The 2013 UN Climate Change Conference in Poland is being considered an utter failure. With 132 walkouts and an all but promising final agreement, one might conclude that creating follow-up for Kyoto has fallen out of most countries national interest. So what are we doing wrong?
As early as 1917, Alexander Graham Bell wrote about fossil fuels causing the greenhouse to become ‘a sort of hot-house’. Almost a century later, the burning of fossil fuels is more commonly recognised as the main human-induced emission that has caused global warming over the years.
Today, energy scientists focus on the balance between the costs and benefits of combatting the process of global warming. It makes little sense, for example, to artificially create a renewables market that does not have ability to become competitive in the near future.
While this is not the case with all the current renewable projects, the recent financial hesitancy in this field should be taken into account, caused by the 2008 crisis. The fact that little attention has been given to fossil fuel subsidies is therefore all the more surprising. Even more if you consider that fossil-fuel consumption subsidies worldwide amounted to $409 billion in 2010, up from $300 billion in 2009.
In line to the World Energy Outlook (WEO) publications, Dr. Fatih Birol stated in EWEA’s 2013 Annual Event that fossil fuel subsidies are “public enemy number one to sustainable energy development” and will make it impossible for countries to reach their climate targets. This consensus within the scientific community has not yet led to a binding solution, although numerous attempts have been made. The 2009 Pittsburgh Agreement included the non-binding commitment to “rationalize and phase out over the medium term inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption”.
This consensus in the scientific community has not led to a binding solution.
Criticism on this agreement points to the ineffectiveness of the voluntary reporting system, as fossil fuel subsidies that have been reported by third parties remain ‘dramatically higher’ than what most G20 countries report themselves.
Secondly, the predictive models of the IEA and other scientific committees used in the summit seem inaccurate due to their initial failure to predict and incorporate the consequences of the ‘Shale Gas Revolution’ and the ‘Arab Spring’. Nevertheless, they continue to produce models that go as far into the future as 2100.
It must nevertheless be noted that the agreement that followed from the 2009 Pittburgh Convention was later transposed in the Doha Rounds. One could thereby argue that IEA’s scientific projections, while consisting out of a high amount of uncertainties, have set the first step in the generation of a new international standard of appropriateness.
The sad conclusion of the matter is that a scientific consensus alone is not always sufficient for the immediate development of an effective legislative measure. The electoral glory of decades of energy autarky and cheap fossil fuels is currently prevailing over what ‘science’ is telling us.