Monday, July 4, 2011

The low carbon economy

As we move towards COP 17, the noises become more and more hysterical. Today's collection is all about the move to the low carbon economy. "We need to radically change our economic models and ensure a transition to a low-carbon economy,” say Imbewu Sustainability Legal Specialists. "World Wide Fund (WWF) climate change programme manager Richard Worthington says he hopes to see the South African government work hard over the next four months and present a coherent low-carbon action plan for the country."

Such pious hopes! So far from reality. The average country gets 87% of its primary energy from fossil fuels. South Africa is a little worse because it has no hydro power and very little nuclear power, so 96% of its primary energy is fossil.

Fossil fuels produce carbon dioxide in the course of providing energy. So this low-carbon pipe dream means low fossil fuel.

It should be obvious to the proponents of the dream, that you can't drop around 90% of your primary energy source overnight. Sure, renewable energy is growing - but off a very low base. Last year, renewable energy (other than hydro) more than doubled - but the fossil fuel energy grew 25 times more than the renewable energy.

But the biggest stumbling block is not the sheer impracticality of an overnight change. It is the fact that fossil fuel use is one of the biggest, and in many cases, THE biggest contributor to the exchequer. Go low carbon, and you lose your tax base. As propositions go, its chances of success are really low.

This, surely, is the reason why ideas like the Kyoto Protocol have been such spectacular failures. Governments have quietly worked out for themselves that reducing your national carbon burden might be a Good Thing for the world but a very poor thing for your own pocket. That is why Kyoto will not be renewed at COP 17. That is why such formulae for saving the world will die a sudden death.

So let us hope that COP 17 finally forces the pious believers into facing harsh reality - fossil fuels are going to be around for quite a while. Adapt or die!

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