By Matt Patterson, November 12, 2021
Editorial credit: Poetry Photography / Shutterstock.com
As the United Nations’ COP26 climate change conference is coming to an end, there hasn’t been much in the way of “action items” coming out of the conference. World leaders continue to bloviate about how “ambitious action” is needed, days before they will climb back into their private jets and scurry away to their respective nations.[i] As TXEnergyProject highlighted last week, there is no shortage of hypocrisy at the climate convention.[ii] But beyond the hypocrisy there is a much more serious and sinister aspect of the climate agenda that should have the attention of people around the world.
On November 9, Jeffrey Ball of Stanford University’s Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance wrote an op-ed in the New York Times titled, “The Climate Fight Isn’t About Morality. It’s About Cold, Hard Cash.”[iii] Mr. Ball writes, “Nowhere is cutting carbon emissions more crucial than in the world’s emerging and developing economies, where the thirst for energy, and the output of carbon dioxide, is rising the fastest.” Mr. Ball argues that over half of the new power generation financed in developing countries (a list which includes Mexico, Vietnam, Pakistan, and South Africa) since 2018 is “on track to be inconsistent with the global goal of keeping Earth’s average temperature from surpassing 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.”[iv]
In other words, energy production occurring in developing nations, where energy is scarce and unreliable, is not in line with the climate goals set out by the UN and other developed nations. Mr. Ball places the onus on financial backers of energy production in these developing nations to quickly adjust course in pursuit of the climate agenda:
Much has been made of late about capitalism getting religion on climate change. To be sure, financiers of developing-world infrastructure are increasingly forsaking coal-fired power plants, which are becoming economically unattractive and politically untenable. But what they’re largely building in coal’s place is less than pristine: plants powered by natural gas. That’s hardly evidence of the financial world’s conversion. If the financing of these climate-shaping projects doesn’t get smarter soon, then all that money from corporations and governments claiming it as evidence of progress is likely to end up doing all too little for the planet.[v]
First, a transition from coal-fired plants to plants powered by natural gas is precisely evidence of a conversion toward a cleaner planet, and it is difficult to argue otherwise. Natural gas emits about 50 to 60 percent less carbon than coal, and innovation from the private sector continues to make natural gas a cleaner source of energy.[vi] In the United States, natural gas accounted for 34 percent of energy consumption in 2020.[vii] Furthermore, in the developing world, where nearly 800 million people lack access to electricity, natural gas and other sources of energy are a lifeline for people suffering from immense poverty.[viii] For Mr. Ball and many climate activists, however, this transition is not enough (setting aside that many developed nations in Europe have recently re-opened coal plants to ensure people do not freeze this winter).
Mr. Ball should not be criticized for taking this stance, as he is offering a concrete policy proposal to reduce global emissions, something that very few people at COP26 seem to be able to muster. Ensuring that financiers and developed nations end funding for fossil-fuel energy production and finance solely “green” energy projects in these areas is, at the very least, an attempt at a solution (however misguided it may be). But his proposal would take power out of the hands of leaders in developing nations and hand it over to financial institutions and developed nations. Kevin Williamson of National Review makes this point rather succinctly:
But if this argument were written more directly, it would be denounced as pure “neo-colonialism.” Because what Ball is arguing for here is effectively attenuating the decision-making powers of the governments of poor countries, taking real power from their elected governments and local authorities and transferring it to financial powers, the most powerful of which are in the developed world, in effect imposing a partial capital embargo on the poor countries until they have been financially starved into adopting the rich world’s climate agenda.[ix]
It should also be noted that, if you exclude China (which produces 23 percent of the world’s carbon emissions) from the “developing nations” list, only 40 percent of the total global carbon emissions come from developing countries.[x] Calls to end energy financing in these nations seems to be, at best, misguided. Liberia’s Minister of Public Works, W. Gyude Moore, points out that “this [Liberia] is the poorest part of the world” and “this is the part of the world that is least responsible [for global emissions] and the place with the highest demand for energy”.[xi]
Mr. Ball argues that, if current climate pledges by governments are met, the world will not achieve even 20 percent of the cuts in carbon emissions necessary to stay below the 1.5-degree global temperature increase threshold by 2050. There is another argument, however, that people in some of the poorest parts of the world need access to energy production now. Increased economic prosperity in the developed world is due, in large part, to fossil fuels. One of the main reasons that members of the UN and developed nations have the resources to develop and pursue “green” energy and renewables is because of the economic gains from past development of coal, oil, and natural gas.
A global push to reduce emissions and to transition to more environmentally friendly energy production is a laudable goal, to be sure. But limiting the ability of developing nations to increase energy production and pressuring financial institutions into ending funding for natural gas projects are simply undemocratic. As Williamson explains, “we should not be under any illusions about what that means in practice: deploying the financial might of the rich world against the democratic preferences of the poor world.”[xii] The theme for the COP26 Climate Summit is “Together for our Planet.”[xiii] But policies like this reveal that the climate agenda is for the future benefit of a few, while ignoring the current realities of those in need.
[i] https://www.nationalreview.com/2021/11/cop26-cables-lights-camera-action/ [ii] https://www.txenergyproject.org/post/the-hypocrisy-of-the-united-nations-climate-charade [iii] https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/09/opinion/climate-emissions-developing-countries.html [iv] Ibid. [v] Ibid. [vi] http://naturalgassolution.org/energy-becoming-cleaner/ [vii] https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/us-energy-facts/ [viii] https://insideclimatenews.org/news/07062021/natural-gas-finance-global-south-wealthy-nations/ [ix] https://www.nationalreview.com/corner/climate-agenda-financial-power-over-democracy/ [x] https://www.cgdev.org/media/developing-countries-are-responsible-63-percent-current-carbon-emissions [xi] https://insideclimatenews.org/news/07062021/natural-gas-finance-global-south-wealthy-nations/ [xii] https://www.nationalreview.com/corner/climate-agenda-financial-power-over-democracy/ [xiii] https://together-for-our-planet.ukcop26.org/