Energy junkies

Begonia Filgueira | 13 years ago

That’s it. We, in the so-called developed and developing worlds, are energy junkies. No turning back. No cure. No behavioural changes to beat the addiction. We want it, we need it and we’re going to get it. Energy has brought us health, wealth and prosperity and… what else, what else, can’t think. Starts with a C… Oh yes, and climate change, that niggly little issue resulting in melting ice caps, floods , mass displacement and drought. Listening to Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, Dieter Helm and James Cameron at the UK launch of Break Through, you would have thought that as long as we decarbonise our energy then we will all be fine. Business as usual. Emissions trading doesn’t work, they reckon. But let’s do it anyway; invest in nuclear, renewable; get the state and private industry on board and we’ll end up with a world powered by clean energy.

OK, fine. Let’s (finally) heavily invest in the green economy and critically analyse whether carbon trading makes economic sense. Look at industry and government for guidance, yes. But what about the individual? The consumer, the one who buys the energy and allows industry to sell it and government to tax it? Does he/she not count? And what about preparing for the changes in temperature, disease, food and water scarcity and other problems we will face if, as seems expected, we soon go over the two degree Celsius increase in temperature.

Too difficult. Impossible to get China and India to change their behaviour, they say. Really? Are you sure? They eat pizza now, thanks to us, you know. Drink Coca-Cola and have a strong desire to wear Gucci. We have been setting the trend for a few hundred years, selling our goods, imposing our advertising. Can we not use creative society’s resources to change the trend? Perhaps we could also look at some of our own values, say those enshrined in patent and other intellectual property laws. We want these countries to use renewables, not the cheap and plentiful carbon they have just waiting to be dug up. Maybe we should share our R&D. Did I just say ‘share’…?

The North Americans and Chinese are already talking, and more than just about the US deficit and its consequences for the Chinese economy. There have been a series of meetings this year starting with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace meeting over US–China climate change cooperation. At that March meeting, Minister Xie Zhenhua, previously of the Chinese State Environmental Protection Administration, set out China’s agenda beautifully: ‘First of all, developed countries need to drastically reduce a certain amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Secondly, developed countries need to keep their promises on providing technology and capacity transfer to the developing countries to enable the developing countries to face the challenge of climate change. Lastly, developing countries should continue developing under the sustainable development framework adapted to the particular characteristics of the country to reduce greenhouse emissions.’

China and the US have just signed a memorandum of understanding, establishing a Climate Change Policy Dialogue and Cooperation platform to exchange know-how, raise awareness, and progress toward successful international agreement. China needs know-how on areas such as carbon capture, waste heat recovery and concentrated solar power. It will be interesting to see how this develops.

The Chinese argue that if the US is really serious about climate change, the two powers should share technology. They have asked that the developed international nations achieve an interim of 40 per cent reduction of CO2 emissions by 2020. That is what we in the developing world can do. Are we prepared to do that? And what about China? When does ‘developing’ become ‘developed’? Will climate change not affect developing countries? What about China’s responsibility for the health, safety and wellbeing of its citizens? It seems China’s leaders still believe there is no prosperity without growth, and that growth is more important than being able to survive on this planet. But with the energy industry said to be worth $6 trillion a year, are we not thinking exactly the same? Quelling our addiction to energy would affect our whole economic system. Is anyone really brave enough to meddle with that? At the book launch there was talk of the abolition of slavery; did that not result from a change in our values?

About the author

Begonia Filgueira

Begonia is a specialist in Environmental Law, governance and negotiation. Her career now spans 20 years having started as an environmental lawyer in the City. She is a dually qualified UK Solicitor and Spanish Abogada who provides legal advice, trains professionals and carries out complex research in the areas of International and EU environmental law. She also advises on treaty negotiations and implementation of EU law. Begonia has advised UNEP, UNDP, the European Commission, DEFRA and DOENI. She also advises industry and NGOs on environmental policy and regulation. BREXIT negotiations is her current area of specialism.