By Vijay Jayaraj, India
The UN has called for world leaders to declare a climate emergency. For hundreds of million in the developing world this agenda is threatening continuing energy poverty.
A declaration of climate emergency (as per UN’s emission reduction requirements) will dent the developmental goals and increase energy prices. Besides, it will also result in the tax payers funded transition to a less reliable energy system, a recipe for a potential economic collapse.
A precursor to the 2021 COP26 meeting in the UK
Speaking at the Climate Ambition Summit to mark the 5th anniversary of the Paris Agreement, UN chief Antonio Guterres implored, “Today, I call on all leaders worldwide to declare a State of Climate Emergency in their countries until carbon neutrality is reached.”
He further clarified that,
We need meaningful cuts now to reduce global emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 compared with 2010 levels. This must be fully reflected in the revised and strengthened Nationally Determined Contributions that the Paris signatories are obliged to submit well before COP26 next year in Glasgow.”
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson committed 11.6 billion pounds of UK’s overseas aid to support green technology. Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan pledged not to build any new coal plants in the country.
Support for the UN leader’s call also came from the Chinese President Xi Jinping. He said China will cut down carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by over 65% by 2030, in comparison to 2005. Given its status as the leading coal consumer and empoweree of fossil fuel technology in other developing countries, it remains to be seen how President Xi will reconcile his 65% commitment with Beijing’s fossil ambitions and energy intensive industries.
Speaking at the same event (virtually), the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that India will reduce emission intensity by 21% in comparison to the 2005 levels. Earlier this year, Modi had indicated that the country is aiming to reduce carbon footprint by 30% to 35% and increasing the use of natural gas, without setting a deadline for the same.
Even as per its ambitious scenario to reduce emissions, India will not be able to achieve a 45 percent reduction in CO2 emissions compared to 2010 levels without compromising on its aggressive energy policy that has enabled the country to achieve an energy surplus in recent years.
Studies on the relationship between GDP and energy growth indicate that “It is very difficult to reconcile reductions in carbon dioxide emissions with continued economic growth, especially in poor and medium rich countries,” as most of the world’s primary energy comes from fossil fuels.
A call for 45 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emission will be suicidal for the energy sectors in the developing world, most of which depend on coal, oil, and Natural gas. 84% of the world’s primary energy comes from Fossil fuels (2019) and just 11% coming from Renewables. Though the share of fossil fuels in global energy consumption may appear to be reducing by a small margin each year, the absolute value of consumption keeps increasing each year.
Despite the rapid addition of renewable technology globally, the year-on-year change in primary energy consumption value for both renewable and fossil sources were almost the same in 2019, i.e., an increase consumption of around 960 TWh for both the sources. The actual fossil fuel consumption has technically increased and will continue to increase in future, as developing economies are vary of falling back in the dark ages of energy poverty.
Riding on the renewable energy myth
Developing nation’s precaution with green transition has a reason. Gueterres claimed that “Renewable energy is getting less expensive with every passing day.” But the claim is disputed, at least as per the current state of renewable technology, their backup mechanisms, and the evidence from the existing green grids.
Data from renewable energy dominated states like California and from countries like Germany and UK, show that excessive investment and dependency on renewable energy has actually resulted in increased electricity prices.
Renewable energy like wind and solar, which in many instances is installed with subsidies from taxpayer’s money, ends up charging the taxpayer more for their electricity use, thus technically costing the taxpayer not once but twice.
A ‘green’ Covid recovery will imperil developing countries
Gueterres insisted that, “the recovery from COVID-19 presents an opportunity to set our economies and societies on a green path in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”
He is not alone in suggesting a marriage of COVID-19 recovery stimulus and green energy transition. The World Economic Forum’s Great Reset program suggests the same, with global leaders like Justin Trudeau already endorsing it.
Developing countries are unlikely to join this call for green transition, despite Xi’s tall pledges. India, for example, is likely to become the most populous country in the world by 2030 and it will have to risk millions of poor people falling back into the extreme poverty category if it were to amend its commitments to Paris agreement as per Gueterres’ suggestions.
With COVID-19 lockdowns adversely impacting the country’s economy (a negative growth in GDP and a long road to arrive at pre-COVID-19 levels), it is unlikely that the country’s leadership will commit to any significant CO2 reduction targets before the COP26 meetings in the UK.
India’s Economic Survey 2018-2019 categorically stated, “While there has been a tremendous increase in renewable energy capacity, fossil fuels, especially coal, would continue to remain an important source of energy.” The survey added, “Further, considering the intermittency of renewable power supply, unless sufficient technological breakthrough in energy storage happens in the near future, it is unlikely that thermal power can be easily replaced as the main source of energy for a growing economy such as India.”
This is likely the reason why Prime Minister Modi refused set a deadline for India’s proposed 30-35% reduction in emissions. India had recently doubled its mining exploration activity by implementing about 400 new projects. The mining sector is considered important to the country’s ambition to become a USD 5 Trillion economy. According to India’s Central Electricity Authority, 50% of India’s electricity generation in 2030 will continue to come from coal.
Does climate alarm justify extreme calls for energy transition?
Despite the heightened focus on emission reduction commitments, the elephant in the room has been the science used for justifying these emission reductions in first place.
During his speech, Gueterres asked “Can anybody still deny that we are facing a dramatic emergency?” Well he may be right! This is indeed a “dramatic” emergency, not a scientific one!
If we were to assess the key indicators that determine quality of life, it is evident that many of those metrics have improved drastically since the industrial revolution, despite the contrasting storyline portrayed in the mainstream media.
Life expectancy (age to which a new born baby is expected to survive), access to clean drinking water, access to affordable and reliable electricity, access to nutritious food at affordable prices, agricultural crop productivity per acre and farmer incomes are some of the key metrics that show us that the world has improved a lot, especially in the past 3 decades. We are not in a climate emergency!
The only reasoning provided for a future climate catastrophe is the temperature projections from computer climate models, collectively known as CMIP (Coupled Model Intercomparison Project). The UN uses the most recent versions of CMIP (5 & 6) to frame climate policy decisions and the mainstream media and academic institutions regard these models as the gold standard in climate forecasting.
The models are designed to forecast future temperatures, based on greenhouse gas emission scenarios. This is how the UN predicts future temperatures and the reason why Gueterres has called for an emission reduction. But the models are hypersensitive to emissions and thus have been faulty since inception.
Recent research has shown “that climate models overstate atmospheric warming”. The warming projected by these models have been found to be 4 to 5 times faster than the actual temperature observations on ground. Even if the developing nations refuse to commit to UN’s carbon neutrality initiative, there won’t be a significant impact on the climate.
So, the call by Gueterres is not only pseudo-scientific in its climate assumptions but also dependent on unreliable and unaffordable green energy. The call for emission reduction will be economically damaging and to severe extent in the developing countries.
Moreover, it completely excludes the possibility of economies becoming more stronger in future, potentially making them more resilient, thus be developed enough to adapt to climatic challenges. The prescribed reduction mechanisms and the war on fossil fuels could actually stifle their ability to mitigate and adapt to future temperature changes.
It will be interesting to see how Xi, Modi and others in developing world put their commitments into practice, and how it will impact the current energy forecasts which project an increasing reliance on fossil fuel in their respective economies.