Global warming: Is it time to phase out fossil fuels?

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Fossil fuels emit most of the CO2 in the air, yet they were subsidised four times more than renewables as of 2013, according to the International Energy Agency. (Getty Images)

They are one of the world’s energy generators and many countries highly rely on them to power industries, transport and energy sectors.

However, exploitation of these naturally formed resources has been said to be a major ingredient to global warming, which the world has in the past few years been grappling with.

According to Environment and Energy Study Institute, a US-based organisation that aims to promote environmentally sustainable societies, fossil fuels including coal, oil and natural gas, are formed from organic material over the course of millions of years and are currently the world’s primary energy source.

Referring to the impact of climate change, “Shock Waves, Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty,” a report published by the World Bank this year recommends thus; “We need good, climate-informed development to reduce the impacts of climate change on the poor, and targeted climate resilience measures, such as the introduction of heat-resistant crops and disaster preparedness systems.

The report shows that without this type of approach to development, climate change could force more than 100 million people into extreme poverty by 2030.

In a statement on their Pittsburgh Summit in USA September, 2009, the G20 Leaders committed to rationalise and phase out, over the medium term, inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption.

However, some environmentalists see the G20’s pledge as an ‘empty promise’, as subsidies to fossil fuels are still prevalent in many countries.

In its World Energy Outlook 2014 report, the International Energy Agency (IEA) stated that fossil-fuel subsidies totaled $550 billion in 2013 – more than four-times those of renewable energy which amounted to $120 billion, then. 

IEA pointed out that those fossil-fuel subsidies are holding back investment in efficiency and renewable technologies, considered a critical element of the low-carbon pillar of global energy supply. 

The report also stated that increased oil use for transport and petrochemicals drives demand higher, from 90million barrels per day (mb/d) in 2013 to 104mb/d in 2040.

 “Empty promises: G20 subsidies to oil, gas and coal production” a report published in November 2015 by the Oil Change International (OCI), recommended that to avoid catastrophic climate change, “we need to stay below the 2 degree climate limit, and leave three quarters of existing fossil fuel reserves in the ground.

Electricity

In an interview with The New Times, Andrew Hibberd, Energy efficiency programme leader at the Energy Research Centre, University of Cape Town, South Africa said nobody disputes the fact that harmful emissions from fossil fuels contribute to global climate change.

However, he noted that the reliance by some countries on fossil fuels for quick generation of power is a hindrance to phasing out such fuels for adoption of renewable and clean energy.

“The problem is that there is no way of satisfying the demand for electricity as quickly as using coal especially. If a country has coal available under the ground, it is very difficult to argue against putting up a power station that uses coal,” he said.

“You cannot generate the capacity [of energy] needed quickly [even] when you cover your country with solar panels to try generating the same electricity as that generated by two coal power stations,” he noted.

Electricity-powered vehicles would be an option but that also will necessitate having power stations.

But Hibberd said the move implies that for this option to be a solution to the phase out of fossil fuel consumption, the power stations should be fed by renewable sources of energy.

Daniele Violetti, Chief of Staff of the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) told The New Times that climate change is having impact on the sustainable development aspects and on the quality of life of the citizens mainly in countries in African and other parts of the developing world.

“So for certain of economies where there are big industries and big emissions, transport, energy sectors and so on, reducing the amount of gas emitted is an important step,” he noted.

 He said that phasing out fossil fuels is very difficult.

“There are possibilities of less intensive use of fossil fuels. As long as, we have to reach the point of being climate neutral, does not mean that you have to stop the emissions but as long as you can create a compensation for the emissions…like planting trees to be very simple, this is also something we bring to a neutral effect. But zero fossil fuel emission will take a long time before we get there,” he noted.

Luca Brusa, Lead Stakeholder and Regional Support Sustainable Development Mechanisms at UNFCCC said though the G20 countries plan to reduce the use fossil fuels in most cases, the phasing out requires time especially in this complex economy that relies a lot on these fossil fuels.

“However, countries like Germany, Norway, Sweden, plan in the next up to 10 years, to use much less of the fossil fuels in production of electricity.

Some countries like Switzerland and Norway are saying that they are, in 20 years, going to have only electric cars,” he said.

Realising the impact of climate change to the environment and people’s lives, Rwanda has moved to promote clean and renewable energy along with other measures to curb air polluting emissions, including regular checking of car emissions, according to the Minister for Natural Resources, Dr. Vincent Biruta.

Rwanda has 8.5 megawatts solar electric generating plant at Agahozo Shalom Youth Village in Rwamagana District. The project estimated value is $23 million.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw