The Political Conundrum

Governments are responsible for the future of fossil fuels

Since their discovery in the 1700s followed by their subsequent mining in the 1800s, fossil fuels have been at the heart of mechanization and industrialization. As research has proved, these environmentally unfriendly fuels have been the biggest negative accelerants of climate change and, as such, the world’s focus today is aimed at implementing solutions to alleviate these effects.

Solutions directed at climate change were deliberated upon at the 2015 COP21 in Paris where leaders agreed that global temperatures must be kept below 2°C. One of the key solutions agreed upon was shifting from fossil fuels to renewable and clean energy sources such as wind, solar and hydro energy. The limitation with this agreement is the lack of certainty that the world leaders will adhere to it. Which begs the question, who is responsible for the implementation of renewable energy?

Climate change is a global concern and every one has a role to play. However, political leaders are pivotal determinants for what policies get implemented in their respective countries because of the authority they wield. Furthermore, states are mandated to protect citizens as a fundamental human rights principle. For that reason, the state has a duty to adopt progressive methods of sustainable development, like use of clean renewable energies, to stall climate change effects that are now affecting humans.

The dilemma though is that the benefits explain the reluctance of world leaders to stop the extraction of fossil fuels and consequently the accompanying side-effects, and other ecological destructions arising from it.

It is true that almost everything we use today in one way or another is hinged on fossil fuels. In fact, more than three quarters of the world’s energy consumption comes from fossil fuels, making them the backbone of industrialization. The catch however, is that such ravenous mining and use of fossil fuels has significantly resulted in an increase in greenhouse gases, acid rains and ultimately global climate change for the worse. These consequences and many others are the reason focus must be directed towards alternative sources of energy.

Undoubtedly, the move from fossil fuels to renewable energy is going to affect the globe economically because policies and investments must change from fossils to renewables. Otherwise the consequences of climate change will be a lot more damaging for life on our planet if no action is taken now. The only safe and sure option is to replace fossil fuels that have for years indiscriminately destroyed the planet.

To efficiently implement this, cognizance must be given to all the possible challenges that will characterize the shift to renewable energy. The initial investment cost, necessary infrastructure and space may be expensive. For example, construction of hydro-electricity dams and geothermal plants is very expensive while solar energy requires a lot of space depending on the amount of energy required. Nonetheless, the investment is justified, necessary and cheaper in the long run both environmentally and in terms of costing.

Governments can therefore gradually eliminate fossil energy, for example, by removing subsidies for fossil fuels which would reduce fossil use as agreed in the G20 Summit held in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania in Sept, 2009 because fossil fuel costs would generally rise as opposed to renewable energy. This will act as an incentive to stimulate investment and innovation in renewable and clean energy systems. Alternatively, adopting a hybrid system, combining two or more renewable energy sources or combining renewable energy sources and fossil fuels while gradually phasing out the latter should be preferred.

If leaders fail to heed to the caution to stop mining fossil fuels now, the 2°C limit will be exceeded. An increase beyond 2°C will have cascading repercussions. As proof of this possibility, every passing year a new world heat record is made.

Consequently, empty promises by leaders to implement green policies and technologies should no longer be tolerated. Governments must refrain from gluttonously mining and using fossil fuels either directly or indirectly as this only undermines their efforts and that of those countries that have adopted environmentally friendly options. The USA, UK, Australia, even African states like Uganda have portrayed these double standards where they promise to stop using fossil fuels but continue to do so directly or indirectly. Such double standards only aid to build complacency among the companies and governments still mining fossil fuels thereby growing the total carbon footprint.

World leaders should understand that renewable energy sources have a lot of potential to create economic activity and increase carbon cuts. International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in its 2015 report estimated that 7.7million people were employed in the renewable energy sector directly or indirectly.

Unfortunately, with the continued acceleration in fossil fuel extraction and production, the prospects look slim. Even so, given what is at stake, fossil fuels must be phased out now at a rate fast enough to bring down emissions globally and continue doing so for decades to come.

The only way the use of fossil fuels is going to come to an end is if world leaders take conscious rational steps to stop the extraction of these hydro-carbons and push for the complete adoption of renewable energy.

Agodo Shabella Patience

Agodo Shabella Patience is a Ugandan Lawyer with keen interest on the Environment and Climate change. She is the founder and Executive Director of Green Teso Initiative a climate change Advocacy NGO based in Eastern Uganda.
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