The world’s biggest carbon polluters are meeting at the COP28 global climate summit this month in Dubai amid growing concern that they aren’t moving fast enough to slow and reverse emissions that are altering weather patterns and heating the planet. Even so, a member of the U.S. delegation said it has a positive message on the country’s across-the-board progress in clean energy and efforts to curb industrial CO2 emissions.
“We’re actually, on those sort of hard-to-decarbonize plays, further along in this decade than I would have expected we would be a couple of years ago,” White House Climate Adviser Ali Zaidi told Forbes. “And that’s a great setup for us to chase those emissions down in the next decade and in the decade that follows.”
Zaidi, who’s accompanying Vice President Kamala Harris in Dubai, pointed to positive developments in the U.S. that could prove impactful in other nations without detailing specific new programs.
“The story of this COP is ‘its implementation time,’” he said. “We’re putting steel in the ground. We’ve learned a ton from that. And that’s how we’re going to come to the table to help others implement with an accelerating pace and increasing ambition over time.”
After reversing the Trump Administration’s decision to abandon carbon reduction efforts set by the Paris Accords in 2015, President Joe Biden made U.S. participation in the annual Conference of the Parties (COP) summits a priority again starting in 2021. Since then, his Administration launched a series of initiatives to scale up renewable energy, hydrogen production and carbon capture, and funded incentives for manufacturers to build electric cars and batteries in the U.S. and for consumers to buy them.
“We’re putting steel in the ground. We’ve learned a ton from that. And that’s how we’re going to come to the table to help others implement with an accelerating pace and increasing ambition over time.”
Last year, “was us showing up having passed the biggest climate law not only in U.S. history but in the history of the world, the Inflation Reduction Act,” Zaid said. “We show up now, a year later, essentially, having started to do the work of implementation, the work of building the clean energy solutions we need. Since the IRA was signed, we’ve seen over 100 clean energy factories announced.”
The annual summit, held for the first time in the oil-rich United Arab Emirates, unfolds as scientists predict 2023 will rank as the hottest year in recorded history. So far, wealthy nations and charitable organizations, including the Gates Foundation at COP28 have announced plans to contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to a new international fund to help poorer countries being harmed by higher temperatures and more severe weather patterns, though the total amount is likely to be far below the hundreds of billions of dollars needed. Compounding the problem, the U.S. this week also estimated that global CO2 emissions will likely continue to rise through 2050.
U.S. emissions, however, may drop 3% in 2023, helped by the continuing decline in the use of coal to generate electric power, the Energy Information Administration said last month. And Zaidi thinks the world’s biggest economy will keep moving the needle on its massive CO2 emissions, aided by rising sales of electric vehicles, increased installations of renewable power systems and a new federal push to dramatically increase the production and use of clean hydrogen — particularly to help make lower-carbon steel, cement, aluminum and asphalt.
“I’ve got somewhere in my messy office a piece of steel that was forged without any CO2,” he said. “That’s no longer imagination. It’s something folks are capable of producing and it’s because of things like green hydrogen.”