that are intensively used for timber production. Also, as a longer process, but comparable in speed to the carbon dioxide increase in the atmosphere, he mentioned the preservation of carbon extracted from the atmosphere in the soil. Overall, he suggested that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere will continue to rise in the coming decades and, accordingly, temperatures will rise.

Francine Mestrum, president of the NGO Global Social Justice and member of the board of the Belgian CETRI (Centre Tricontinental), dedicated her speech to the political conflict in Western Europe between farmers protesting government climate measures that threaten their usual way of life, and the environmental movement. Far right forces that deny climate change are on the farmers’ side. Against this background, the standard policies of progressive and green parties, accustomed to calling on voters to give up their usual comfort for the sake of a better future, turn out to be ineffective. In today’s Europe, no one is ready to make sacrifices without compensation. The current situation plays into the hands of the far right, and this could affect the outcome of upcoming elections in several countries unless governments adopt fairer policies and develop more effective strategies.

Elena Maslova, senior researcher at the Institute of International Studies at MGIMO University under the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and senior researcher at the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences, raised the question of how the fight against climate change is managed. “We see that the climate summit is a completely successful and functioning discussion platform,” she noted. However, this does not eliminate the noticeable “fault lines”. Although a kind of “green consensus” was formed in the world, claiming the status of a moral and ethical imperative, and no one doubts that climate change is an ontological threat, countries independently choose their approaches and their own paths to achieve climate neutrality. During the summit in Dubai, an attempt was made to shake this status quo and develop a unified paradigm. At the same time, perhaps in the future, the logic of combating climate change will be revolutionized by the introduction of new technologies.