by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Thomas Donlan‘s latest editorial commentary for Barron’s focuses on upcoming international climate change negotiations.
Unfortunately for carbon regulators, but fortunately for almost everybody else in the world, especially the 1.2 billion people who do not have access to electricity, the Paris carbon talks also are going to fail, even if the negotiators announce success next month.
The nations of the world have such widely divergent interests that no real agreement is possible. Only a dozen countries emit 75% of the carbon dioxide at issue (counting the 28 countries of the European Union as one big country), but almost every country, rich or poor, would like to get richer and produce more. No matter how much they fear rising oceans and drought-stricken farms, their economic aspirations are too large to accept meaningful restrictions on their future combustion of fossil fuels.
As a measure of those aspirations, consider China, which was impoverished in 1990 and grew to become the world’s biggest economy—and the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide. China drew the admiration of the world for multiplying its gross domestic product from $411 billion in 1990 to $10.3 trillion in 2014. But its carbon-dioxide emissions also grew, from 2.4 billion tons in 1990 to 10.2 billion tons—before China admitted low-balling its statistics.
Even though the most advanced countries, including the U.S., the European Union, and Japan, have had much more economic growth than energy or carbon-dioxide growth, the less-developed world is just getting started.
Nearly 20% of the world’s people have no electricity. They live in the Dark Ages. If their children are to raise themselves up to the Chinese level, they too will be burning lots more coal. Nuclear power plants are the only serious alternative to carbon-fired electricity, but nuclear power is anathema to most of the same people who want big reductions in carbon-dioxide emissions.
We will be able to know when activists and other politicians are serious about helping poor countries with clean energy when they start financing a new generation of nuclear power plants.