The Agenda

Robert Bryce on Why Durban Will Fail

Robert Bryce marshals a few compelling statistics that illuminate why climate change policy is at an impasse:

So what happened over the past decade, the very same decade during which Gore, the carbon dioxide jihadis, and the IPCC dominated the environmental debate? Global carbon-dioxide emissions rose by 28.5%.

Why was there such a huge increase? Simple: hundreds of millions of people moved out of poverty and into the modern world and in doing so, they began using significant quantities of hydrocarbons. Look at China, where emissions jumped by 123% over the past decade. China’s emissions now exceed those of the U.S. by more than two billion tons per year. Africa’s carbon-dioxide emissions jumped by 30%, Asia’s by 44%, and the Middle East’s rose by a whopping 57%. Over that same time frame, U.S. carbon emissions fell by 1.7%.

Put another way, over the past decade, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions — about 6.1 billion tons per year — could have gone to zero and yet global emissions still would have increased.

Moreover, global coal use has sharply increased over the same period (by 47%!) because it is irresistibly attractive to emerging economies:

And if you believe that coal use will decline in the years ahead, think again. Even in the most optimistic scenario put forward by the IEA, coal use will likely increase by another 25 percent by 2035.

Those coal numbers bring us to the final figure, 1.3 billion. That’s the number of people around the world who don’t have access to electricity. It’s a stunning number. About 18% of all the people on the planet don’t have access to the energy commodity that the IEA says is “crucial to human development.” Just as stunning: the IEA says that 2.7 billion people – about 38% of the world’s population – don’t have access to clean cooking facilities.

There is some percentage in using biochar technology to offer cleaner cooking facilities, but there seems to be no getting around the fact that the politics of global energy consumption doom traditional approaches to reducing emissions. 

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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