Energy: Talk about Unfairness.

The matter of energy is unfair from the beginning; some countries have massive amounts of energy resources buried within their territory, while others have to rely most of their energy needs on import. But now with climate change and its impacts applying increasingly higher pressures on humankind’s energy use, another kind of unfairness began to emerge. If the international community is to stabilize the global temperature increase within 2 degrees as proclaimed, countries around the world are compelled to leave much of their fossil fuel reserves unexploited [1].

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Such restrictions are particularly unfair for a poor nation which happens to have rich reserves of fossil fuels. Because it is developed countries that are mostly responsible for the anthropogenic greenhouse gases that have been accumulated in the atmosphere since industrialization. Moreover, the inequality is aggravated as climate anomalies are already taking a heavier toll on poor nations; most countries that were proven to be most vulnerable to climate change are from the developing world [2]. Indeed, during climate negotiations held in Warsaw in 2013, a Bangladeshi representative mentioned that the nation is “trying to cope with the effect of emissions for which we are not responsible.” Ironically, the responsible might actually ‘benefit’ from climate change thanks to warmer weather conditions [3]. The issues of climate change and energy are already unfair as they are today.

Against this backdrop, a serious discourse about fairness is needed to materialize the two-degree goal. Some might argue that sea-level rise has similar implications; indeed, sea-level rise may draw a parallel with unfair distribution of energy resources because they both largely rely on a nation’s geographical location, which is a given. However, keeping underdeveloped countries from tapping into their assets is another matter. The primary difference is who has the power; regardless of the two-degree goal, a sovereign state has the ultimate power to decide what is best for its interest. Deciding whether or not to dig up its own territory is thus fundamentally different from having to witness its coastal lines changing. This is probably why there is still no solid compensation plan for the countries in the latter category, despite their constant request.

Deterring poor nations from exploiting fossil fuels requires powerful incentives as strong as to sufficiently compensate the unfairness. If, for example, “Africa has to leave its entire unconventional gas resources underground”, as stated in the McGlade and Ekins’ analysis, there must be a sort of a global agreement that can offer enough compensation to these countries [4]. Otherwise, poor nations are likely to get their own fairness by emitting as much GHGs into the air as wealthy nations did.

 

[1] Mcglade, C., & Ekins, P. (2015). The geographical distribution of fossil fuels unused when limiting global warming to 2 °C. Nature, 517(7533), 187-190.

[2] https://maplecroft.com/about/news/ccvi_2012.html

[3] Easterbrook, G. (2007) Global Warming: Who Loses—and Who Wins? The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2007/04/global-warming-who-loses-and-who-wins/305698/

[4] Jakob, Michael, and Jérôme Hilaire. “Climate Science: Unburnable Fossil-fuel Reserves.” Nature 517.7533 (2015): 150-52. Web.

Image Source: Ibid.

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