Tuesday, December 19, 2017

If We Want Solutions We'll Have to Pay For Them

An excellent article from Forbes that shines a light on the link between climate change and global poverty. The upshot is that, if we're to have any hope at all of staying within two degrees Celsius of global warming, the developed world - that's us - will have to shell out huge sums to kick start green technology for the spread of  economic growth in the Third World.

The point is that impoverished countries cannot afford to not do what we did, springboard economic development on the back of fossil fuel energy.

While it is entirely appropriate that leaders of developing countries seek to raise their citizens’ standard of living and develop their economies, they must avoid emulating China in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change and local pollution. Like the West before it, China built its development on the back of dirty energy: petroleum burned by vehicles and coal burned in power plants and industrial facilities.

China may have had little choice in how to power its growth, as clean energy options – such as solar panels, wind turbines, and electric cars – were less technologically mature and considerably more expensive than they are today. Nonetheless, China’s ferocious consumption of fossil energy has led to severe human and environmental harms. More than 60% of the country’s groundwater is polluted with toxins, the soil is contaminated with arsenic and mercury, people in northern China die more than five years early due to air pollution, and China now contributes far more than any other nation to greenhouse gas emissions and hence to global warming

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has found that in order to have a 66% chance of keeping the world below 2°C of warming, humanity cannot emit more than one trillion tons of carbon dioxide, in total across time – our “carbon budget.”

As of 2017, humans have already emitted 62% of that limit, and we are on track to exceed the limit in 2036. In order to avoid 2°C of warming, global emissions must decline to near-zero by 2050 and must become negative (that is, removing more CO2 from the air than is added) in the second half of the century.

Even if global population and economic development were to remain stable, achieving these emissions cuts would require a heroic effort. But the world is not static. Many countries are still growing, industrializing, and urbanizing.

Many people are aware of China’s rise, but fewer notice that similar growth is happening across the developing world. In 2016, India’s PPP-adjusted GDP was the same as China’s just ten years before, in 2006. Sub-Saharan Africa, collectively, is roughly as productive as China was in 1997. Two other huge countries, Brazil and Indonesia, are similar to China in the mid-1990s. This growth will drive world energy demand – the International Energy Agency forecasts global energy demand will rise 30% between 2017 and 2040 (the equivalent of adding another China and India’s worth of demand), with two-thirds of that growth coming from developing countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
Many of these countries are pursuing carbon-intensive development strategies. India has enacted policies that have worsened air pollution, at terrible cost to the health of the Indian people. More than 100 coal plants are being constructed in Sub-Saharan Africa, and ironically, many of these are being funded and built by Chinese companies, even as China scales back its own use of coal. (Chinese companies are behind roughly 700 coal plant projectsworldwide, many outside of China, as part of China’s Belt and Road initiative.)

Developing nations should have the full support of developed nations to build new economies and achieve prosperity for their citizens; they cannot be asked to pay the price for the past emissions of wealthy nations. Yet, the developing world cannot burn fossil fuels in the same manner that the West and China have done- it is impossible for these countries to receive a “fair share” of the Earth’s capacity to store carbon emissions, since too little capacity remains. Therefore, another path to prosperity must be followed.

To build their economies and improve the quality of life for their citizens, developing nations may be best served by deploying renewable energy, electric vehicles, highly efficient industry, net-zero energy buildings, and other green technologies, thereby “leapfrogging” over the dirty phase of economic development. Only through such leapfrogging can the dual goals of conquering global poverty and protection of the human species be accomplished. Fortunately, clean energy technologies are reaching cost parity with fossil fuels in time to meet growing demand in developing nations, and steps to improve energy efficiency are already cost-saving.

Developed nations, particularly the United States, should make strenuous efforts to support developing nations’ transition to sustainable prosperity, including the provision of financial assistance to enable them to deploy the necessary infrastructure in sufficient quantity.

China, the West, and other developed nations should follow the World Bank’s example by committing to fund neither coal plants nor upstream oil and gas projects anywhere in the world. China should use its expertise at manufacturing clean technology to export renewable energy systems, electric vehicles, and efficient building components.


Anonymous said...

China is doing something about their pollution; more so than we are.

The Mound of Sound said...

That's true enough but remember that China isn't acting out of altruism. It is perhaps less concerned with its GHG emissions in the context of climate change than as a factor in the respiratory health of its citizens. The Boys in Beijing have, for a long time, been alive to the threat that smog, soil contamination and water pollution pose to the stability of the central government. A complicating issue is that regional and municipal governments, more readily corrupted, sometimes drag their heels or simply ignore clean up mandates from Beijing.

Toby said...

Most people probably understand that solutions require lots of money. The problem is that those with the most money are least likely to pay their share.

Anonymous said...

China plans to start reducing GHG emissions in 2030. (This absurd announcement was actually heralded in the Fake News.) Western nations are pretending to lower their emissions by offloading them to China. It's a GHG shell-game that makes dangerously wealthy and powerful oligarchs more wealthy, powerful and dangerous.

Junior is trying to strike a free trade deal with China (which is about as 'far right' as it gets) so they can fuel Western manufacturing plants on Albertan bitumen.

I'm sure the Mound will enjoy the fleet of bitumen tankers stinking up BC's serene coastal waterways. (On the plus side: they could kill the view and help ameliorate the outrageous real estate prices - another gift from our soon-to-be Chinese overlords. - Not that I have anything against Chinese people. Just not all that enamored on actual fascist dictatorships.)