The UN Climate Change Conference 2021, COP26 is seeing lots of countries make plenty of worthy pledges regarding what they are going to do to tackle climate change, but I fear that few of these pledges will be honoured and most will wither on the vine unless the pledge comes complete with an economic advantage.
Similarly, it is noticeable that some of the biggest influencers of climate change––China and Russia––are making few pledges to reform their worst polluting practices, because to do so would lose them economic advantage. Regarding economy versus climate change, the world currently finds itself in the unfortunate position of whoever blinks last wins.
Although the World Energy Outlook 2020 report commissioned by the International Energy Agency concluded that solar power is now the cheapest source of electricity, for many developing countries coal remains their most economically viable form of energy. In the UK, the last operating deep coal mine closed in 2015, so for the National Grid to achieve its first working day without using coal to generate electricity, as it did in April 2017, was a relatively painless process, with few modern-day economic or political repercussions. The same situation is not shared by the rest of the world, including even the US, where many of President Joe Biden’s reformist energy plans are being scuppered from being passed in the Senate by a single Democrat senator, Joe Manchin, who represents the traditionally fossil-fuel powerhouse of West Virginia.
It is a similar situation on a personal level as it is on a governmental one. Economic concerns still outweigh environmental ones. Economics is immediate and all-consuming whereas, wrongly or rightly, environmental issues are still perceived as far-off dates; 2030 for this; 2050 for that; 2070 for something else. They are distant mirages in the future to someone who doesn’t have enough money to pay for their next meal tomorrow, or the council tax next week.
Admirable as might be a wish-list of pledges on targets for cutting future greenhouse gas emissions, what is most pressingly required of governments is a comprehensive global strategy for a green economy that makes both renewable sources of energy the most economically advantageous for all world nations and jobs in green-sector industries plentiful, profitable and satisfying for individuals.
Any human intervention on climate change will succeed or fail according to economics and, sadly, economics is no respecter of the environment: while there is money to be made from building sleek electric cars, there may be just as much money to be made from building bleak underground bunkers that can withstand massive temperature rises. I’d like to be able to say that the choice of which vision of the future we want is ours to decide, but I’m not sure that it is. Perhaps the economics is bigger than all of us?
© Simon Turner-Tree
Simon Turner-Tree puts a bit of a downer on COP26.