The US is back, but for what?

The re­turn of the US to the Unit­ed Na­tions' cli­mate-change abate­ment talks has in­jected fresh life into a proc­ess at risk of col­laps­ing in on it­self due to the dis­tance be­tween the calls for great­er and fast­er ac­tion and the fail­ure to de­liv­er ear­li­er prom­ises.

And we're not just talk­ing a­bout for­mer Pres­i­dent Ba­rak Oba­ma's feel-good rhe­tor­i­cal flour­ish­es which put UK Min­is­ter Boris John­son's own cum­ber­some cliché laden com­ments in their place.

Andrew Light, one of Joe Bi­den's foot sol­diers in the cli­mate wars, made ener­get­ic inter­ven­tions speak­ing at the Inter­nat­ional Chamber of Ship­ping's de­car­bon­i­sa­tion con­fer­ence in Glas­gow.

On the cur­rent IMO pol­i­cy, he said: "It's am­bi­tions, but it's not am­bi­tious enough, as we won't get to net zero by 2050."

The US and Den­mark launched pol­i­cy last week to drive to net zero sup­port­ed by a range of coun­tries in­clud­ing Nor­way, UK, France, Ger­many, Swe­den, Fin­land, Hun­ga­ry, Pan­a­ma, and the Mar­shall Islands.

As for meas­ures of how to get there, Light, as­sist­ant sec­re­tary in the US Department of Energy and a vet­er­an of the Paris agree­ment, was noth­ing if not open mind­ed.

"We will look se­ri­ous­ly at any­thing that will get us to the line," he said. "Do not choose the tech­nol­ogy sec­tor to get there."

How much that helps an in­dus­try cry­ing out for spe­cif­ics is de­bat­able, but at least he con­veys the en­ergy and de­sire to get things done.

Cli­mate wars? That's noth­ing com­pared with LNG

Depth of div­isions over ac­cept­ance of LNG as a tran­si­tion fuel or a fos­sil fuel dead end were dis­played with viv­id clar­ity in Glas­gow.

Torvald Klave­ness chief exec­u­tive Lasse Kristoffersen at the ICS con­fer­ence dur­ing COP26 in Glas­gow. Photo: ICS

As my col­league Eric Priante Martin re­port­ed, the big guns of CMA's Chris­tine Cabau Woehrel, NYK Line's Svein Steim­ler, Ha­pag-Lloyd's Rolf Habben Jan­sen and BHP's Vandita Pant had mo­men­tum ar­gu­ing for LNG as a tran­si­tion fuel on their panel at the ICS event.

It was left to Torvald Klave­ness boss Lasse Kristoffersen alone to fight back lat­er in the day that it was a waste­ful dead end.

In the pro-LNG camp, Steim­ler stressed that ev­ery­one could see the gas was only a bridge, but at least it was a bridge able to used to cut emis­sions now. "Do­ing noth­ing to­day is wrong. Do not let the good be lost in the search for the best."

Kristoffersen, whose pro­file is ris­ing as dep­u­ty pres­i­dent of the ICS, re­buffed the ar­gu­ment for LNG say­ing: "That's not the in­fra­struc­ture that's go­ing to take us to net zero."

He add­ed: "What is the prob­lem we are try­ing to solve? Are we try­ing to be more ef­fi­cient? Or are we try­ing to get to net zero?"

While Kristoffersen's ar­gu­ments are strong, in pri­vate his op­po­nents talk a­bout his lack of real­ism and that he lacks the un­der­stand­ing of be­ing a "big" ship­own­er. That is a low blow, but all part of the hand-to-hand com­bat un­der­way be­hind the scenes.

There's a dis­tance be­tween us

If Glas­gow has re­in­forced one thing, it is an un­der­stand­ing of the cul­tur­al gulf be­tween those in­side the room ne­go­ti­at­ing — be it at COP26 or Inter­nat­ional Mari­time Organization — and that cross-sec­tion of so­ci­ety out­side pro­testing in the streets for more ur­gent and am­bi­tious ac­tion.

An af­ter­noon cof­fee break at the ICS con­fer­ence in the University of Strath­clyde's in­nov­a­tion and tech­nol­ogy cen­tre pro­vid­ed one of the stark­est con­trasts of the week.

In­side the room nib­bling at bis­cuits, slurp­ing their drinks and fid­dling with their phones were the heads of bil­lion-dol­lar ship­ping com­pan­ies, oil ma­jors, char­ter­ers and ne­go­ti­a­tors. Over­whelm­ing­ly, they were old­er, white and most­ly male.

Mean­while, through the net cur­tained large glass win­dows, dele­gates had an eye-level view of the stream of the es­ti­mat­ed 100,000 dem­on­stra­tors from around the world. They were the po­lar op­po­site: most­ly young, di­verse and main­ly fe­male.

Out­side, I asked one of the pro­test­ers what they would say to ship­ping lead­ers: "The time for talk­ing is over. You need to act — and act fast!"

Back in the con­fer­ence, Kat­rin Har­vey, chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of the Ban Ki-moon Cen­tre for Global Cit­i­zens said: "A just tran­si­tion has ev­ery­one of board and leaves no one be­hind. Not just us here, [who are] main­ly white and main­ly male.

"Peo­ple are say­ing don't de­stroy our world, just to make money."

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Sturla Hen­rik­sen, ship­ping advisor to the UN Global Com­pact, for­mer head of the Nor­we­gian Ship­own­ers Association, a­greed ac­knowl­edg­ing his gen­der, race and age: "Look­ing around, we are not the fu­ture."

Show us the money

While the de­bate in the ship­ping com­mun­ity con­stant­ly flip-flops be­tween ar­gu­ments over car­bon tar­gets and tech­nol­o­gies, the big­ger ques­tion for many gov­ern­ments is quite dif­fer­ent. It is who pays?

But, against pre­con­cep­tions, it is not the world's poor­est coun­tries who feel most ex­posed and are most de­manding of sup­port from the de­veloped world to mit­i­gate cli­mate-change im­pacts and in­fra­struc­ture in­vest­ments.

In­stead, it is those coun­tries whose in­come is built on ex­ports and trad­ing but re­main eco­nom­i­cal­ly frag­ile. Countries such as Ar­gen­ti­na, South Af­ri­ca and In­do­ne­sia are among those clear­ly deep­ly con­cerned a­bout the po­ten­tial cost and loss of com­pet­i­tive­ness, and speak as­ser­tive­ly of their fears.

But there are some who see op­por­tun­ity. Juan Carlos Jobet, Chile's min­is­ter of mines and en­ergy, said the coun­try had an am­bi­tious strat­egy to use its nat­u­ral re­sour­ces to be­come a ma­jor play­er in the re­new­a­ble-en­ergy mar­ket over the next 20 years.

Even the US sees the op­por­tun­ity. "Fun­da­men­tal­ly, cli­mate ac­tion is job cre­ation in ev­ery sin­gle sec­tor," Andrew Light said.

A prag­mat­ic view was shared by Adair Turn­er, head of the Energy Tran­si­tions Commission: "Ship­ping costs such a small por­tion of the to­tal over­all, we might just have to ac­cept that cost."

Yet with the rich world still fail­ing to de­liv­er on the prom­ise made in 2009 to give $100bn a year in cli­mate fund­ing to de­veloping coun­tries, their scep­ti­cism is un­like­ly to fade.