By Robert Bryce
‘Cancun” doesn’t rhyme with “Copenhagen.” But the results of the meeting on global carbon dioxide emissions in the Mexican resort town that runs through Dec. 10 will undoubtedly look and sound the same as the results of the meetings held in Denmark a year ago.
Last year’s much-ballyhooed meeting in the Danish capital was seen as the best opportunity to finally get a binding international agreement on limits on carbon emissions. But after days of wrangling, posing and activists prancing around in polar-bear suits, the result was … nothing. And that’s exactly what will happen in Cancun.
The reasons to expect no action this year can be seen by looking at the numbers contained in the latest edition of the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook, which was released earlier this month.
The Paris-based agency reports that 1.4 billion people on the planet still lack access to electricity and that 2.7 billion people are still using traditional biomass for their cooking needs. Think about what those numbers mean: Over 20% of the people on the planet don’t have access to electric power and about 40% are still using wood, straw, dung and other dirty fuels in their kitchens.
In India alone, more than 400 million people lack access to electricity while twice that many are using biomass for cooking. Given those numbers, why would India ever consider signing an agreement that would restrict the country’s ability to use coal, oil and natural gas?
Indeed, last year, in the months leading up to the meeting in Copenhagen, Indian leaders made it clear that their country would continue using coal and other hydrocarbons.
That message was delivered by none other than Rajendra Pachauri, the Indian academic who chairs the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In July 2009, Pachauri asked reporters, “Can you imagine 400 million people who do not have a light bulb in their homes?”
He went on to explain where India was going to be getting its future power: “You cannot, in a democracy, ignore some of these realities, and as it happens with the resources of coal that India has, we really don’t have any choice but to use coal.”
Or consider Pakistan. The average American uses 18 times as much energy as the average Pakistani. And the lack of cheap, abundant energy is a direct contributor to Pakistan’s ongoing poverty and instability.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recognized that fact on an October 2009 trip to Pakistan. During that visit, which occurred just a few weeks before the climate meeting in Copenhagen, she told her Pakistani hosts that they should … burn more coal.
During her visit to the Governor’s House in Lahore, she said, “The more economic development, the greater the energy challenges.” She went on: “It’s unfortunate, but it’s a fact that coal is going to remain a part of the energy load until we can transition to cleaner forms of energy. … We’re working hard to come to some framework before Copenhagen, but coal will be, for the foreseeable future, part of the energy mix.
“And if you have these kinds of reserves, you should seek the best and cleanest technology for their extraction and their use going forward.”
The Pakistanis are following Clinton’s advice. Last month, Pakistani news outlets reported that about 2 billion tons of coal have been discovered in the Sindh province in southern Pakistan. The Xinhua news agency quoted one Pakistani energy official as saying the coal is “economically, socially and commercially exploitable.”
The wealthy countries of the world may want to talk about carbon dioxide and climate change. But developing countries like Pakistan are more interested in pulling their citizens out of dire energy poverty. That means burning more coal, a lot more coal.
And that means the meeting in Cancun will capture a few headlines for a few days. Some activists may even dress up like polar bears. But the developing countries of the world will never — repeat, never — agree to an international tax on carbon dioxide.
Nor will they agree on any binding emissions-reductions targets. They will not agree to anything that limits their ability to pull their citizens out of energy poverty.
And until the problem of energy poverty is solved, carbon dioxide emissions will remain an issue that the developing countries of the world will handle later, a lot later. See post here.
Bryce is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. His latest book is “Power Hungry: The Myths of ‘Green’ Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future.”