For anyone still in doubt about climate change, the recent floods and unusual heat waves around the globe will be difficult to ignore. Floods in China have killed dozens of people and have led to warnings from the People’s Liberation Army of the possible collapse of the Yihetan dam. More than 135 people died in India when the recent heavy flooding caused major landslides. Heavy rainfall in Pakistan has left entire cities flooded and 20 people dead. A heatwave in Canada hit new records last month with more than 130 people dying because of the heat. Floods in Germany, Belgium, and Italy left 200 dead with a huge swath of land destroyed as millions of tons of trash swept the countries. Lebanon is grappling with wildfires as well that are now spreading into Syria. Turkey is fighting more than 50 fires that are spreading rapidly as a 60-year temperature record has been broken, Greece has its own fight against 56 active fires. Meanwhile, flash flood warnings were issued in Miami. The intensity and frequency of extreme weather events are climbing, and the recent IPCC report highlighted just how important it was to counter that trend. It is against this background that one must engage with the technology narrative that argues Negative Emissions Technology (NETs) will save us from the specter of a climate crisis while we continue to grow. This promise, however, is a false one. It is important to note that technology will play a pivotal role in the collective progress against climate change, but to focus solely on technology would be a mistake. There are multiple issues with technological solutions, including their commercial viability, their scalability, and their effectiveness.
Related: The Future Of Oil Is Offshore The following charts demonstrating the impact of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology puts things into perspective. Clearly, reliance on CCS only is not a viable answer.
Source: Ketan Joshi
The IEA’s 2050 Roadmap calls for a “3-4x scale up” in renewables per annum till 2030 as compared to 2020 and at the same time assumes a “59x scale up” of CCS per annum till 2030. When compared to the historical growth in both renewables and CCS, it is clear that these figures are incredibly unrealistic.
Source: Ketan Joshi
It is a dangerous idea to use a ‘technological will fix all’ approach to justify the pursuit of continuous growth. Instead, we need to start to wrestle with the idea of Degrowth. According to The Absolute Impact 2021 report by Carbon Tracker Initiative, at the current rate of emission, i.e. 41.5GtCO2 per year, we only have 22 years before we see global temperatures rise by 1.75 degrees. That gives an idea as to how quickly the world needs to deal with its emissions problem.
It means there isn’t enough time for the world to wait for new technology to solve the problem. It is at this point that Degrowth becomes a very appealing idea that policymakers should pursue. To begin with, this involves rejecting the link between growth and improvement in the standard of living. This has to be countered, of course, by the fact that as the population grows more energy will be consumed. Importantly, however, “high energy civilizations” may face the risk of decline due to limitless consumption of energy. This is a good point to segue into the argument that Degrowth should begin in developed countries in order to allow the developing world to catch up.
Why? It is well known that developed countries have used fossil fuels for centuries to fuel industrialization and pave the way to where they are right now. Coal and then hydrocarbons played a momentous role in this journey. Today, not only have the detrimental effects of this growth been skewed towards the global South, but the discrepancy between per capita energy consumption is still shocking. Jason Hickel in his book, The Divide, highlights that 83 percent of deaths due to climate change occurred in the lowest carbon-emitting countries, and of 588 billion tons of carbon emissions (figures until 2017) 70 percent came from industrial economies. Another very interesting measure used is Global Footprint Network’s per capita ecological footprint where a negative number shows that they are in an ecological deficit (biocapacity is less than what is being consumed). Each human can consume roughly 1.8 global hectares (gha) per annum, similar to what people in Ghana consume, but in more developed countries such as the U.S. and Canada, the number is a staggering 8 gha per annum. Despite constituting only 10 percent of the global population, the EU and the U.S. account for 23 percent of global emissions.
One can continue to highlight the discrepancies between not only the energy consumption but also the carbon emissions of more developed and less developed nations. The fact is that for many developing countries, fossil fuels remain a key lifeline as their population grows and endeavors to improve its standard of living. At the same time, and as the recent report by IPCC shows, we must cut global emissions. There is an urgent need to strike a balance, to find purpose in being moderate, and to let go of the relentless pursuit of growth.
By Osama Rizvi for Oilprice.com
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