As Thomas Edison presciently pointed out to Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone in 1931, “We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using nature’s inexhaustible sources of energy – sun, wind and tide. I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”
While fossil reserves aren’t running out, our ability to burn them without limit may be, due to the fact that atmospheric concentrations of CO2 and equivalents are rapidly approaching the so-called ‘carbon budget’ – the level that if we go beyond is likely to lead to global warming in excess of the important 2 degrees Celsius level.
It is this that makes the United Nations COP21 meeting in Paris in December 2015 so important; it represents the first real opportunity to reach a legally binding agreement to tackle emissions, given that all parties, including the big emitters, are coming to the table with positive intentions, against a backdrop of an improving global economy.
We live though in an energy hungry world. Global GDP is set to treble by 2060, with two thirds of that growth coming from emerging markets which display significantly greater energy and carbon intensity per unit of GDP than developed markets. Feeding that energy demand and facilitating growth while minimizing emissions will take brave and coordinated decisions on the part of policymakers.