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Editura Universitara Geopolitics of climate change. The Paris Agreement and fossil fuels

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Publisher: Editura Universitara

Author: Viorel Mionel

Edition: I

Publisher year: 2024

Pages: 174

ISBN: 978-606-28-1765-7

DOI: 10.5682/9786062817657

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Today, the Secretary General of the UN states that according to current trends the Earth is rushing towards the point of no return of the global temperature increase by 3°C compared to pre-industrial periods (Dickie, 2023). His conclusion was that the gap between carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) and the assumed ambitions resembles a canyon, and the level of global warming is higher than estimated. This means that if countries do not intensify their climate actions and (geo)political will today, tomorrow will be too late. Climate refugees will become a current reality. News such as the one announcing that Australia will gradually offer asylum to 11,000 Tuvalians, as a result of the rise in the level of the planetary ocean (Dellerba, 2023), will no longer be a surprise. Fragile societies like Tuvalu and Bangladesh are and will continue to be subjected to incalculable suffering, mostly as a consequence of climate change. The year 2023 has amply proven that heatwaves will become more frequent and longer in duration. In the absence of firm commitments, devoid of geopolitical interests, the rest of the world cannot offer more than some solutions to relieve the suffering endured by fragile populations. Or, as a renowned climate researcher put it, "if it seems to you that the situation is serious now, remember that what we see is only the first salvo" (Cleetus and Dahl, 2021).
For two years, salvos have been continuously fired in Ukraine, but they do not serve the cause of reducing CO2 emissions, as neither do those launched by the terrorist group Hamas on Israel, and vice versa. Regarding the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a recent research shows that the emissions from the first year of the war are equivalent to those recorded by Belgium (De Klerk et al., 2022). If climate concerns had not been at the bottom of Russian national priorities, most likely Russia would not have militarily invaded the neighboring country. Even for Japan, the climate falls to the third position among priorities, while for China it occupies the ridiculous position number 15. Pragmatically, the climate is a nationally assumed priority only for Sweden (Arima, 2022).
The previously stated aspects, to which are added others that you discover in the pages of the book, are indisputable proof of the necessity of this academic approach that correlates the measures and results of the fight against global warming with geopolitical games. It is clear to anyone with minimal knowledge in the field that the fight against climate change is urgent and involves a strong geopolitical character. This fight must be fought on several geographical fronts. And we have to admit, as Al Gore (1995) asserted, at the local level it is easier to organize (see Sweden), because the direct effects on people's health can be seen live, in the waves of smog and the cough of the affected citizens. At the regional level, the control of pollutant emissions, continues the same author, is made more difficult by the fact that the affected people are other than the responsible ones, the pollution being carried by the air masses from the emitting states to those in the direction they are heading. The perception of responsibility is lost, as is the trace of pollution dissipated in the atmosphere of other states. Finally, the last and most important front, the global one, faces major difficulties and, even if the battle has begun, the situation is no longer as dramatic as Al Gore presented it in 1983, it is far from what it should be. Precisely for this reason, the focus of this book is the Paris Agreement, in fact, the first long-term strategy to combat greenhouse gas emissions, the first international policy and, at the same time, the first binding treaty signed by countries the world. This is the first example that can prove to us that finally humanity (states) understood the threat and the cause worth fighting for.
The events that pushed the states to overcome their differences during and outside the climate negotiations show the terrible problem of harmonizing national interests with the global responsibility required by the Paris Agreement, regardless of whether we are considering a simple state or a great power. At the discursive level, all the leaders of the states emphasized in the capital of France the urgent need to limit global warming until the end of the 21st century. But, beyond the declarations, narratives and the obvious geostrategic interests, the results of the implementation of this universal agreement are important.
Geopolitical actions indicate some structural and functional nuances that must be taken into account when judging the results. The European Union is more advanced than other regions. Russia puts the internationally assumed climate responsibility in the background, supporting narratives aimed at continuing the trade in hydrocarbons, especially gas. The restriction of the export of rare earths, foreign investments in the exploitation of fossil fuels and the desire to control the new financial institutions indicate an individualistic strategy for China, centered on geopolitical competition and too little on climate cooperation. Moreover, the control of hydrogen-related technologies defines not only future energy geopolitics, but also trade, governance and transport routes. Last but not least, the Sino-American rivalry and Russia's desire to count in the global power structures have delayed the signing of an international climate agreement, and now make its implementation more difficult (Abnett, Volcovici and Saba, 2023).
I have presented this complex set of factors, relationships, events and facts to anticipate possible questions that may arise in the minds of readers, such as: what is the real importance of geopolitics in the context of climate change and decarbonization?, how important were the interests national in the elaboration of the Paris Agreement?, how do the great powers act in this field?, how do they reconcile geopolitical interests with climate responsibilities?, what are the established targets and what are the concrete results of the actions taken? There are certainly other questions, and I hope you will find answers in reading this book created thanks to the institutional project "Implementation of the Paris Agreement: socio-economic and geopolitical analysis", carried out at the Academy of Economic Studies in Bucharest.
The work strategy addressed included a history of debates and negotiations regarding climate change, a section dedicated to the description of the Paris Agreement, a part dedicated to the geopolitics of climate issues and decarbonization, and two others related to energy consumption and the results of this fact. A constant that I took into account throughout the work was to treat the subjects in relation to the geopolitical games before and after the Paris Agreement.
From a descriptive perspective, the work aims to be a diagnosis of the geopolitics of climate change and decarbonization. This is based on two general objectives and several specific objectives. The first general objective was to identify the factors and events with an impact on the emergence and implementation of the agreement, and the second aimed at the existence of the strategies and patterns of geopolitical actors to achieve the objectives of climate neutrality. Thus, in order to achieve the first general objective, we pursued the identification of the moment T0 of concerns related to the protection of the Earth, the diachronic exposition of the negotiations and debates related to climate change, the identification of geopolitical events and factors with an impact on the implementation of the Paris Agreement and the correlation of geopolitical interests and objectives with energy consumption behavior.
The data resulting from the achievement of the first set of specific objectives represented the necessary context for the description of the difficulties that were the basis for the appearance of the agreement. It also revealed to me several difficult international relations, strategies, policies and regional measures to combat climate change, as well as their influence on expected results and new technologies with the potential to change international trade, energy and geopolitical relations. All this was intended to show the true geopolitical dimension of the Paris Agreement and led me to use it as a "litmus sheet" in highlighting the results: energy consumption, primary energy sources and CO2 emissions.
Having reached this point, the study approaches the second general objective with the help of the following specific objectives: the research of primary energy consumption at different analytical scales; documenting the share of fossil mineral fuels in total primary energy; highlighting CO2 emissions in relation to energy consumption; the processing of consumption data and their temporal and regional comparison; the critical discussion of the results obtained at different geographical levels in relation to the literature consulted in the first chapters.
In order to identify the necessary data for energy consumption and emissions and score the obtained results, we went through the following methodological steps: we identified the documentation sources and statistical databases that provide information on energy consumption and CO2 emissions; we selected the necessary values for a longer period of time (1965‑2022) in order to observe the dynamics and if the geopolitical events had an effect on them; I prepared graphs based on the values; we extracted the main results and highlighted consumption patterns; at the end we discussed the results in the context of geopolitics before and after the Paris Agreement.
After assembling the complicated geopolitical puzzle of the Paris Agreement, it is found impossible to fight the conclusions of the UN Secretary General with which we started. It is enough to mention some results in this regard. The recent wars, seemingly out of nowhere, contribute massively to the increase in the amount of greenhouse gases. China, beyond the proposed ambitions, with its 62 percent energy from coal, will have serious difficulties in ensuring its energy security simultaneously with the transition to renewable energies in the absence of geopolitical actions of the type that blocked the export of rare earths and critical metals . Even the European Union, the region considered the most advanced in combating climate change and promoting sustainable policies, is far from achieving the decarbonization objectives. If the EU needs seven decades to achieve climate neutrality as shown by the data used in this paper, then the situation of other regions is even more difficult...
Finally, I propose to remember the following conclusion-warning of one of the most inveterate fighters against climate change, Al Gore (1995: 71): "From the history of climate change it is known that they can produce political and social upheavals, especially in societies fragile, densely populated". And, to give us even more to think about, it includes in the climate change equation the inevitable geopolitical variable through the following question: "What political conflicts will occur?"

  • Geopolitics of climate change. The Paris Agreement and fossil fuels

Sino-American rivalry / 41
The invasion of Ukraine by Russia and the impact on the environment / 48
EU position regarding energy and decarbonization / 55
Geopolitics of rare earths / 62
Hydrogen - the "Grail Tip" of decarbonization / 69
Energy vector / 70
The colors of hydrogen / 71
Hydrogen economy / 72
The geography and geopolitics of hydrogen / 74
International trade / 79
Change of the substance of the trade / 80
Governance of international trade / 81
Transport / 83
The role of the new multilateral development banks in the decarbonization policy / 85
Disinformation / 90
Primary energy consumption / 94
Consumption of fossil mineral fuels / 99
Coals / 99
Oil / 101
Natural gas / 104
Energy consumption from renewable sources / 108
CO2 emissions from energy / 115
Global context / 123
Regional context / 126
Europe / 127
North America / 129
Central and South America / 131
Africa / 133
Middle East / 134
CIS / 136
Asia-Pacific / 141
The situation at EU level / 145
Romania / 148

Recently, climate changes have become synonymous with the obligation to change human behavior in relation to the natural environment, both at the individual level, but more importantly at the collective level. The geopolitical approach to climate change proposed by Viorel Mionel is undoubtedly a truly multidimensional one. Its realization required assiduous hours of research, a very good knowledge of international relations, the understanding of technical jargon and the correlation of the provisions of public international law with various databases available at the international, European and national level with the help of geopolitical theory.
The topic of the decarbonization of the economy, namely the implementation of those initiatives for the absolute decoupling of economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions, represents a research path in a continuous dynamic both at the level of public policies and within the academic environment. Thus, this desired is transposed on the agenda of the target of the Paris Agreement and of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Conference on climate change. The novelty that the author proposes is to present decarbonization through the lens of geopolitical games and relations, starting from the seed of the first concerns regarding the environment and continuing with the truly difficult negotiations that gave birth to the international climate treaties.
When the dynamics of climate change are presented, two interconnected components are usually taken into account, namely the mitigation/reduction of greenhouse gases (long-term approach) and adaptation (short- and medium-term approach). In this sense, national, European and international actions subscribe to these perspectives in an attempt to limit the increase in the average global temperature well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to continue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C.
At the European level, as the author also points out, the degree of ambition is higher than other regions and is translated into the goal of achieving climate neutrality by the year 2050. Unfortunately, this effort is not equivalent at the international level, hence the geopolitical discrepancies regarding the level of climate commitment, including in the case of the great powers and the large developing states that are, in fact, the biggest polluters.
I was happy to note that the new energy approaches, such as, for example, green hydrogen, are part of the present analysis and also that the author added a series of correlations with specific indicators such as: primary energy consumption on large geographical regions by fuel, renewable energy, etc. Also, Romania is analyzed in relation to the European community block regarding the decarbonization effort, which makes this book useful when national progress is compared with that of the EU or, at least, with countries similar to it from a historical point of view, economic and cultural.
Considering the multidimensional approach, I consider that Viorel Mionel's work proposes, in an accessible language, an absolutely necessary foray into the geopolitical ends of climate change. The ingenuity of this approach derives, I think, from its desire to offer a personal and easy-to-read perspective for the reader interested in environmental protection on the implementation of the objectives of the Paris Agreement and the results obtained. I also believe that through his efforts, the author successfully contributes to the continuation of efforts to present environmental thematic research in a language accessible to the general public. From my point of view, the proposed theme and the way of writing is a stylistic combination between the approach of Thomas L. Friedman from the work The Earth is flat: a brief history of the 21st century and that of Al Gore from The Earth in balance: ecology and the human spirit. The latter book was definitely a strong source of inspiration for him, because he often remembers it during the analysis.

Mihaela Stefanescu
Senior adviser in the framework
Ministry of Environment, Waters and Forests

VIOREL MIONEL is a geographer, lecturer at the Faculty of Business and Tourism at the Bucharest Academy of Economic Studies (ASE). Among the subjects taught in the ASE faculties, it is worth mentioning: World Economic Geography, Geopolitics, Geostrategy of Resources and Geography of Tourism. He is the author of the works Geoeconomy, Geostrategic Resources, Urban Ghetto Romania and Urban Segregation. He also contributed to the realization of the works Methodology of Interdisciplinary Studies in the Area of Social Sciences and Romania as it is. His professional activity includes more than 40 scientific articles and several editorials published in magazines dedicated to the general public (Economistul, Arhitectura and The Market for Ideas) and in online newspapers ( To the above are added several scientific communications (at home and abroad), public conferences and countless radio and TV appearances where he debated geopolitical issues.

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