The climate hypocrisy of the rich world


The response of the developed world to the global energy crisis has exposed its hypocritical attitude towards fossil fuels. Rich countries are urging developing countries to use renewable energy. Last month, the Group of Seven went so far as to announce that it would no longer fund fossil fuel development overseas. Meanwhile, Europe and the United States are pleading with Arab nations to increase oil production. Germany is reopening coal-fired power plants, and Spain and Italy are spending big on African gas production. So many European countries have asked Botswana to extract more coal that the country will more than double its exports.

The developed world has become wealthy through the widespread use of fossil fuels, which still massively power most of its economies. Solar and wind power are unreliable simply because there are still nights, clouds and days. Improving battery storage won’t help much: there are enough batteries in the world today to power the world’s average electricity consumption for 75 seconds. Even if supply increases rapidly, by 2030 global batteries would still cover less than 11 minutes. Every German winter, when solar production is at its lowest, there is almost zero wind power available for at least five days, or more than 7,000 minutes.

That’s why solar panels and wind turbines cannot supply most of the energy to poor, industrializing countries. Factories cannot stop and start with the wind; steel and fertilizer production depends on coal and gas; and most solar and wind power simply cannot provide the energy needed to run the water pumps, tractors and machines that lift people out of poverty.

That’s why fossil fuels still provide more than three-quarters of rich countries’ energy, while solar and wind provide less than 3%. The average person in the developed world uses more energy produced by fossil fuels every day than all the energy used by 23 poor Africans.

Yet the world’s rich are trying to stifle the financing of new fossil fuels in developing countries. An estimated 3.5 billion of the world’s poorest people do not have reliable access to electricity. Rather than giving them access to the tools that have helped rich countries develop, rich countries are blithely ordering developing countries to skip coal, gas and oil and go straight to the green nirvana of solar panels and wind turbines.

This promised paradise is a sham built on wishful thinking and green marketing. Consider the experience of Dharnai, an Indian village that Greenpeace in 2014 attempted to turn into the country’s first solar-powered community.

Greenpeace caught the attention of global media when it said Dharnai would refuse “to give in to the trap of the fossil fuel industry”. But the day the village’s solar power was turned on, the batteries drained within hours. A boy remembers being unable to do his homework early in the morning because there was not enough electricity for his family’s only lamp.

Villagers were told not to use refrigerators or televisions as they would exhaust the system. They couldn’t use stoves and had to keep burning wood and dung, which creates air pollution as dangerous to your health as smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, according to the World Health Organization. health. In the developing world, millions of people die prematurely every year because of this indoor pollution.

In August 2014, Greenpeace invited one of India’s top state politicians, who soon became its chief minister, to admire the work of the organization. He was greeted by a crowd waving signs and chanting that they wanted “real electricity” to replace this “fake electricity”.

When Dharnai was finally connected to the main electricity grid, which is mostly coal-fired, the villagers quickly abandoned their solar connections. A university study found that one of the main reasons was that grid electricity cost a third of what solar energy did. Plus, it was plentiful enough to power appliances like televisions and stoves. Today, Dharnai’s disused solar power system is covered in thick dust and the project site is a livestock shelter.

Sure, solar power has some uses, like charging a cell phone or powering a light, but it’s often expensive and has distinct limitations. A new study in India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, found that even hefty subsidies couldn’t make solar lights worth their cost for most people. Even in wealthy countries like Germany and Spain, most new wind and solar power plants would not have been installed without subsidies.

That’s why, despite all the talk of the rich world about climate activism, developed countries are still on track to continue to rely primarily on fossil fuels for decades to come. The International Energy Agency estimates that even if all current climate policies are fully implemented, renewables will only supply one-third of the US and EU’s energy in 2050. The world in development is not blind to this hypocrisy. Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osinbajo elegantly explained the situation: “No country in the world has been able to industrialize using renewable energy”, but Africa is expected to do “while everyone in the world knows we need gas-fired industries. for business.”

Rather than selfishly blocking other countries’ development paths, rich countries should do what makes sense and invest significantly in the innovation needed to make green energy more efficient and cheaper than fossil fuels. This is how you can really get everyone to switch to renewable alternatives. Insisting that the world’s poor live without abundant, reliable and affordable energy prioritizes signs of virtue over people’s lives.

Dr. Lomborg is Chair of the Copenhagen Consensus and Visiting Scholar at the Hoover Institution at Stanford. His latest book is “False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet”.

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