Episode 10

Climate progress requires global commitment, supply chain management, and rapid clean energy deployment

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On the heels of President Biden’s Earth Day Summit, RBC sponsored Foreign Policy Magazine’s Virtual Climate Summit, a two-day event uniting heads of state, senior government officials, corporate executives, and scholars for discussions on how to advance global dialogue and cooperation on climate action. The event featured an impressive lineup including His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, John Kerry, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, H.E. Iván Duque Márquez, President of Colombia and Katrín Jakobsdóttir, the Prime Minister of Iceland. Below are some of our key takeaways from the event.

World leaders urge collective climate action

Many state leaders expressed optimism about the U.S. returning to the global climate conversation. In his keynote, U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry outlined states’ commitments to maintain Paris Climate Accord initiatives despite the Trump administration’s rollbacks. He said that we are on a path of continued mitigation efforts and that ambitious targets can be driven by government initiatives such as President Biden's infrastructure plan.

Toshimitsu Motegi, Japan’s Prime Minister for Foreign Affairs, emphasized the U.S.-Japan partnership on decarbonization, Japan’s public-private partnership financing, and its goal to share technological resources.

China shows cooperation, but cybersecurity concerns persist

As the world’s largest CO2 emitter, China figured prominently in the discussions. On the positive side, Senator Kerry said that the climate threat was a catalyst for cooperation on climate mitigation efforts and that Xie Zhenhua, China Special Climate Envoy, has a good working relationship with his international peers. In contrast to some of his peers, Kerry believes there may be a positive spillover from climate cooperation on forced labor in Taiwan and Chinese support for the military junta in Myanmar.

Cybersecurity concerns may present challenges to bilateral climate cooperation. For example, Huawei, one of the conference presenters, developed a partnership with startup Rainforest Connection, which may elicit concerns in security circles. And, the Chinese Foreign Minister last week stated that there would be smoother cooperation on climate if Washington stopped “meddling in China’s internal affairs.”

“The next decade will be critical to fighting the worst effects of climate change, including achieving global net zero emissions targets.”

Fatih Birol, International Energy Agency (IEA) Director


Climate progress will strain technology metals supply chains

It’s widely recognized that climate change progress will be "technology metal" intensive, particularly for electrification, green energy infrastructure, batteries, and electric vehicles (EVs). However, one key challenge is that the supply chain for many of these metals is concentrated in China, and there is inadequate supply to reach forecasted needs amid the world’s carbon emission reduction goals.

Anna Shpitsberg, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Transformation at the U.S. Department of State, said that EVs, batteries, solar and wind infrastructure, and energy storage need to sell at an unprecedented rate to meet emissions reductions goals and that ultimately will strain the supply chains for metals like nickel, cobalt, lithium, graphite, and other metals.

Dr. Fiona Wild, VP of Sustainability and Climate Change at BHP emphasized that demand for copper and other metals will increase. We may need almost twice the amount of steel in the next 30 years as in the last to build green infrastructure, she added, which will double the demand for copper as well as iron ore, metallurgical coal, and nickel.

Clean energy deployment is critical to achieving net-zero emissions targets

“The next decade will be critical to fighting the worst effects of climate change, including achieving global net-zero emissions targets,” said Fatih Birol, International Energy Agency (IEA) Director. He added that governments and the private sector must advance clean energy technology innovation, and countries should rapidly deploy these technologies to scale for the next leg of emissions abatement.

The biggest barrier to clean energy deployment is not innovation itself, but policy and bureaucratic issues that can restrict efficient and swift implementation—such as infrastructure permitting, noted Dr. Melissa Lott, the newly-appointed Director of Research for the Columbia Energy Center.

“The U.S. corporate community talks a good game in public relations, but takes little or no interest in climate in their dealings with Congress.”

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)


Lack of lobbying inhibits climate policy efforts

The U.S. corporate community “talks a good game” in public relations, but takes little or no interest in climate in their dealings with Congress, said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). Although some companies have prioritized climate change to address mounting risks, lack of lobbying is one of the biggest inhibitors to advancing climate policy, he added.

Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA) cited “resilience and roads, bridges, and traffic" as the top domestic infrastructure priorities, and natural gas paired with carbon capture technologies as the primary fossil fuel decarbonization priorities. However, Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL) disagreed that resilience is the primary way to reduce pollution. Instead, she called clean energy the "linchpin" of climate mitigation needs and argued that “infrastructure build-out and domestic manufacturing of clean energy inputs was key to that mitigation.”

For more information about Helima Croft’s research report “Beyond the Ballot: FP Virtual Climate Summit," published on April 28, 2021, please contact your RBC representative.

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