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At COP28 in Dubai, Carbon Brief’s Anika Patel spoke with Prof Pan Jiahua, vice-chair of the national expert panel on climate change of China, about his ideas for how to move to a zero-carbon future.

This interview covers a wide range of topics, including China’s stance on fossil fuels, the concept of an “ecological civilisation”, the usefulness of a global “loss-and-damage fund”, and prospects for distributed solar and power market reform in China. It is transcribed in full below, following a summary of key quotes.

China’s national expert committee on climate change, of which Prof Pan is vice-chair, is an advisory body under the national leaders group on climate change, energy-saving and emissions reduction.

He is also a member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and director of its Research Center for Sustainable Development, as well as director of Beijing University of Technology’s Institute of Eco-Civilization Studies and a member of the China Carbon Neutral Fifty Forum.

  • On the philosophy ofecological civilisation’: “Human beings, for their own benefit – they ignored the benefit of nature. The welfare of nature. We expose nature, we deplete our natural resources…[Under ecological civilisation] the basic idea [is] that [if we can achieve] harmony with nature [and] harmony among our nations, then we can go long into the future.”
  • On the success of UN climate summits: “COP is the only thing that [has lasted] over 30 years…We have different views, different arguments, different interests but, all in all, we’ve come a long way…we agreed the Paris targets – in 1990 nobody would believe that [was possible].”
  • On the ‘loss-and-damage fund’: “Losses and damages should be compensated, but not in a way that we divert our energy and resources for [the sake of] compensation. We should use all our energy, resources, spirits – everything – for the zero-carbon transition.”
  • On the ‘climate paradox’: “If you divert the limited resources for compensating losses and damages, then the zero-carbon transition would be delayed. And if you delay such a transition, there will be more and more losses and damages. I call this the climate paradox.”
  • On tripling renewable energy: “Tripling renewable energy is not enough. Why are we only tripling? Why not more and more, the more the better. Because look at China – [we] doubled and doubled and doubled [our renewable energy] all the time. This year we doubled installed capacity over the last year. Why shouldn’t we do more than just tripling?”
  • On replacing energy infrastructure: “Renewables would not require a huge amount of investment in infrastructure. Fossil fuels, coal electricity generation – the investment is very capital intensive…right? Waste of money.”
  • On subsidies and industrial policy: “Like a plant – in the very beginning when it’s a seed then you need to take care of it. But when it grows and becomes mature, then it can stand on its own and be competitive.”
  • On an alternative to a centralised electricity grid: “I use the term ‘prosumerism’. Production, consumption and storage all in one, right? You do not require a very capital intensive power grid.…And also, this is consumer sovereignty – when you have your own system, you have a say and then…you are not totally reliant on the power grid.”
  • On western suspicion: “Why did China suddenly become number one in zero-carbon renewables? It’s simply because the United States and Europe used anti-dumping subsidies and section 301 investigations in 2010. Then the Chinese competitive products, solar panels, were not able to go to the world market, so we thought we should…install everything inside of China and immediately China became number one in the world. Now you see the United States and Europe again say ‘no, it’s [a question of] supply chain security’. Right? This is really self-conflicting. On one hand they say ‘climate security’, on the other they say their ‘own security’.”
  • On phasing out fossil fuels: “We want to have everything competitive enough to phase out fossil fuels, through the market process. Not command and control.”
  • On abating fossil fuels: “I think that abated fossil fuels is a false statement. Because abated is not compatible, they have no competitiveness. When you abate it, it is more expensive. You think the consumers are silly? They will simply vote for competitive[ly priced] electricity.”
  • On the future of fossil fuels: “Fossil fuels are fossils. They are a thing of the past.”
  • On the ‘global stocktake’ negotiations: “[We talk about] responsibility sharing, carbon emissions reduction. But everybody will say ‘No, I will not [accept] any limits. You want to limit me, I want to do more.’ This is human psychology, right?”
  • On the challenges of power market reform: “Only the monopoly people will [call for] ‘reform’, and through reform they gain more power, they gain more monopoly. The prosumerism system will destroy such monopolies.”
  • On the urgency of ‘global boiling’: “Global warming is not global warming, it’s global boiling…Renewables are good for welfare, for wellbeing, for growing the economy, for a better environment. It’s for everybody and for the future. Fossil fuels are not for the future.”
Prof. Pan Jiahua and Anika Patel at COP28 in Dubai, UAE.
Prof Pan Jiahua and Anika Patel at COP28 in Dubai, UAE. Credit: Liang Rui

Carbon Brief: If you don’t mind, I’d like to jump straight in. I read a lot about your work on defining the concept of an ecological civilisation, which is a concept that’s not very well understood outside China. In your previous work, you’ve described it as realising harmony between humans and nature in contrast to industrial civilisation. Could you give an overview of what an ecological civilisation is and how this concept has evolved?

Pan Jiahua: Well, from [the beginning of] human civilisation, from primitive agrarian society, human beings have relied somewhat completely on nature. The ability to live more comfortably was very limited and then, with technological innovation and the industrial revolution, we have entered the new era: the industrial stage. A sort of industrial civilisation.

Under industrial civilisation, we have an ethical principle, which is utilitarian. Measurement of happiness in human beings – we would like to be happy – and how to measure happiness? Then the British philosophers, they invented the idea of utilitarianism, which means that, once you have some sort of self-interest, self-achievement or self-realisation, then you are happy. And then happy, you need some sort of measurement. That is utilitarianism, everything is useful, everything brings you benefits, then you would be happier, right? This is utilitarian. And then the measurement in economic terminology, that is utility right? Everything has a utility and then that brings happiness to human beings. So that is utilitarianism, and then when there is no utility, then there is nothing to bring you happiness.

So this is the philosophy, the ethical foundation or ethical principle. And let’s put it another way: because of this ethical principle, that means that everybody tries to optimise his own utility. At the same time, when he maximises his own utility, he tries to provide services to other people and then the social welfare, social wellbeing in total is further improved, right? So this is the whole idea of the industrial revolution and industrialisation, that everybody would benefit.

But now, because human beings, for their own benefit – they ignored the benefit of nature. The welfare of nature. We expose nature, we deplete our natural resources, you know? And then nature is depleted and nature is destroyed, damaged, lost. And then we found that: “Oh my god, this is not sustainable.” We need to change back our principle, and not be utilitarian. We need to have something in harmony with nature, right?

Now, when we talk about security, right? Under an industrial utilitarian principle, security just [means] your own security – like the United States, like Donald Trump saying “America first”. The others, they are nobody, just America first. Others are secondary or tertiary or not important at all, only the United States is the most important. Right? Let’s get a slogan ‘America First’, so the others are not important and now it is the same. They talk about national security, their own security. The others, they don’t care. Like Russia’s own security. The others’ security is not on their agenda, right? So this is utilitarianism, this is self-interest. [Under the concept of ecological civilisation], security is not only for one but for all, for everybody, for man and nature.

CB: And does this include energy security?

PJH: Of course, energy security is one of many securities. So we need to understand security through a new mentality. This mentality has security for all. All the securities are important and should be treated equally, not that one security is superior to the others, all securities are important, should be treated equally, right? So this is harmony between man and nature. That means that not only in the United States, Russia, China, other developing countries – they should be treated equally. Your security, Russian security, Chinese security, all the securities should be treated at a similar level, as equally important. So this is a harmonious society, a harmonious world, harmonious human beings. Otherwise just your own security, the others’ security, they are not secure, and then how can they be guaranteed?

So this is the logic, and then, human beings are part of society, we are part of [the community of life on] Earth. Human beings are all one race. We have so many other species. Other species should also be treated equally. Their security, the plants, the animals and all the other forms of life. They should be treated equally, their security, not only human beings’ security, the security of nature, security of better diversity. So, this is all the securities, man and nature in harmony, living in harmony with nature. This is the principle. This principle is different from utilitarianism. That means on Earth we all are one community, an Earth community, a life community, we share our own planet, we share our future, not only one nation, one race, but everybody – not only [the] current generation, but future generations as well. So this is the basic idea that [if we can achieve] harmony with nature [and] harmony among our nations, then we can go long into the future. Otherwise, there’s conflicts among our nations, conflicts among culture, and then conflicts between man and nature. And then we will not have a future.

CB: You’ve actually teed up my next question really well. Given these hopes for harmony between different countries and harmony between man and nature, do you see the seeds of harmony at COP28?

PJH: I think that COP is the only thing that [has lasted] over 30 years. In 1990, when the United Nations created the intergovernmental negotiation committee, which resulted in the UNFCCC –  this was agreed in 1992, and then in 1994 it came into force. This is the only one that lasts so long. And we have different views, different arguments, different interests but, all in all, we’ve come a long way, and now we come together and we agreed the Paris targets – in 1990 nobody would believe that [was possible]. “Oh no, global warming, that’s not my business, that’s something the rich guys should do, not us poor guys.” Right? And then at Copenhagen, when the 2C target was included in the Copenhagen Accord, that was no success at all. 

And then, only five or six years later in 2015, we successfully completed the Paris Agreement. Not only 2C but 1.5C as well. And now step by step we come to a consensus. 1.5C should be the target and all our efforts should be focused on complying with 1.5C, and that’s the target. I think that’s why, in the UK for COP26 in Glasgow, [we had] 1.5C and then last year, at COP27, 1.5C was reiterated and reaffirmed, and this year [2023] I think that we should have no dissenting voices, right? So this is a great achievement and that means that all human beings can reach a consensus and can go further and further continuously. In the past, we would take a step forward and then go backward. And now at the climate conferences, we always go forward and make progress all the time. So this is really great.

But now I do have a different view. That is the global stocktake. I think that this is necessary, but [within the] global stocktake there are quite a few that are on a set track – [will they] derail or progress?

One is the “loss-and-damage fund”. Some people say that, okay, the climate morale requires the most vulnerable nations to be compensated for climate damages and climate losses. When on the first sight, it is reasonable, it is based on climate morale because they are not at any fault [for climate change] and they are suffering, so they should be compensated. I have a different view. Losses and damages should be compensated, but not in a way that we divert our energy and resources for [the sake of] compensation. We should use all our energy, resources, spirits – everything – for the zero-carbon transition. Because if you divert the limited resources for compensating losses and damages, then the zero-carbon transition would be delayed. And if you delay such a transition, there will be more and more losses and damages. I call this the climate paradox. The paradox of climate and morale.

CB: So is it a battle between short-term and long-term thinking?

PJH: No, it’s not short-term and long-term. You know, the mentality is not right. The mentality is that the focus should be zero-carbon transition. Because if you spend your time, resources, energy, negotiating the losses and damages fund – who suffers and who should pay and how the resources should be allocated – this is a waste of resources and a waste of time. Instead, we should focus our attention on zero-carbon transformation. Everything should be zero-carbon. All the people, all the countries, all the parties, all the resources: zero-carbon. And then, in the future, we would minimise our losses and damages. Otherwise, we will divert limited resources and then we will not be able to concentrate our efforts on zero-carbon transformation. So this is the mentality. I think that [the purpose of the] loss and damages [should] not be for compensation but for zero-carbon transition, zero-carbon transformation, zero carbon development.

Now if we see zero-carbon development, it is high quality. For instance, solar energy. Instead of compensation for losses and damages, you install solar panels and then you have energy. That is well-being, that is income, that is ability to develop, instead of some sort of imaginary losses and damages. Right?

CB: A critic might say, firstly countries are pledging to triple global renewables – so there is still focus on mitigation – but they might also say that countries that are seeing their infrastructure destroyed, for example through conflict, have the opportunity to develop new low-carbon infrastructure.

PJH: This is wrong. For one thing, tripling renewable energy is not enough. Why are we only tripling? Why not more and more, the more the better. Because look at China – [we] doubled and doubled and doubled [our renewable energy] all the time. This year we doubled installed capacity over the last year. Why shouldn’t we do more than just tripling? Insufficient, not enough, we should do more and more and more and more, not only tripling, it is not enough.

And the second thing: when you talk about replacing energy infrastructure. Renewables would not require a huge amount of investment in infrastructure. Fossil fuels, coal electricity generation – the investment is very capital intensive. It would require investment of a huge amount of money for construction of the thermal power plants, it would require a huge amount of investment into the power grid and distribution. Right? Waste of money.

If you go to zero-carbon solar panels on top of your roof, you have your electricity. And then when it’s intermittent, you see [we have] power batteries, which are so cheap. You should go to China to have a look at power batteries – 20 years ago, who would have imagined that electric vehicles would be competitive. Even three years ago nobody [would have thought so]. And now you see, [they are] so competitive.

CB: That’s so true, in my Beijing apartment, we didn’t have solar panels, but we did have EV charging points.

PJH: Right? So that means the infrastructure, everything is under your own control, you will not be reliant on capitalists. So that is the difference, right? Infrastructure. That’s why I say the “loss-and-damages fund” does nothing. Just zero-carbon transition, zero-carbon energy, zero-carbon development, zero-carbon welfare, zero-carbon well-being.

CB: To take China as an example, do you think that there’s more public consciousness around zero-carbon development? EVs makes sense because they were subsidised until recently –

PJH: They’re not subsidised any more. But you’re right, in the past it was. Everything, at the very beginning, was. Just like how when new babies are born, you should take care of them. That’s true for everything new. That’s natural, like a plant – in the very beginning when it’s a seed then you need to take care of it. But when it grows and becomes mature, then it can stand on its own and be competitive.

CB: So then, from the consumer’s point of view, are people interested in solar panels on their rooftops, recycling, things like that?

I think that this [consumer-based approach] is comprehensive and is inclusive. Everybody can contribute, to zero-carbon, to plastics, to energy, right? If you reuse materials, then you will reduce emissions. You would delay the depletion of fossil fuels. Right? So this is one of the approaches. All approaches combined leads to consensus, which is a Chinese value.

Renewables are competitive, electrical vehicles are competitive and batteries have huge potential, and everybody has high expectations that these batteries would become more and more competitive, and then every household, every school can be an independent unit. I call it “prosumerism”. Production of solar and [wind] turbines fuels generation of electricity, that’s production right? And consumption is kitchen utensils, heat pumps, air conditioning, light, everything – consumption. And then you have your storage – power batteries, right? Because of the intermittency of solar, the challenges can be resolved through power battery storage.

So I use the term “prosumerism”. Production, consumption and storage all in one, right? You do not require a very capital intensive power grid. That’s very impressive. And also, this is consumer sovereignty – when you have your own system, you have a say and then…you are not totally reliant on the power grid. If [the grid operators] say something is wrong, then you have no control, if they increase the price, then you have to accept it, you have no argument, everything is under their control. With prosumerism, everything is under your own control. I call it consumer sovereignty.

So why should developing countries spend money and waste money on the power grid? Just [adopt] an independent prosumerist system.

CB: I think the EU and the US now recognise they need to catch up with China’s solar industry, and we see them recognising the benefits of nurturing their “baby” industries –

PJH: Let me tell you, the EU and the United States, they always say one thing and do another, they’re very contradictory. Why did China suddenly become number one in zero-carbon renewables? It’s simply because the United States and Europe used anti-dumping subsidies and section 301 investigations in 2010. Then the Chinese competitive products, solar panels, were not able to go to the world market, so we thought we should do everything ourselves – then suddenly we should install everything inside of China and immediately China became number one in the world. Now you see the United States and Europe again say “no, it’s [a question of] supply chain security”. Right? This is really self-conflicting. On one hand they say “climate security”, on the other they say their “own security”. They don’t care about others, they don’t care about the climate. Because Chinese products are the most competitive in the world. If they are competitive, then everybody gains the lowest cost for installation of solar and wind.

CB: That’s very valid from a consumer point of view. I think everyone recognises that China is growing its renewable capacity at such a high rate, but can it sustain that indefinitely? Or will renewable energy eventually plateau? And at what point will it plateau?

PJH: I think that this is a good question. You know, for everything we have a process of very, very slow progress and then, suddenly, we have acceleration and we go to maturity. Once you get to maturity, you do not [need as much support], because, [like] human beings…once you are big enough, you do not require too much to eat, you do not require more food, right?

It’s the same, when zero-carbon energy is sufficient to meet your demand, that is enough. You do not need to produce more for nothing, for wasting, right? So that answers your question, that is when we have sufficient capacity, then there’s no need to produce more for China. But we do have [to have] such capacity, [because] we need renewables. We do have to have new technologies, right? It’s progress for China.

Now I think that we are developing very fast, we want to have everything competitive enough to phase out fossil fuels, through the market process. Not command and control. Use market forces to phase out fossil fuels because now, you see solar electricity, wind electricity, it’s only a fraction of coal-fired electricity, that’s still competitive. And now the intermittency challenge is resolved through storage, because what we need is energy services. We do not require carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is nothing.

CB: To clarify, you’re not talking about phasing out unabated fossil fuels, you’re talking about phasing out all fossil fuels?

PJH: I think that abated fossil fuels is a false statement. Because abated is not compatible, they have no competitiveness. When you abate it, it is more expensive. You think the consumers are silly? They will simply vote for competitive[ly priced] electricity. Right? So, I think that abated fossil fuels is a false statement. It does not stand. You know what I mean?

It is really a silly statement. I’ll give you an example – gasoline automobiles. Nowadays in China, you see the young people, who cares to buy [gasoline vehicles]? You have no market at all, nobody cares, nobody buys. Purely electric vehicles – that’s the market. Gasoline vehicles, no matter if they are ‘abated’ or ‘unabated’ – nobody cares. This is one illustrative example. So, the [idea of] abated fossil fuels really is nonsense. Nonsense.

CB: You mean that both the idea of unabated and abated fossil fuels are nonsense?

PJH: Both. Zero-carbon renewables are so competitive. They simply bring more employment, more revenue, better health and wellbeing. Right? And they give zero-carbon emissions. There are multiple wins.

CB: We’ve seen reports of particularly local governments building more coal capacity, perhaps to boost local economic growth. What do you think it would take –

PJH: You are right. In all societies, different people and different groups have different interests. For fossil fuels, in the past they were so powerful. They want to keep their power, they want to keep their influence, they want to keep their monopoly. It’s understandable. I don’t care at all – “okay, you do it”. But the next day, you guys realised it was wrong.

So I don’t care at all, [even though] so many people say in China local governments and state power companies are investing a huge amount in coal power. Never mind. They will be phased out automatically through the market. As I said, it is not command and control [that will drive the energy transition]. It’s market forces. It’s market power. Believe in market power.

CB: I heard someone make the argument that, as China tried to control the impact that the Covid-19 outbreak had on the economy, that coal interest groups may have lost some of their power and ‘new energy’ interest groups may have gained some power. Would you agree?

PJH: Well, we really don’t need to worry about this. The coal and fossil fuels industries are very powerful – state-owned and state-dominated. Very powerful. But I think “Okay, you are powerful. But, the sooner solar is [widely adopted], everybody can do it themselves, then we do not have to rely on them. We can let them be.” No matter how powerful they are today, I have no confidence that they will continue to hold a monopoly in the future, like the automobile sector. You know, in China automobile companies were state-owned companies, and so powerful in the past.

Now the evidence shows that fossil fuels are fossils. They are a thing of the past, they have no future. That’s why I think the global stocktake at COP28, the direction is wrong. We say “Oh the emissions reduction gap.” The gap is nothing.

CB: So what language do you expect to see out of the global stocktake?

PJH: The current language is wrong. [We talk about] responsibility sharing, carbon emissions reduction. But everybody will say “No, I will not [accept] any limits. You want to limit me, I want to do more.” This is human psychology, right? And so you say “No limits, you just do what you can.”

Zero-carbon renewable energy will bring employment, growth of the economy, wellbeing and a better environment. One example is electric vehicles: 100 kilometres (km) of drive, in China’s case, requires 12 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity. 1 kWh of electricity, if you use solar together with power storage, would cost four, or at most five, US cents. Only five cents. That means that, less than one dollar – maybe 60 cents – will give you 100km distance, right? Using gasoline costs 10 times more. Consumers have the choice, it’s as simple as that.

If everybody knows that, who would say “Oh I want more fossil fuels, I want more emissions”? Emissions [would be] nothing, nobody [would need to] care about emissions. So I think that we should go in the right direction. Renewables, zero-carbon, that’s the right direction. Renewables, power batteries, electric vehicles, heat pumps. All of these are [good] for development, for quality of growth, for quality of living. That is the right direction, instead of [focusing on] “limit, limit, reduction, reduction”. Psychologically, nobody would accept limits. So that’s the logic – for growth, for the environment, for better wellbeing, that’s the logic.

CB: Will this be accelerated by expected reforms to the power spot market?

PJH: The power spot market, that’s also what the monopoly people will say. Right? And then if we [adopt the] prosumerism system, there’s no need to reform, right? We have millions and billions of [sources for] prosumerism. One household is a prosumerist unit. The market has nothing to do with the individual prosumerist system. Right?

So only the monopoly people will [call for] “reform”, and through reform they gain more power, they gain more monopoly. The prosumerism system will destroy such monopolies. I have my own system, I consume the electricity I generate, I can have everything stored in my own battery and I drive my electric vehicle. I have an independent, self-sufficient system. With monopolies – like the oil companies – the price is so volatile, because they want it to be volatile, so they can monopolise more and they can control the price. Now with electric vehicles, the oil companies are not able to control the drivers. Reform has nothing to do with it.

CB: Moving towards a zero-carbon society?

PJH: Exactly, that’s why [we are advocating for] the prosumerism system…we are going to do it inside China and then we’re going to introduce it to the world. We see a zero-carbon energy prosumerism system as a solution to a carbon neutral world. And then, in the prosumerist system, all the oil companies, all the fossil fuels – they are nobody, they are nothing. Consumers, households, they won’t care [about the fate of these companies]. That’s the solution, instead of price reform – that’s really the wrong direction. I am very confident that we have a solution, that’s the zero-carbon prosumerism system.

CB: Thank you professor. And, for my last question: do you talk to your friends and family about climate change?

PJH: Of course! Global warming is not global warming, it’s global boiling. We cannot stand, our biodiversity cannot stand, our future will not be able to sustain. So we have a solution – that’s renewables, and just renewables. Renewables are good for welfare, for wellbeing, for growing the economy, for a better environment. It’s for everybody and for the future. Fossil fuels are not for the future.

The post The Carbon Brief Interview: Prof Pan Jiahua appeared first on Carbon Brief.

The Carbon Brief Interview: Prof Pan Jiahua

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Revealed: UK ‘double counting’ £500m of aid for war-torn countries as climate finance 

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The UK government has reclassified nearly £500m of aid for war-torn and impoverished countries as “climate finance”, in a bid to meet its international commitments under the Paris Agreement.

This follows reports that the UK’s pledge to spend £11.6bn on climate aid between 2021-22 and 2025-26 is slipping out of reach, due to government cuts.

A freedom-of-information (FOI) request by Carbon Brief reveals how, after the reclassification, money for humanitarian work in nations including Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia is now being double-counted as climate finance to help the UK hit its goal.

The projects being double-counted include work to provide food and basic necessities that have no explicit link to climate action, Carbon Brief’s analysis reveals. Some of their internal reports even state clearly that they are not climate-finance projects.

This is part of a wider revision of climate-finance accounting, introduced by the government in 2023 to ensure the UK achieves its £11.6bn target. 

By redefining existing funds pegged for development banks, investment in foreign businesses and humanitarian aid as “climate finance”, the government expects to add £1.72bn to its total.

Experts tell Carbon Brief it is “problematic” and “unjust” to relabel existing funds as climate finance rather than providing new money. One says the UK could meet its target, at least in part, by “double counting development and climate finance”.

The chair of the Least Developed Countries (LDC) group at UN climate talks says the UK’s actions are a “clear deviation from the path to climate justice”.

‘Moving the goalposts’

The UK government has committed to spending £11.6bn on international climate finance (ICF) between 2021-22 and 2025-26. This is the nation’s contribution to climate action in developing countries, which it is obliged to provide under the Paris Agreement

Developed countries, such as the UK, have committed to sending “new and additional” climate finance to developing countries. This is generally interpreted as spending extra money on top of existing foreign aid.

The UK government itself has described the £11.6bn goal as “dedicated ring-fenced funding that is distinguishable from non-climate [aid]”.

However, reports began to emerge in 2023 that the government was not on track to meet its target.

Experts attributed this to the government cutting its overall foreign aid budget. In November 2020, the government suspended a target to give 0.7% of national income as overseas aid – reducing it to 0.5% as a “temporary measure”. 

The government is also spending more of the remaining funds on supporting refugees within the UK. The latest figures show that in 2023, the UK spent more of its aid budget on supporting asylum seekers and refugees in the country than on overseas projects.

In order to remain on track for the £11.6bn goal, development minister Andrew Mitchell announced in October 2023 that the government was changing the way it calculated ICF spending.

This immediately sparked concerns that the government was inflating its climate-finance figures without providing any new aid money for developing countries. Mitchell provided limited details of how the government was getting its target back on track.

More information came in a report released in February by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI). It concluded that, by “moving the goalposts”, the government had reclassified £1.72bn of spending as climate finance between 2021-22 and 2025-26.

This figure includes four tranches of funding that had not previously been considered ICF:

  • £746m from assuming that a share of the “core” funding the UK gives to the World Bank and other multilateral development banks (MDBs) will be assigned to climate-related projects.
  • £497m from automatically labelling 30% of the humanitarian aid spent in the 10% of countries that are most vulnerable to climate change as ICF.
  • An estimated £266m from defining more payments into British International Investment (BII), the UK’s overseas development finance institution, as ICF.
  • £215m from civil servants “scrubbing” the aid portfolio – namely, going back over existing projects and adding any climate-relevant funding they had previously missed.

The figures cited by ICAI are based on unpublished government analysis, which Carbon Brief has now obtained via FOI.

The analysis includes the annual contributions each of these sources are expected to provide over the period from 2021-22 to 2025-26, which can be seen in the coloured sections of the chart below.

The UK government has reclassified £1.7bn of development aid as climate finance
Annual UK ICF spending, £bn, by financial year for the period 2011/12 to 2025/26. The grey area indicates ICF spending under the original accounting methodology used until October 2023. Beyond 2022/23 the figures are forecasts, with the light grey area indicating the upper bound and the darker grey indicating the lower bound. The coloured areas indicate the funding newly reclassified as counting towards ICF, following methodology changes introduced in October 2023. For multilateral development bank contributions, Carbon Brief understands that the UK will pledge £495m to the World Bank in 2025/26, and the remaining contributions that make up the £746m total are spread evenly across the 2011/12-2025/26 period. Source: UK government.

As the chart indicates, even with the methodology changes, the £11.6bn target is still “backloaded”, with a significant uptick in ICF spending required beyond 2023-24 to meet it.

ICAI notes that, since the government cut its aid spending from the UN-backed benchmark of 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national income (GNI), “serious concerns remain over whether the heavily backloaded spending plan can be delivered”.

Core funding

The largest tranche of redefined ICF – some £740m – comes from the government starting to assume that a share of its “core” MDB funding counts as climate finance.

This is money that the UK government already hands to these organisations to distribute according to their own priorities, primarily through loans. None of this money has previously been counted by the UK government as ICF, even though some went towards climate action.

MDBs, including the World Bank, the African Development Bank (AfDB) and others have placed a growing emphasis on climate change in recent years. The World Bank, for example, has a target of spending 35% of its finance on climate-related projects.

Following the reclassification, the UK government will simply assume that 35% of the money it gives to the World Bank – some £495m of £1.4bn total due in 2025/26 – counts as ICF.

It will use a similar approach for its funding of other MDBs, with these changes adding a total of £740m to the amount of the UK’s aid spending that is classified as ICF.

This move will not result in the UK providing any new funds for climate action, as it was already planning on distributing this money. In fact, the government has cut its spending on MDBs in recent years, due to the overall cut in the UK’s foreign aid budget.

Humanitarian aid

The second-largest tranche of newly reclassified climate finance is from projects in climate-vulnerable countries, an additional £497m of which is being counted as ICF.

The government dataset obtained by Carbon Brief via FOI reveals the 28 humanitarian projects and five more general, country-specific funds that will contribute to this additional £497m.

The projects are based in some of the poorest and most war-torn countries in the world – Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Somalia, Sudan, Uganda, Yemen and Zimbabwe.

They largely focus on essential provisions, such as food and basic infrastructure.

Prior to the recent changes, these programmes would have contributed just £47.5m to ICF, according to the government data released to Carbon Brief.

By automatically counting 30% of their spend as ICF, this figure has now multiplied more than 10 times. The chart below shows, in red, these additional ICF funds.

The UK government has reclassified £497m of humanitarian aid as climate finance
Annual UK ICF spending, £m, sourced from humanitarian aid projects for the 10% most climate-vulnerable countries, as defined by the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative. Blue columns indicate the ICF spending that was expected from these projects prior to the methodology change, and red columns indicate ICF spending from these projects after the change. Source: UK government.

For the 23 of the 28 projects with documentation available online, Carbon Brief assessed the relevant sections of their “business case and summary” documents for evidence that they were related to climate action.

Many of the project documents reference climate change and say they will provide climate benefits. For example, all four projects in Somalia, a nation that has faced devastating drought and floods in recent years, mention the importance of climate resilience in their work.

However, some of the projects explicitly state that they are not intended to provide climate-finance.

The summary document for the Assurance and Learning Programme (ALP) in Afghanistan, published in 2021, states: “The programme will not be eligible for ICF nor will it monitor ICF funded programmes.”

Similarly, the Congo Humanitarian, Resilience and Protection (CHRESP) Programme summary document, also published in 2021, notes “we do not anticipate that any of our programming under this programme will be eligible as ICF”.

Another project, titled Yemen: Access, Logistics, Liaison, and Accountability, will provide “few opportunities” to address climate change, according to the summary document. A further four project documents do not contain any reference to climate change. 

Despite this, following the government’s reclassification, these seven projects will collectively contribute £166.9m of UK climate finance in the coming years.

Euan Ritchie, a senior development finance policy advisor at the thinktank Development Initiatives, says blanket approaches to assigning climate finance are “problematic”. He tells Carbon Brief:

“Just because humanitarian aid is going to a country that is vulnerable to climate change doesn’t mean it addresses that vulnerability. And these projects have already been screened for their climate focus.”

He points to one of the projects, the Somalia Humanitarian and Resilience Programme, as an example. Ritchie says, based on International Aid Transparency Initiative data, that officials had already decided around 12% of this programme’s spending was ICF, and asks:

“So what rationale is there for bumping it up to 30%? Were officials wrong the first time?”

Fatuma Hussein, a programme manager at the thinktank Power Shift Africa, tells Carbon Brief such an approach is “unfair and unjust” as it “risks conflating” the “distinct needs” of climate aid and other humanitarian objectives.

In its guidance for categorising what counts as climate finance, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee recommends scoring many humanitarian projects “zero”, indicating programmes that “generally do not qualify” as climate aid.

More private investment

The third-largest tranche of reclassified development aid relates to state-backed private sector investment under British International Investment (BII).

The UK government will also now count more of its payments into BII as climate finance, amounting to around an extra £266m by 2025-26. Unlike aid spending, these are investments in the private sector and are expected to yield a financial return for the UK.

Previously, the government counted a fixed 30% of BII spending as climate finance. It now intends to include a higher percentage to reflect a growing focus on climate investments.

The new approach to BII investments assesses the share of each project that should count towards UK climate finance case-by-case, rather than using a blanket 30% share.

It will record 100% of investments in a programme covering the Philippines, Indonesia and other parts of south-east Asia as ICF, as part of the government’s “Indo-Pacific tilt”. Investments in other regions also contribute a higher share of ICF – rising as high as 46% in 2022-23.

The chart below shows the extra BII investment money (red) that now counts as ICF.

The UK government has reclassified £266m of state-backed private sector investment as climate finance
Annual UK ICF spending, £m, from British International Investment (BII) contributions. Blue columns indicate the ICF spending that was expected from BII prior to the methodology change and red columns indicate ICF spending from BII after the change. Source: UK government.

The figure above shows that the government expects private sector investment via BII to play an increasingly large role in its climate finance in the future.

Many observers have expressed concerns about the government leaning more on private investment through BII to boost its ICF spending. 

A report last year by the parliamentary international development committee criticised BII’s investment in, among other things, fossil fuels and “high-net-worth individuals”.

BII prioritises loans and projects in middle-income nations where there is money to be made, rather than the nations that are most in need of climate finance. 

ICAI highlighted this in its review of the UK’s climate finance commitments earlier this year, stating that private investment “is not always the most appropriate, realistic or preferred form of climate finance in the poorest and most fragile contexts”.

Not new, not additional

Developing countries will require trillions of dollars of investment in the coming years to meet their climate goals. 

To help achieve this, developed countries, such as the UK, are expected to provide finance under the UN climate system that is “new and additional”. Discussions around a new climate finance goal will take centre stage this year at the COP29 climate summit in Baku.

Experts tell Carbon Brief that the UK government’s changes to its ICF undermine the notion that it is providing new, “ring-fenced” funding. Regarding the “arbitrary” labelling of humanitarian funds as ICF, Ritchie says:

“If the UK is counting a fixed share of projects as ICF it can no longer claim that ICF is distinguishable from non-climate [aid].”

Gideon Rabinowitz, director of policy and advocacy at the international development network Bond, tells Carbon Brief:

“The change of definition means they will be able to reach the target by spending less money than they would have done otherwise through double counting development and climate finance.”

Development NGOs say the best way for the UK to scale up its climate finance would be to return its foreign aid budget to 0.7% of GNI. However, with an election looming, neither the ruling Conservatives nor their Labour challengers have indicated a willingness to do this.

There will be considerable pressure on developed countries in the coming months to commit to providing plentiful, high-quality climate finance in the run up to COP29.

Evans Njewa, the chair of the LDC group, to which nearly all of the UK’s humanitarian aid ICF recipients belong, tells Carbon Brief:

“Reclassifying existing donor aid as climate finance is a clear deviation from the path to climate justice, and closing the finance gap cannot be achieved this way.”

Climate-finance reporting has been described as a “wild west”, with countries announcing figures based on vastly different definitions. This has led to nations counting money for coal, hotels and films in their totals, as there is no binding international standard to guide them.

The UK government noted last year that its changes are in line with other countries’ methods. But experts point out that the UK was previously viewed as setting a high standard for other countries to reach. 

In contrast, the new approach “risks breeding cynicism and mistrust because you are going to find programmes that have very little to do with climate change, but end up being reported in the pot as climate finance”, Rabinowitz says.

Hussein agrees, telling Carbon Brief:

“This not only highlights the disparity between western countries’ rhetoric on climate finance and their actual financial commitments to developing countries but also risks undermining trust that underpins global climate action.”

She argues that nations should agree on common definitions and accounting methodologies for climate finance to ensure that governments cannot backslide as the UK has.

Responding to Carbon Brief’s questions about the government’s methodology changes, a spokesperson from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) said:

“Since 2011, UK funding has helped more than 100 million people cope with the effects of climate change, given 70 million people access to clean energy and reduced or avoided over 86m tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.

“The UK remains on track to meet the £11.6bn international climate finance commitment.”

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Revealed: UK ‘double counting’ £500m of aid for war-torn countries as climate finance 

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Climate change ‘bait and switch’ threatens sharks and rays

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Cold-blooded sea creatures seeking refuge from warming ocean waters may find themselves at increasing risk of deadly cold shocks due to changes in ocean currents, new research warns.

Climate change is pushing species to higher latitudes in an attempt to stay within their range of comfortable temperatures, but this migration can come with unforeseen consequences.

The new study, published in Nature, documents a mass mortality event in March 2021 that saw at least 260 dead sea creatures wash up on the shores of South Africa.

Using satellite data, ocean observations and data on the movements of bull sharks, the researchers link the event to a sudden influx of cold water coming up from the deeper ocean.

They also show that such events have been increasing in frequency over the past three decades and forecast that this trend may continue into the future as the world continues to warm.

One of the study authors tells Carbon Brief that “we predict this is going to become a more regular phenomenon and could impact a lot of different species”.

Marine migration

As the Earth warms, many species that are able to do so are migrating to higher latitudes, allowing them to maintain their place within their “thermal niche” – the set of temperatures at which they can comfortably survive.

Nowhere is this effect more pronounced than in the global oceans, where there are fewer barriers to migration than there are on land. On average, highly mobile marine species have been moving polewards by nearly 60km per decade since the 1950s, according to the latest report on climate impacts from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

But this migration comes with its own risks.

These shifting ranges due to climate change can introduce species to new, unfamiliar stressors – such as shipping lanes or fisheries, says Dr Natalie Posdaljian, a bioacoustician at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, who was not involved in the study. 

One of these risks is what the researchers describe as a temperature “bait and switch” – where creatures seeking warmer waters can instead be trapped by a sudden cold event. Posdaljian tells Carbon Brief that the new study is the first time that she’s seen evidence of this hazard.

Mass mortality

On 2 March 2021, dead sea creatures started washing up on the south-eastern shores of South Africa between Port Elizabeth and East London. In all, more than 250 individual organisms and 82 separate species were found, including large, migratory species such as manta rays and bull sharks.

In deducing what had happened, the team of researchers examined the temperature data in the days leading up to the event. Using satellite and other observational data, they found that the temperature of the surrounding ocean had dropped by up to 9.2C in less than 24 hours.

The cold event persisted for seven days and had “severe physiological consequences” for the marine organisms there, including hypothermia, malfunction and death, the paper says.

Natasha Booty on X: Giant manta rays and other rare fish are washing up on South Africa's beaches

Similar cold shocks have previously occurred in south-eastern South Africa, dating back to at least 1989 and affecting a wide array of creatures, according to the study. But this instance was “probably the biggest cold-water shock [mass mortality event]” ever recorded, Dr Ryan Daly, a marine scientist at the Oceanographic Research Institute in Durban, South Africa, tells Carbon Brief. Daly is one of the authors of the new study.

The influx of cold water was due to a process called “upwelling”, which carries cold, nutrient-rich water from the ocean depths to its surface.

The study identifies three factors that make rapid upwelling events likely to happen: strong currents interacting with the continental shelf, strong winds blowing from the east to the west and meanders in the current. Such winds occur predominantly during the southern hemisphere’s summer, between October and April. They often act as a harbinger of temperature drops occurring in the coming 0-72 hours, the study notes. 

All three of these factors are characteristic of both the south-eastern coast of South Africa and the eastern coast of Australia, where strong currents known as the Agulhas and the East Australian Current, respectively, run up against the continental shelf.

‘Trapped’

Dr Camrin Braun, an ocean ecologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, finds it surprising that even large, migratory species such as rays and bull sharks were killed by the cold snap. Braun, who was not involved in the new research, tells Carbon Brief that these animals “can move really far and really fast”. 

Daly says that this surprised the research team as well. But it’s possible, he says, that the onset of the cold temperatures was quick enough and large enough that the animals got “trapped” instead of being able to escape.

To underscore this, the researchers use data on bull shark movements and ocean temperatures from tags attached to sharks before, during and after the event. 

Bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas) at the Protea Banks dive site in Margate, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa.
Bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas) at the Protea Banks dive site in Margate, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

They find that the sharks consistently demonstrate “attempted avoidance” of lower temperatures – moving closer to the surface while swimming through upwelling areas and only travelling at deeper depths once they reach warmer waters.

The team also observe one shark taking up residence in a sheltered bay during one upwelling event to escape the cold waters. The researchers write that these actions “probably represent behavioural strategies to avoid/survive intense temperature declines”.

On its own, the shark-movement data is “kind of limited” and does not “make a very convincing case”, Braun says. But combining it with other data “really up[s] the ante on the importance” of the research, he adds.

Climate patterns

The researchers also look at several decades’ worth of sea surface temperature and wind data to understand whether these upwelling events are changing in frequency or intensity.

They identify clear increasing trends in the proportion of winds that favour upwelling events across three sites in South Africa. (Previous research has shown a similar increase in such winds in south-eastern Australia.) 

Then, for the three South African sites and three Australian sites, they compare temperature data from three locations: “inshore”, defined as between 0-15km from the shore, “midshelf”, which is 15-30km from the shore and “offshore” – located within the warm “core” of the current. The inshore and midshelf locations fall within the upwelling zone, but the offshore ones do not.

If, as they hypothesised, upwelling events were becoming more frequent, the number of cold events inshore would increase over time, while the number of such events offshore would stay the same. Similarly, an upwards trend in the intensity of cold snaps would be revealed in the inshore and midshelf, but not the offshore, data.

The chart below shows that the proportion of upwelling-favourable winds (top left) at three sites in South Africa has been steadily increasing since the “upwelling season” – the period of upwelling-favourable winds stretching from October to April – of 1988-89.

The other three charts show increasing trends in the number of cold events (top right), the average intensity of cold events (bottom left) and the average rate of onset of such cold events (bottom right) for a single site, Port Alfred, over the same period. All three characteristics increase over time for the inshore (blue) and midshelf (pink) locations, but not the offshore (green) one, supporting the idea that the cold snaps are linked to upwelling. 

Percentage of winds favouring upwelling (top left) at three sites in South Africa
Percentage of winds favouring upwelling (top left) at three sites in South Africa: Plettenberg Bay (orange), Port Alfred (blue) and Port Elizabeth (red) over the period 1988-2021. Over the same period, the number of cold events (top right), the average intensity of cold events, in degrees Celsius (bottom left) and the average rate of onset, in degrees Celsius per day (bottom right) for inshore (blue), mid-shelf (pink) and offshore (green) locations at Port Alfred. Source: Lubitz et al. (2024)

These increases persist over long enough time periods, the authors argue, to be clear evidence of long-term trends, rather than natural variation. Furthermore, the study points to previous research – dating back more than 30 years – that shows evidence of climate change increasing upwelling intensity due in part to increasingly strong winds driven by the land warming faster than the ocean

This trend analysis is one of the most valuable contributions of the new study, Posdaljian says. She tells Carbon Brief:

“It’s often hard to be able to have that kind of concrete evidence about how something could be increasing in intensity or frequency over time.”

The idea that climate change could lead to an increase in cold snaps may seem counterintuitive. But those increased temperatures “mean more energy in the climate [system] too”, Daly says. He explains:

“This wind-driven upwelling, linked to climate change, is essentially an extreme event – just like we might have more flooding and stronger cyclones and hurricanes.

“If you think about equivalent on land, that might be fires being fuelled by more intense wind. It takes an existing natural phenomenon and basically supercharges that to become [more] intense.”

He adds:

“Going forward, we predict that this is going to become a more regular phenomenon and could impact a lot of different species.”

The researchers “did a really good job of creating this foundational understanding” of how such cold events could hit marine ecosystems in future, Posdaljian says.

Looking ahead, she adds that she would like to see more work focusing on projecting future trends in cold snaps and perhaps even being able to predict them. She tells Carbon Brief:

“A lot of these animals are not just dealing with one stressor from climate change…We can’t necessarily mitigate these [extreme events], but what we can do is maybe reduce the other stressors that we can control.”

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DeBriefed 12 April 2024: ‘Historic’ European court victory; Climate migration explained; K-pop and climate change

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Welcome to Carbon Brief’s DeBriefed. 
An essential guide to the week’s key developments relating to climate change.

This week

‘Historic’ court victory

FIRST-EVER RULING: The European Court of Human Rights this week ruled that insufficient action to tackle climate change is a violation of human rights, DeSmog reported. In a “historic” judgement, the court ruled that Switzerland’s inadequate action on cutting emissions breached the rights to respect for family and private life of some of its most vulnerable citizens, DeSmog said. The case was brought by a group of 2,000 older Swiss women, BBC News reported.

PORTUGUESE CASE: The same court also dismissed a climate case brought by six Portuguese young people, finding the group had not exhausted legal action through the national courts, the Financial Times reported. Gerry Liston, the lawyer for the Portuguese youths, said that, despite the judges dismissing the case, the court’s ruling on the Swiss women’s action was “a massive win for all generations”, added the outlet. 

INDIAN COURT: Also this week, India’s Supreme Court expanded the “right to life” to include “protection against adverse effects of climate change”, adding that “climate change threatens ‘constitutional guarantees of equality and health’, impacting factors such as air pollution, disease, and food security”, the Independent reported. An editorial in the Indian Express described the decision as a “call to action”, adding that the significance of the ruling “cannot be overstated”. 

Heat goes on

ROASTING MARCH: March 2024 was the “tenth straight month to be the hottest on record”, reported the Associated Press. March temperatures averaged at 14.14C – 1.68C warmer than in the late 1800s, when the fossil fuel era began, according to AP. It added that “climate scientists attribute most of the record heat to human-caused climate change from carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane emissions produced by the burning of coal, oil and natural gas”.

HEAT-TRAPPING GASES: Atmospheric levels of the three most important heat-trapping gases – CO2, methane and nitrous oxide – reached record highs again last year, the Guardian reported. The global concentration of CO2 rose to an average of 419 parts per million (ppm) in 2023, while methane rose to an average of 1,922 parts per billion (ppb) and nitrous oxide climbed slightly to 336ppb, the outlet said.

‘RAISE VOICES’: Amid the records, UN climate chief Simon Stiell urged “ordinary people everywhere” to “raise their voices” over climate change in a speech in London, the Financial Times reported. Stiell warned that humanity has just two years left to “save the world”, adding “we still have a chance… but we need these stronger [national climate] plans, now”, reported the Associated Press

Around the world

  • EU INVESTIGATION: The EU launched an investigation to examine “whether Chinese companies participating in wind parks across Europe may have benefited from state support from Beijing”, said the Financial Times.
  • BIGGEST ICEBERG: BBC News tracked the world’s biggest iceberg – more than twice the size of Greater London – which has “begun to drift at pace once more” after a “few weeks loitering on the fringes of Antarctica”.
  • BIGGEST ECONOMIES: G20 countries and “the multilateral development banks they fund” put £112bn into overseas fossil fuel development over 2020-2022, the Guardian reported. Despite pledging in 2022 to halt such financing, oil and gas funding “has continued at a strong pace”, the outlet added.
  • UK POLITICS: Politico reported that the UK’s rightwing populist party Reform, the brainchild of Brexiteer Nigel Farage, has plans to make scrapping climate policies a central part of its campaigning in the next general election.
  • SEVERE FLOODING: Russia and Kazakhstan have ordered more than 100,000 people to evacuate after melting snow swelled rivers beyond bursting point, leading to the worst flooding in the area for at least 70 years, reported Reuters.
  • CHINA COAL: China accounted for 95% of the world’s new coal power construction activity in 2023, according to the latest annual report from Global Energy Monitor covered by Carbon Brief.

1.37m km

The total length of “ghost roads” uncovered by researchers studying deforestation in the Asian Pacific, according to Carbon Brief. 


Latest climate research

  • A new study in Nature Climate Change warned that meteorites holding potential clues to life’s origins or the prospect of alien existence are fast disappearing from Antarctica because of climate change. 
  • Geoengineering methods that change the planet’s radiative forcing – aiming to reduce the amount of energy that reaches the surface of the Earth – could increase the incidence of fires in the Arctic, when combined with very high greenhouse gas emissions, new research in Communications Earth & Environment suggested. 
  • A new study in npj Climate Action found that “Roman Catholics are less likely to believe in man-made climate change as compared to evangelical Christians”. However, the more positive a respondent’s view of Pope Francis, the more likely they are “to acknowledge the effect of human activity on global warming”, it said.

(For more, see Carbon Brief’s in-depth daily summaries of the top climate news stories on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.)

Captured

Floods and storms are the greatest drivers of internal climate-related displacement. Climate related-displacement, millions of recorded cases. DeBriefed.

Carbon Brief has just published a two-part miniseries on the complex topic of climate migration. Carbon Brief’s explainer looked into the main drivers of why people move. Using data from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), Carbon Brief analysis showed that most climate-linked internal displacement is due to floods and storms (see above). The series also includes a special report on climate-driven migration in rural Thailand. Carbon Brief’s science journalist Ayesha Tandon also produced a video on her investigation into climate-driven migration in Thailand.

Spotlight

K-pop fans campaign for climate change

Dayeon Lee is a Tokyo-based South Korean student.

This week, Carbon Brief speaks to K-pop fans about their efforts to tackle climate change. 

Dayeon Lee is a Tokyo-based South Korean student, and before discovering and joining climate campaigns, she was a “guilty” K-pop fan.

“K-pop” is a term for popular music from South Korea. K-pop has witnessed an explosion in popularity since the term first appeared internationally in the 2000s.

“I think people have the stereotype of K-pop fans, thinking we are just a group of crazy girls being obsessed with boys, but we are more than that, we are also a group of young people who care about the planet,” Lee told Carbon Brief.

“Korean entertainment companies produce a lot of album covers and we as fans buy hundreds of albums to support our idols. The companies don’t care about the environmental cost and waste, but we bear the guilt.”

Looking to make a change, Lee joined the campaign group Kpop4planet in 2021. The group, which is managed by K-pop fans, launched the campaign “No K-pop on a Dead Planet”, urging the industry to “make K-pop sustainable” and produce more eco-friendly albums. 

“We had K-pop fans returning hundreds of albums to the major entertainment companies in South Korea to make sure they are aware of the issue. Although they didn’t officially respond to us, they started to introduce digital albums with purchasing code fans can scan,” said Lee.

The online campaign has in total attracted more than 100,000 people to join and they hope to inspire more.

There are an estimated 178m active K-pop fans worldwide. Kpop4planet’s campaigns cover a wide range of environmental issues, from reducing the high cost of fashion worn by K-pop singers, to protecting a beach featuring in K-pop songs and zero-emissions concerts

“Since K-pop stars are involved with so many industries…that need to become more sustainable, we want to motivate and gather the power and influence of K-pop fans and the youth… to change the companies that are heavily polluting the environment by using fossil fuels,” said Lee.

Lee told Carbon Brief that K-pop entertainment agencies have already listened to their concerns, with some of them, such as South Korean record label JYP, committing to use 100% renewable electricity to power its operation.

‘Drop coal’

Recently, Kpop4planet decided to target the Korean motor company, Hyundai, which had signed a deal with an Indonesian company to source aluminium from a coal-powered smelter in North Kalimantan, Indonesia. 

“Hyundai has a good image in Indonesia because they use the image of Korean band BTS as ‘their face’,” said Lee, adding that Kpop4planet hopes to leverage their K-pop fan stance to convince the company to “drop coal”.

Another campaigner Nural Sarifah, based in Indonesia, told Carbon Brief that the group has undertaken a “series of activities” to campaign against Hyundai’s decision, including delivering a signed petition “with a touch of K-pop dance” outside the Hyundai Motor Studio in Jakarta.

On 2 April, Reuters reported that Hyundai and its Indonesian supplier had “ended an aluminium supply agreement after calls by a climate campaigner backed by K-pop fans not to procure supplies of the metal produced using coal power”.

Hyundai announced in a statement that it had “decided to explore other opportunities independently” in Indonesia, according to the news agency. Lee told Carbon Brief:

“This move is a victory for thousands of K-pop fans who took action. We are glad that Hyundai is now exploring options to acquire transparent and sustainable sourcing materials in Indonesia.”

Lee added that their campaign will not stop there:

“Ultimately, we would like to use our collective power to [make] change. We want to secure the future that K-pop fans and the youth will inherit.”

Watch, read, listen

CHINESE SOLAR: The Financial Times published a Lex opinion piece saying “Chinese solar companies are paying a high price for victory” in a battle with European solar firms.

HAWAII’S CRISIS: CBS News released a documentary on YouTube about the water-related crisis on the Hawaiian islands.  

GREEN FUNERAL: The Anti-dread Climate Podcast explored the carbon costs of traditional burial and looked for more climate-friendly alternatives.  

Coming up

Pick of the jobs

DeBriefed is edited by Daisy Dunne. Please send any tips or feedback to debriefed@carbonbrief.org.
This is an online version of Carbon Brief’s weekly DeBriefed email newsletter. Subscribe for free here.

The post DeBriefed 12 April 2024: ‘Historic’ European court victory; Climate migration explained; K-pop and climate change appeared first on Carbon Brief.

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