The U.S. Energy Information Administration released its International Energy Outlook(IEO) estimates last week. If these estimates are correct, world energy consumption, with huge growth in second and third world countries, is expected to increase the demand for energy across the globe 56%. In addition to second and third world countries, India and China will also be driving demand as they transform from their industrial economies into more tech based endeavors. The question is, is there anything that we can do about it?
This estimate is extremely troubling to environmentalists because the expected world energy consumption may result in a huge increase in coal power if there are no global regulations put in place. Coal is the easiest and cheapest power supply for under developed countries to use. With natural gas and oil prices continually rising, coal looks like the future fuel of choice. Estimates in the IEO put fossil fuel use at about 80% of all fuel consumption worldwide until 2040. If stricter policies and regulations are not enacted, this increase in fossil fuel use would lead to a projected 45 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2040 – a 46% increase over levels in 2010. Can first world countries help growing nations meet their energy demands without being seen as trying to control them?
The biggest issue, environmentally, is that over 90% of all new fuel consumption will be done by countries that are not members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Many of these countries do not have energy or pollution policies in place, and those that do fall far short of the agreements made by the OECD. And they would argue that they are following the exact same path as first world countries had to reach the point where they are today. OECD members can only hope to show that bypassing the cheaper, fossil fuel based energy, and jumping directly to renewable will be better for development in the long run.
So, even as the OECD countries continue to pursue clean energy alternatives like solar, wind, and hydraulic power, developing nations will be contributing huge amounts of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Carbon emissions for developing nations are expected to be over 50% higher than those of OECD nations in 2020, and over 125% higher in 2040. The IEO used current policies as the basis for these numbers because it was felt that it would be irresponsible to try to project the environmental policies of other countries.
The hope of environmentalists lies with China and India. If they take the lead of OECD members, they may be able to use their clout to not only reduce their dependence on fossil fuels, but to convince smaller nations to follow their lead. Since these two countries lead in world energy consumption, if they fail to blossom into responsible world leaders, chances are that global pollution will increase and health effects will be felt by everyone across the globe.
Do you think China and India can become world environmental leaders? What do you think it would take?