Daily Insider: Scaling down versus phasing out fossil fuels
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Daily Insider: Scaling down versus phasing out fossil fuels

Daily Insider: Scaling down versus phasing out fossil fuels

Is it time to ditch the fear-mongering and to start addressing climate change by looking at how we can develop our economies in more efficient ways?

Gareth van Zyl
US inflation reduction act targets ghg emissions

A big debate is raging at this year’s COP28 summit in the UAE about whether the world should scale down the use of fossil fuels or phase them out completely.

With another six days left of the summit, this discussion looks become the defining feature of this year’s climate summit.

While there’s no doubting the scientific evidence that temperatures are rising at a rapid and dangerous rate around the world, there is also the economic reality that our day-to-day lives are dependent on fossil fuels and that major emerging economies will struggle to develop without these fuels.

There is no getting around this, and by thinking that we can completely eliminate fossil fuels altogether is simply naive.

It’s also about considering what is fair in our world today. The West developed off the back of fossil fuels over a period of multiple decades. Countries such as India and China, and continents like Africa, also have the right to ensure that their populations have the same opportunities that those in the West have had.

In some of the biggest emerging economies, basic infrastructure is often being built — literally — from the ground up, and whether we like it or not, a byproduct of that will be carbon dioxide and methane release into our atmosphere.

For me, the debate should rather revolve more around what exactly entails a just transition, where we don’t hold back globalisation and development — and where we ensure that the trend of growing prosperity continues, while mitigating climate change.

That’s why I was intrigued to read some of the thoughts from Swiss explorer, psychiatrist and environmentalist Bertrand Piccard. What Piccard argues is that we are all essentially looking at the climate change problem in the wrong way. That is, we are looking at the problem through the lens of “degrowth” whereby we expect nations to completely halt their advances for their societies in order to safeguard what’s left of our climate.

Rather, Piccard argues that we need to look at the challenge of climate change through an economic lens, where there is an opportunity to create greater efficiencies, with the technologies that we already use.

For example, Piccard argues that in many countries around the world, incandescent light bulbs are still used extensively in some places. These bulbs have 5-10% energy efficiency, meaning that up to 95% of the energy they use is lost. By simply switching to more efficient LED bulbs, for example, we can reduce the energy losses to just a few percentage points.

Piccard believes that people need to see the incentives, economically, in order to start spurring on the adoption of greener technologies, rather than being ruled by fear.

An op-ed that he wrote in 2021 perfectly encapsulated this philosophy.

“The responsibility of policymakers today is to set higher efficiency standards in every sector. This will increase demand for clean and efficient technologies and thus encourage innovative firms to bring them to market. Such regulations would be hard to accept if they penalised citizens and undermined economic growth. But new green technologies do exactly the opposite: they increase corporate profits and create jobs,” wrote Piccard.

“As a result, we can now finally escape from the sterile debate pitting economic growth against ecological stewardship. The two must go hand in hand. Clean, efficient, and profitable technologies are available today, and the faster we implement them, the more will be available tomorrow,” he wrote.

Hopefully, as COP28 enters its final stretch, a sense of rationality will set in. It’s possibly the only way that we can save the planet, while still ensuring a more prosperous future for us all.




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