Climate Change and Mores

Finance Desk
Climate Change and Mores
Climate Change and Mores

It’s now becoming more difficult to ignore the ravages of global warming; research shows that climate change is contributing to the deaths of nearly 400,000 people a year and costing the world more than $1.2 trillion, wiping 1.6% annually from global GDP. The impacts are being felt mostly in developing countries, where damage to agricultural production from extreme weather linked to climate change is contributing to deaths from malnutrition, poverty and their associated diseases.

Two weeks have passed since the climate change talks at the UN headquarters in New York and 120 world leaders discussed ways to address the issue.

Effects of global warming are being felt in Iran too - with consecutive drought and air pollution causing serious problems for the country. President Hassan Rouhani gave voice to the predicament in his speech to the summit last month. “The rise in the temperature and its negative impact on precipitation in the Middle East, the chronic drought and water scarcity has led to an increase in poverty and the occurrence of instability and tensions in the border areas,” Rouhani said.

But conspicuous by their absence from the summit, were two world leaders whose countries have a significant share in greenhouse emissions - universally accepted as the main contributor to climate change. The decision of President Xi Jinping of China - whose country has replaced the U.S as the biggest carbon polluter-to skip the summit meeting sent a less-than-enthusiastic message. Narendra Modi of India, which is the world’s third-largest carbon polluter also decided to stay away. The fact is, despite many world leaders talking tough on climate change and the largest march ever on the issue hitting Manhattan on the eve of the UN summit, it seems that hope for a meaningful reduction in global carbon emission is premature, because most of the world is hungry for fossil fuels; namely China, India and other developing nations. China is an industrial powerhouse with a national policy of fostering rapid economic growth. India isn’t far behind.

 King Coal

In both countries, cheap energy is a pillar of economic growth , which is why demand for coal — the dirtiest and cheapest of all fossil fuels — is surging in Asia. Energy consulting firm Wood Mackenzie predicts that coal will surpass oil by 2020 as the world’s mostly consumed fuel source, largely because of demand in China and India. Earlier this month, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) also predicted that world oil consumption will increase 38% by 2040.  This indicates that the odds are not in favor of keeping the planet cleaner. But Asia is not alone; coal produces the biggest percentage of electricity in the UK, about 40%. And across Europe, Germany and the Netherlands have built several new coal fired plants.

On the other hand, industrialized nations emit far more greenhouse gases than developing nations (and they have been doing it way back since the industrial revolution) enabling a cheap path to industrialization with no one telling them not to do so.

 US President Barack Obama took the blame- of course at the cost of provoking the ire of Republicans- at the climate summit by saying: “We recognize our role in creating this problem; we embrace our responsibility to combat it.” Therefore, is it fair that rich countries demand that the developing nations cut their carbon emission and skip the “dirty phase” of development as Obama puts it?  With renewable energies like wind and solar remaining either too expensive or inaccessible for much of the world, it is not realistic to expect developing countries to undermine their economic growth “for the greater good of the world.”

A few nations like Japan and Germany have made laudable efforts to raise the portion of energy generated by renewable sources. And some big businesses are starting to decide it’s worth investing in renewable power, but clean energy remains a luxury for a host of other nations.

Rich countries therefore face the biggest responsibility, not only to address climate change at home but also to help developing nations tackle the issue without sacrificing their economic growth. Greater focus is needed on environmental issues in major global capitals before any concrete action on climate change can come about.