Climate crisis is worse than war

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

The debate on combating climate change has now shifted to how to finance the transition from dirty power like coal and fossil fuels to clean renewal energy. In recent meetings among the richer countries, this has become a major topic.

In a visit of President Biden to Europe, he met with the newly crowned King Charles and their topic was climate change. The developed countries have set an unrealistic policy for developing countries. It is a fact that the United States, Europe and China follow the “grow first and clean up later” pattern in their path to achieving their present economic status. Now that they have achieved this economic status, they are expecting the developing world to abandon this growth pattern and try to achieve growth without using cheaper sources of power that will pollute the environment.

In most of the developed countries, emissions have already peaked; and they have ready access to capital that will make it possible for them to shift to renewable energy and achieve net zero by 2050.

The developing world, which includes the Philippines, is just as concerned about climate change as those in the US, China and Europe. However, they do not have the means to achieve a low carbon economic growth. There is no question that the climate crisis is already upon us. Last week saw three straight days of record heat in the world. At the same time, there are floods and typhoons occurring out of season.

This climate financing conundrum must be solved if there is any hope of averting the climate change crisis. During the first two decades of this century, China set a record level of emissions because of its massive population size, high economic growth rate and heavy reliance on coal for energy.

There are presently 15 emerging markets or developing countries that are in the same situation now. These are Bangladesh, China, Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Philippines, South Africa, Tanzania, Thailand, Turkey, Uganda and Vietnam.

The most carbon intensive fuel next to coal is petroleum. There are eight other developing countries that are deeply reliant on petroleum consumption. These are Algeria, Brazil, Iran, Kazakstan, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia and Saudi Arabia.

These two dozen or so countries could create a wave of emissions similar to the one caused by China from 2000 to 2020. If four countries alone – Indonesia, Iran, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia – continue on their present growth trajectory, their cumulate net emissions would be 197 billion metric tons between now and 2050. This would be equivalent to China’s emission output between 2000 and 2020.

Many developing countries, including the Philippines, have pledged to try and reach net zero emission between 2050 and 2070. However, it is noted that none of these developing countries has produced a detailed plan on how to achieve its goal.

The biggest problem is the lack of financing for all these climate change projects. It is not enough to have good intentions to avoid climate change.  They will need financing and technical support. It is completely understandable that in the developing countries, poverty alleviation and economic growth are still the priority concerns.

According to a UN report last year, it is estimated that the cost of adapting to climate change in developing countries will rise from $70 billion today to up to $500 billion by 2050. This may seem like an impossibly huge amount. However, it should be noted that the western countries have spent more than $165 billion in less than a year to supply armaments to Ukraine in its war against Russian invasion.

The most critical area that has to be addressed is to be able to develop a model of economic growth that does not rely on fossil fuels and energy-intensive industrialization. The East Asian countries of Japan, South Korea and China adopted an economic growth model based on intensive manufacturing and export led with significant state intervention. Today, these three countries are among the top emitters of the world.

A study of investments from the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation and the Asian Development Bank in 2015 and 2016 found that only about 20 percent of the financing from these three institutions was aligned with the goal of staying below the global warming target of 2 degrees Celsius.

Most multilateral banks halted financing for coal a decade ago; but they have done too little to financially support alternative programs to carbon-intensive fuels.

Most emerging economies like the Philippines are willing to adopt policies to mitigate climate change. However, these countries cannot be blamed for refusing to give up their poverty alleviation and economic growth targets in order to focus solely on climate change.

They need support from rich economies which, by the way, became rich by pumping the overwhelming share of carbon into the atmosphere.

In recent talks between China and the United States to lessen tensions and look for common issues that they can cooperate on, the most obvious area is mitigating climate change, especially financing the efforts of developing countries to reduce emissions.

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