Misdirection – Climate Weekly

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Card trick (Pic: Jin/Flickr)


Ever since Russia launched a full scale invasion of Ukraine, German leader Olaf Scholz has been gas shopping.

Germany was heavily reliant on Russian gas imports. To defund Vladimir Putin’s war machine, that had to change. Few climate advocates would dispute that in the short term, alternative gas supplies were part of the answer.

The rub comes when buying gas turns into driving gas infrastructure expansion. This week, Scholz encouraged Canada’s Justin Trudeau to build an LNG export terminal on the east coast. Previous stops on his energy diplomacy tour included Senegal, Argentina and Egypt.

There is no room for new fossil fuel infrastructure in a 1.5C world, as the International Energy Agency has made clear. Pipelines and LNG terminals take years to build – not solving the immediate energy security crisis – and decades to pay off the investment – worsening the climate crisis.

To add a veneer of climate respectability to this fossil binge, each announcement comes with the magic words “hydrogen-ready”.

Green hydrogen has an important role to play in decarbonising heavy industry and freight. But it has different properties to methane gas. Its tiny molecules leak more easily and liquefy at lower temperatures. It doesn’t travel well. Infrastructure designed for methane is not automatically suitable to carry hydrogen.

Energy experts were scathing about the idea of shipping liquefied hydrogen across the Atlantic. Ammonia made from green hydrogen is easier to transport, but conversion brings its own challenges.

And developing countries may well ask why they should export their precious renewable resources for the benefit of German industries before their own citizens have clean power.

If the German government is serious about hydrogen diplomacy, it needs to address these technical and equity questions. Otherwise “hydrogen-ready” is little more than misdirection.

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‘Easy target’

DRC’s push to open the Congo rainforest to oil drilling raises tough questions for climate finance efforts in the region.

The Central African Forest Initiative (Cafi) focuses almost exclusively on poverty as a driver for deforestation in the country. It is true that slash-and-burn agriculture and charcoal production to serve a growing population puts pressure on the forest.

But research commissioned by Cafi from the Food and Agriculture Organization, due out this autumn, is expected to shift more scrutiny onto industrial activities.

While communities are “nibbling on the edge of the forest” for food and fuel, said lead author Aurelie Shapiro, they don’t have the chainsaws and heavy equipment to fell big, carbon-rich trees. Mining and large-scale agriculture leaves deeper and longer lasting scars.

Alphonse Valivambene, a civil society leader in Eastern DRC, said poor rural communities had been “an easy target to blame” for the country’s poor forest governance and barely received any climate finance.

There is nothing in Cafi’s agreement with the DRC government to ban oil exploitation in the most valuable carbon sinks. Donor countries, mostly in Europe, have little moral authority to demand that one of the world’s poorest countries forgo an economic opportunity. Their $500 million deal can be easily trumped by oil and gas revenues.

Yet if they cannot offer a more sustainable path out of poverty than oil development, the climate damage could be enormous.

Read more on: Climate politics