India's wants the West to pay for polution
Deal to reduce emissions and limit global warming depends on developing world and business not Western academics
Boris Johnson was in Paris this week with the leaders of 30 other major European cities to agree on a raft of measures intended to promote green policies and help to limit climate change.
The talks come ahead of a key international summit due to take place in the French capital later this year and which aims to contain global warming. However, with world energy demand forecast to increase by 37pc through to 2040 and people in emerging economies continuing to strive for higher standards of living there is no guarantee of success.
The risks of failing to set an achievable and binding target that works as much for advanced nations such as Britain as it does for emerging economies such as India are immense. However, the gulf between the two worlds on this issue is equally vast and ignored by campaigners who are fighting hardest for action.
Many emerging nations will need to burn huge amounts of fossil fuels, including dirty thermal coal, for the best part of this century if they are to lift general living standards, whereas the UK has already burned the vast share of its oil, natural gas and coal since the industrial revolution created the foundations for our advanced economy and middle-class prosperity.
News that the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions fell by 9.7pc last year, the largest drop on record, will only add to the sense of injustice in Delhi over the fact that the developing world will inevitably be expected to make the biggest sacrifices if global warming is to be reversed. For a large number of Indians, the climate change debate is just another example of their country suffering a perverse form of post-colonial oppression.
Given the shift in economic activity towards the fast growing economies of Asia, wouldn’t it make more sense to hold the UN climate change summit in a major Chinese industrial city like Chongqing instead of the leafy boulevards of Paris?
The blunt realities of the climate debate - which many campaigners choose to gloss over - is that countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America that are striving to provide better standards of living for their populations will have to make the greatest sacrifices if global warming is to be reversed. It is far easier for Mr Johnson and his fellow European city mayors to agree to small measures to encourage more cycle lanes or “green” procurement but far harder for their counterparts in India and China to do the same.
Although the time of “peak coal” consumption may be approaching it will continue to be the cheapest and most efficient source of fuel for power generation across Asia for some time to come. A shift from coal, which emits around 900 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour, to natural gas, which emits about 400 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour of electricity in Asia, would significantly reduce power plant emissions but require billions of dollars of new investment.
Activists claim that climate change poses the greatest threat to mankind and the world economy and want major industrialised nations to agree to binding targets that will limit global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius. According to the International Energy Agency a 20pc increase in overall emissions that is expected to occur by 2040 will result in an average temperature increase of 3.6 degrees.
Some experts including the influential academic Petra Tschakert, who sits on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, even argue that this figure is too high. She argues that global warming should be restricted to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or lower, in order for the world to avoid catastrophic climate change and rising sea levels.
Others such as the activist and founder of the environmental campaign group 350.org Bill McKibben blame business and specifically the energy industry for the state of the world’s climate. Mr McKibben has polarised the debate by portraying companies such as Exxon Mobil and BP like something approaching war criminals.
He believes the only real solution to climate change is for investors and pension funds to dump their holdings of fossil fuel producing companies. In an opinion piece he recently published in a UK newspaper he labelled companies like Shell and major oil producing countries such as Kuwait as “rogues”, while claiming that the climate change debate was being led by a form of “resistance” comprised of the young and oppressed.
Just who does Mr McKibben think he is kidding?
We all have an interest in protecting the environment and addressing climate change but Mr McKibben’s bellicose rhetoric suggesting that you’re either with the environment lobby or against it is dangerous.
Contrary to being a bunch of “rogues” the energy industry is acutely aware of its responsibility to protect the environment. With their vast financial resources and technical expertise oil companies can play an important role in finding workable solutions to climate change, which can be a win-win solution for both the developed and the developing world.
Carbon capture technology is one solution that offers more than a glimmer of hope for the hydrocarbons industry and the green lobby to co-exist in harmony. For example, a recent report by the Energy Technology Institute claims that up to 50m tonnes of CO2 emissions could be feasibly captured in the UK by 2030 if carbon capture and storage was introduced on a wide scale.
In Scotland, Royal Dutch Shell is moving ahead with the world’s first industrial-scale carbon capture project at Peterhead. The plant will eventually provide power for 500,000 homes with emissions stored in the depleted reservoir of the Goldeneye gas field in the North Sea. One other major carbon capture project is on the drawing board in the UK in Yorkshire but the game changing potential will come if the technology can be perfected to work in larger consuming countries like China and India.
However, this technological shift will come at a price which many in the developing world are not prepared to pay. India’s environment minister Prakash Javadekar recently said that the Paris climate talks later this year will come at a cost that the West should pay. “I can’t make my poor pay for somebody who has polluted the world,” he told a newswire. “Why does the developed world want to profit from disaster?”
Taking Mr McKibben’s advice and choking off investment to the energy industry while branding hydrocarbons producers as an axis of evil isn’t the solution and won’t help ameliorate the concerns of the developing world.
A lasting solution to climate change must involve business, not exclude it and treat it like a pariah.