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Sunday March 03, 2024

Earth on boil

Oil and gas and other fossil fuel industries remain among most profitable in world and continue to command immense political clout

By Editorial Board
February 11, 2024
A worker cutting steel pipes near a coal-powered power station in China. — AFP/File
A worker cutting steel pipes near a coal-powered power station in China. — AFP/File

Following the hottest year on record, the first month of the current year was also the hottest January on record according to the European Union's (EU) Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S). In fact, every month since last June has been the hottest on record when compared to the same month in previous years. Adding to the list of calamitous climate milestones being cleared, for the first time ever our planet has experienced 12 months of temperatures 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, starting in February 2023, breaching the key global warming limit set at the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015. And, while this breach may not be permanent, according to American scientists, there is a one-in-three chance that this year will be even hotter. Climate scientists say that a 50 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is needed within this decade.

Such a steep reduction in emissions is highly improbable. Oil and gas and other fossil fuel industries remain among the most profitable in the world and continue to command immense political clout. And while the global share of renewable electricity generation is rising, with the International Energy Agency predicting that renewables are set to surpass coal as the largest source of electricity generation by 2025, some new technologically advanced industries are arguably complicating a clean energy transition. According to at least one report, the electricity needs of AI are so large that, in some cases, the growth of this industry is keeping old coal plants in business. UN scientists have found that Bitcoin mining has a substantial carbon footprint, along with significant land and water footprints.

The rapid growth of such energy-intensive industries only increases the need to boost renewable energy capacity to meet rising energy demand sustainably. Meanwhile, developing countries like Pakistan are struggling to develop sustainably. Analysis by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) shows that in 2022, global deforestation reached 6.6 million hectares, despite global pledges to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030 at COP 26 in 2021. The WWF says that 96 per cent of this deforestation takes place in tropical regions, most of which are located in the Global South. Pakistan alone has lost 20 per cent of its forest area over the past 24 years due to urban sprawl and the continuing reliance on wood for cooking and heating.

However, it remains the richer countries of the world that have the highest CO2 emissions per capita and the poorer countries that are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Although the climate change loss and damage fund for poorer countries, which Pakistan played a leading role in calling for, finally took off at COP28 this past December, contributions to the fund from the EU, US, UK and other countries were meagre. It might be too late to stay under the 1.5 degrees Celsius warming barrier by the 2030s but the world still has a duty to minimize the damage and curtail global warming to the greatest extent possible. This will require deeper emissions cuts, more climate assistance for poorer countries, and greater cross-border cooperation when it comes to sharing green technologies and scarce resources.