In the wake of COP16, a number of environmental news events provide context for how the world might deal with climate change whether intentionally or not. The question is whether negotiations themselves, while they may seem to achieve little or nothing, influence how people think about energy, especially fossil fuels, and adaptation to a new energy economy that might make a difference in terms of how we plan for climate change in the future.
Despite its poor history in developing operatives to mitigate and reduce carbon emissions, the US Environmental Protection Agency under President Obama is closing loads of coal power plants throughout the country, essentially replacing many of them with natural gas power plants, although the country’s energy demands could be supplemented by large renewable energy projects and microgeneration. This appears to be good news and could finally allow the US to perhaps help encourage other countries to do the same, but this largely depends on what energy resources are available within different geographic regions. It has been claimed by a consulting firm (The Brattle Group) that ‘…CO2 emissions could fall by 150 million tons per year, or about 7 percent of all CO2 emissions from the electric power sector’ if over 50,000 MW of coal power plants are closed. Interestingly, the Obama administration has also sued BP over the Gulf oil disaster accusing them of violating safety regulations, but this seems in contrast to the continued funding the US government provides for deep oil well drilling, especially if its policy played a role in the disaster itself, not to mention accusations that the US government was unprepared to deal with the magnitude of the disaster by underestimating the actual flow of oil into the Gulf. Shortly after the spill, BP was also accused of withholding information about the explosion.
What’s even more interesting is that an explosion similar to the one that caused the Gulf oil spill took place at a rig in the country of Azerbaijan that BP attempted to cover-up, according to Wikileaks cables from a US embassy. What may be certain about all of this political scandal and confusion is that it’s making an indelible impression on how people view fossil fuels as an energy resource. It may not be so much the fear of climate change that will lead people to switch to clean, renewable forms of energy, but cultural aversion. Factor in other geopolitical events such as war in oil bearing countries in the Middle East and just maybe people eventually will not want to fill their combustion-powered vehicles with petrol anymore. It is widely paraded that the price of something means more than anything in terms of commodity, but what determines price is culture and if the culture of fossil fuel usage changes, so will the economy. However such a cultural shift takes place, ‘political staining’ will be most influential – negative information about disasters filtered through global politics and the media aimed at systems that direct or control society; in this case oil corporations. It is because of the Chernobyl and Three Mile Island nuclear reactor disasters that many countries are hesitant to utilise nuclear power, for example, although nuclear energy could likely resurface as a relatively ‘safe’ energy resource again. But if the risks of fossil fuel dependence are more widely perceived and less culturally accepted, preventing a significant rise in global temperature of 2°C or more might seem a more likely possibility.
One of the most pressing concerns regarding global climate change agreements is ensuring that developing countries throughout the Global South receive funding needed to adapt to the increase in weather hazards caused or influenced by climate change. According to the development agency Oxfam, ‘less than 10 percent of overall climate finance was flowing into adaptation.’ But some countries are moving forward to ensure that developing countries have the resources they need to adapt to climate change. Canada has committed $400 million for both climate mitigation and adaptation efforts in developing countries. In terms of mitigation, funding should and can be used for microgeneration projects within both urban and rural areas within developing countries. Renewable energy technologies such as microhydro, for example (small-scale generation of hydroelectricity), do not require the building of large dams and have little environmental impact. Adaptation is perhaps one of the most worthy measures of any international agreement or protocol to build resilient communities in order to prepare for disaster.