By Emma Battle and Cedrick Dalluge
Later this year, more than 190 countries will meet in Paris, France with the aim of formalizing a global agreement to address climate change. The talks, known as COP21, will have two main goals: to curb global warming and to provide funding to help countries invest in cleaner technologies. The U.N. believes the first goal will require a cut in global greenhouse gas emissions of 40 to 70 percent by 2050. The second is based on mobilizing $100 billion per year in funding. Paris attendees are likely to arrive, therefore, with high expectations and tight purse strings. While many world leaders originally hoped COP21 would produce a binding international treaty, political tensions and recent conversations point to the potential for looser, unenforceable pledges, particularly from developing countries.
For example, both India and China have been vocal about their focus on empowering their middle classes, developing their infrastructures and growing their economies. Their paths towards this progress are marked by a similar trend: reliance on low-cost, abundant energy – chiefly coal. China has lifted more than 400 million people out of poverty since 1980, arguably the greatest poverty alleviation movement in history. That nation’s reliance on reliable, affordable coal-based electricity has allowed it to rapidly develop its infrastructure and grow its economy. Its neighbor, India, now seeks to follow suit, using coal-based electricity to end widespread energy poverty and empower its growing middle class.
While some negotiators in Paris this November may forget coal’s history as a tool of economic growth, it’s important this overall message does not get lost in translation: coal, one of the planet’s most abundant resources, still serves as a conduit for empowerment. After watching coal help power the growth of other nation’s economies for decades, developing countries around the world seek to do the same.
It will be interesting to watch how the Paris talks play out, given the many different countries in attendance. No matter the debate, we are hopeful pragmatic voices will speak out in favor of an approach that allows continued economic empowerment for all nations through the use of all of our natural resources.