Rich nations enjoy coal energy while demanding poor nations abstain

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Each year, at the United Nation Conference of Parties (COP) climate meetings, leaders from the developed world propose new energy policies to reduce fossil fuel use, which they want all nations to adopt.

The only problem: developing nations are predominantly fossil fuel dependent and cannot make a transition away from fossil fuels without compromising on economic growth and poverty alleviation.

The developing countries are now frustrated more than ever as their developed counterparts are not only coercing them to reduce fossil consumption but also have turned out to be hypocrites.

Developed Rich Economies Turn to Coal

Developed nations in Europe are finding it increasingly hard to reduce coal dependency. This has irked many developing nations and the upcoming UN COP26 at Glasgow will host some animated dialogues between nations.

Germany, known in the media as a climate leader, has surprised everyone with a revived dependency on coal. Data on electricity generation show that “in the first half of 2021, coal shot up as the biggest contributor to Germany’s electric grid, while wind power dropped to its lowest level since 2018.” Besides, Germany is also poised to see a historic rise in greenhouse gas emissions, the biggest since 1990.

In the UK, a sudden drop in Wind on a hot weekend in August forced the country to run its coal plants. The massive electricity shortage event served as a warning to the country that is betting highly on Wind.

Developing Countries See Through the Veneer

Developing nations, especially the large ones like India and China who have more than two billion people, are beginning to express their displeasure towards the attitude of the West.

Besides, they are also clueless as to why the promised climate fund—a financial package that the Western countries agreed to give to developing nations as a part of the Paris climate agreement—has not come through. In fact, there has been no guarantee provided so far to meet this humungous $100 billion per year fund.

The lack of commitment to provide climate funds and the continued use of fossil fuels even in the developed economies of the West has made the developing nations see through the veneer of climate drama and realize the hypocrisy of western nations.

A Matter of Life and Death

For many developing nations, the issue of noncompliance of the West to their own climate preaching is more than just a political issue. Fossil fuels, especially coal, is the primary source of energy in the developing world.

85% of all primary energy in China comes from oil, coal, and natural gas, whereas just 8.2% comes from wind and solar. The energy sector serves as the engine for economic growth, enabling these countries to increase their GDP growth and help people come out of poverty constantly.

It is estimated that 360 million are in poverty in India and many do not have access to electricity. Among those that do have, the supply is intermittent. I live in a developed part of the country and even I face power blackouts on a everyday basis.

More than 70% of all electricity in India and China—serving 2.6 billion people—comes from coal. Even slight disruptions in coal supply affects electricity supply to millions of people in these countries.

The people in the West should not be surprised at the developing nations’ love for coal. It was coal that helped the West succeed in the 19th and 20th century, eventually making them become a developed economy.

To expect anything different from the developing economies would be immature, especially when there is no alternative energy technology that can cater to their fast-expanding industries and cities.

Coal offers reliable and affordable electricity, and it is available in abundance. Besides, developing countries now are at the advantage of having more efficient coal plants—when compared to the highly polluting coal plants of the 20th century—that considerably reduce the pollutants, thus keeping the air clean. India for example has made it mandatory for all the coal plants in the country to install filters (by 2022) that would stop harmful pollutants from being emitted.

Given the pressing need for higher stability in power generation and the on-going coal addiction in developed western economies, the developing economies may not comply to their own commitments to reduce emissions.

It makes no sense to reduce coal consumption in countries where people need it most when rich countries are still increasing their coal consumption. To use climate change as a justification to reduce coal consumption in poor countries—while allowing it in rich countries—is morally incorrect.

No matter what a person’s opinion is on climate change, they cannot force poor countries to compromise on their rightful access to energy security and economic growth.

  • "Vijay Jayaraj (M.Sc., Environmental Science, University of East Anglia, England), is an Environmental Researcher based in New Delhi, India. He served as a Graduate Research Assistant at the University of British Columbia, Canada and has worked in the fields of Conservation, Climate change and Energy."

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