Skip to main content

Renewables revolution: Lowest rungs of societal ladder should be of primary focus

Shankar Sharma, Power & Climate Policy Analyst, writes to Mr. Antonio Guterres, Secretary General, United Nations, on the topic “The need of the hour: A renewables revolution”:
***
This has reference to an opinion piece, “The need of the hour: A renewables revolution”, carried under your name in Indian media.
I congratulate you for the relentless and highly credible advocacy on Climate Change, and for urging the global societies to move away from the over dependence on fossil fuels. While it is entirely true that the future of humanity is intricately linked to how the renewable energy sources (REs) are effectively used in our lives, there are also some critical factors which are not being discussed in the mainstream media, but which will have an effective bearing on how we use them.
Please permit me to elaborate a bit in this regard.
1. Most of the articles on the analysis of Climate Change (especially those emanating from the industrialised world) can be said to be guilty of focusing only on one issue i.e energy. They all seem to focus only on different technologies to meet the insatiable global demand for energy. A holistic and systemic approach to the phenomenon of Climate Change should reveal that this phenomenon has many other components to worry about as well, in addition to fossil fuel-based energy systems. It is not just the transformation of energy scenario alone, which is required. We need an entirely different paradigm to the way we view the nature around us: such as true health of critical elements of nature- forests, rivers, air, soil, biodiversity etc.
2. Even if we assume that the political willingness across the world will allow the possibility of moving over to 100% renewable energy (RE) based scenarios by 2050/60, it may not suffice. The enormous number of solar PV modules, wind turbines, batteries, bio-energy units, geo-thermal units, hydropower units, computers, control systems, communication systems, protection systems, energy meters, associated transmission and distribution systems etc. required for such a scenario, with a business-as-usual approach up to 2050/60, will be so much overwhelming that we may end up being the losers anyway. Because, the total energy required by 2050/60 at the global level would have reached such high levels, if we continue with the energy demand growth rate as it is now (which may mean a CAGR of 3 to 5% between now and 2050). The need for natural resources to manufacture and deploy all these elements of the energy sector by 2050/60 can be so high that we may simply run out of them; the fossil fuel energy required in the processes such as mining, purification, processing, transporting etc. to reach even 100% RE scenario, can be unimaginatively high; and the pollution/ contamination/ wastages associated can become unmanageable.
3. Even if the global energy demand growth rate between now and 2050 is assumed to grow only @ 1% CAGR, the total energy demand can increase by about 100% as compared to that of the demand today. Even to meet this much energy demand the global economy has to manufacture an enormous number of appliances/ gadgets/ machineries (to generate and distribute commercial forms of energy such as solar power, wind energy, bioenergy, hydel power etc.). Such a vast economic activity alone at the global scale will require the mining and processing of large quantities of the ores of iron, copper, aluminium and many kinds of rare earth minerals, which in turn will require large amounts of energy, most of which may have to come from conventional technology energy sources such as coal power technology for many more years from now. Hence by 2050, the total CO2 emissions (or the total GHG emissions) would have gone much beyond 450 PPM as against the desired level of 350 PPM. And the CO2, which would have been accumulating in the atmosphere during this period, will last for many decades. The ability of various natural eco-systems to control the temperature rise would have been severely curtailed by then. Many of the natural processes, such as glacier melting and ocean acidification, would have become irreversible. The forests and vegetation cover would have to come down considerably, and the pollution/ contamination of air, water and soil may have exceeded all limits.
4. Hence, there is a critical need to urgently contain the galloping energy demand at the global level to a level where it can be sustainably met, and which is equitably made available to all sections of the global community. This can be achieved by providing massive focus on: (i) highest levels of efficiency at every stage/ segment of energy production, transformation/ storage, transmission, distribution and utilisation; (ii) optimum levels of demand side management; (iii) imaginative methods of energy conservation.
5. Your article has also stated: "Fossil fuels are the cause of the climate crisis". But in the larger context of Climate Change, it will not be an oversimplification to state that the problem of Climate Change can be summarised as the over-exploitation of our natural resources in meeting the ever increasing demand for "materials" and "energy". Hence, it goes without saying that the holistic approach to satisfactorily address the Climate Change should be to restrict the global demand for materials and energy at a level where they can fully be supported by nature on a sustainable basis. In this context, the term energy should refer to any form of energy; including various forms of renewable energy, and not just fossil fuels. So, a limitless demand for renewable energy also will be unsustainable. Hence, it should also become evidently clear that we cannot achieve the goal of satisfactorily addressing the threats of Climate Change, if we continue with the BAU scenario, which demands ever increasing supplies of energy, which in turn is a clear consequence of a high GDP growth rate paradigm.
6. It is also well known that a MW equivalent of RE generating capacity will generate, on an average, less than half of annual energy as compared to that of the same MW capacity of a conventional technology power plant, but will require a lot more land area for the associated infrastructure. Hence, a 100% RE dependent scenario will also need diversion of vastly more forest and agricultural lands than otherwise. This fact cannot be ignored either.
7. Indefinitely pursued high GDP growth rate scenario, which can be seen as the primary causative factor of Climate Change, will mean the manufacture of products and provision of services at an ever increasing pace leading to: setting up of more factories/ manufacturing facilities; consumption of large quantities of raw materials such as iron, steel, cement, chemicals etc.; increasing an unsustainable demand for natural resources such as land, water, sand, minerals, timber etc.; acute pressure on the Government to divert agricultural/ forest lands; huge demand for various forms of energy (petroleum products, coal, electricity etc.); accelerated urban migration; clamor for more of airports, airlines, hotels, shopping malls, private vehicles, express highways etc. A vast increase in each of these activities, while increasing the total greenhouse gas (GHG, responsible for global warming) emissions, will also add up to reduce the overall ability of natural carbon sinks such as forests and water bodies to absorb GHG emissions. There will also be increased pollution of land, air and water along with huge issues of managing the solid, liquid and gaseous wastes.
8. In this larger context, it is relevant to note that a World Bank report of June 2013, with the title “Diagnostic Assessment of Select Environmental Challenges, Economic Growth and Environmental Sustainability: What Are the Trade-offs?”, has highlighted how the environment has massively suffered in India consequent to the previous decade of rapid economic growth. Also worthy of notice can be: UN’s Cocoyoc Declaration (Mexico, 1974), and the report “Prosperity without growth? - The transition to a sustainable economy” by the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC), which was the UK Government's independent adviser on sustainable development.
Hence, may I submit that keeping in an objective consideration very many associated issues, such as the above ones, the global objective for a sustainable future for humankind (SDGs?) should have the primary focus on those economic activities to meet the essential needs of the communities at the lowest rung of our societal ladder - essential needs such as water, food, shelter, health infrastructure, education, employment opportunities et.? All other aspects of the so-called 'human development' can be taken care of automatically with such a paradigm focus. Such a changed developmental paradigm will require unwavering global focus on those economic activities which will not lead to further diversion of forest/ agricultural lands; which will not demand a lot of water, materials and energy; which will not lead to pollution of land, air and water; and which will lead to sustainable harnessing of our natural resources, while providing large number of job opportunities.
May I request the Secretariat of the UN and all other agencies of the UN to provide adequate focus on such an approach in all their advocacies and actions?
I am an electrical engineer, and a power sector professional with over 4 decades of experience in India, New Zealand and Australia. It will be my pleasure to be of any modest service in providing suitable clarification to the UN in this regard.

Comments

TRENDING

Zakir Naik tumult, Catholic Church power abuse: will Anwar Ibrahim save Malaysia?

Anwar Ibrahim By Jay Ihsan*  Anwar Ibrahim, a hardcore reformist who took a punch to his eye in 1998 from then inspector-general of police, Rahim Noor, has finally been given the mandate by Malaysians to serve as the nation's 10th prime minister. Anwar knows too well the burden of staying true to both trust and faith the people have in him requires every once of commitment and dedication. The question is will he be apologetic for his transgressions enroute to "rebuilding" Malaysia? In his overzealousness to get the job done, Anwar, 75, needs to safeguard every bit of gumption to address prickling issues plaguing the safety of the nation especially those involving communal sensitivities. For one, dare Anwar get rid of terrorist hate preacher and fugitive Zakir Naik for inciting religious unrest in Malaysia? In November 2016, India’s counter-terrorism agency filed an official complaint against Naik, holding him responsible for promoting religious hatred and unlawful activi

Although sporting genius, Wasim Akram was mascot of cricket globalisation era

By Harsh Thakor*  Since Independence India and Pakistan produced a galaxy of cricketing stars that permeated cricketing artistry of legendary heights. Amongst this bunch.Wasim Akram manifested pure cricketing genius to the greatest height.I speculate how India’s fortunes would have changed had partition not taken place and Wasim playing for India. Wasim Akram explored realms untranscended in bowling wizardry, like a painter devising new art forms or a scientist experimenting. He simply re-defined the art of reverse swing, reversing the ball in and out. There were bowlers quicker, more accurate and with better records, but none equalled Wasim in an all-round package. He was more lethal with a new and old ball than any fast bowler ever. Wasim could produce balls that were surreal, with his reverse swing, defying laws of bio mechanics He was simply the epitome of versatility, possessing a repertoire of six different deliveries within an over itself, disguising deliveries in the manner of

Qatar World Cup has a strong Bangladesh connection: stadium construction, t-shirts

By Mashrur Siddique Bhuiyan*  The FIFA World Cup fever has unquestionably cut through the minds of mass people all over the world. Stadiums in Qatar are buzzing with football fans and athletes representing their countries at the “Greatest Show on Earth". The magic of the FIFA World Cup is so enormous that even being unable to participate does not matter much to the fans who support different nations. This is one of the highest viewed events in the world, with the 2018 event viewed by about 3.6 billion people worldwide. But this crowd is not aware of the contribution of migrant workers who helped build the very stadiums where the matches are playing in. Qatar won the bid in 2010 to host the FIFA World Cup 2022, which got the oxymoron of celebration and controversy. This also created the potential for Qatar to Showcase its monumental economic achievements and unique culture on the global stage. The motto for Qatar’s bid team in 2010 was ‘Expect Amazing’ and migrant workers across th

Floods: As ax falls on most vulnerable, Pak seeks debt cancellation, climate justice

By Tanupriya Singh  Even as the floodwaters have receded, the people of Pakistan are still trying to grapple with the death and devastation the floods have left in their wake. The floods that swept across the country between June and September have killed more than 1,700 people, injured more than 12,800, and displaced millions as of November 18. The scale of the destruction in Pakistan was still making itself apparent as the world headed to the United Nations climate conference COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November.  Pakistan was one of two countries invited to co-chair the summit. It also served as chair of the Group of 77 (G77) and China for 2022, playing a critical role in ensuring that the establishment of a loss and damage fund was finally on the summit’s agenda, after decades of resistance by the Global North. “The dystopia has already come to our doorstep,” Pakistan’s Minister for Climate Change Sherry Rehman told Reuters. By the first week of September, pleas for h

Implementing misleading govt order to pollute Hyderabad's 100 year old reservoirs

Senior activists* represent to the Telangana Governor on GO Ms 69 dated 12.4.2022 issued by the Municipal Administration and Urban Development (MA&UD), Government of Telangana: ‘...restrictions imposed under para 3 of said GO Ms 111 dated 8.3.1996 are removed...’: *** Ref: GO Ms 111 dated 8.3.1996: ‘To prohibit polluting industries, major hotels, residential colonies or other establishments that generate pollution in the catchment of the lakes upto 10kms from full tank level as per list in Annexure-I...’ We come to your office with grievance that GO Ms 69 dated 12.4.2022 issued by Government of Telangana not only contains false information issued ‘By Order and in the name of the Governor of Telangana’ , without any scientific or expert reports, but also that implementation of the said GO is detrimental and can be catastrophic to the Hyderabad city as two 100 year old reservoirs Osman Sagar and Himayath Sagar were constructed as dams on river Moosa and river Esa, with the first and

Why foreign diplomats must maintain diplomatic etiquette, protocol in Bangladesh

By Kamal Uddin Mazumder*  Foreign governments and organizations are not allowed to dictate how a sovereign country like Bangladesh should run its politics. The 12th national parliamentary elections are drawing near, and the election wind has started to blow in Dhaka. The political parties have already begun to plan their voting strategy through a variety of events. However, this time, the diplomatic community in Dhaka is very active. A number of Western ambassadors frequently meet with government departments, political party representatives, the Election Commission (EC), and members of civil society in Dhaka. At numerous forums, they discuss upcoming elections' management, fairness, and impartiality -- issues that are unquestionably domestic to Bangladesh and in no way fall under the purview of diplomacy. Additionally, it has been noted that diplomats have made public remarks on these subjects in front of the media. It raises the question of how much authority diplomatic protocol h

Bangladesh's ties with Myanmar, Nepal, China need connectivity with India's NE states

By Samara Ashrat*  On 26th November, India's External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said that India is trying to improve trade and connectivity with Bangladesh and Myanmar on his two-day visit to India's Northeast region. He emphasized the importance of linking Northeastern India to the rest of the nation and reiterated Delhi is working to improve connectivity and infrastructure in the region. By taking the G20 presidency India will try to showcase the true spirit of the Northeast to the world, with its tourism benefits. But, the umbilical cord between the Indian mainland and North Eastern Region is Chicken's Neck or Siliguri corridor which brings Bangladesh into the Indian equation of northeastern development. Not only that, Bangladesh has very close relations with West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, and Tripura in terms of language, culture, and history. These factors make Bangladesh an inextricable element of the development of the northeastern states. Tourism Sector and Con

A classic, 'Gandhi' ignores merciless cruelty unleashed on militant freedom fighters

By Harsh Thakor  The movie ‘Gandhi’ produced by Richard Attenborough, which was released 40 years ago on November 30th, 1982, was classic in it's own right. Ironical that it took an Englishman to embark upon the making of a film on this legendary figure. I can't visualize a better pictorial portrayal of Gandhi's life or an actor getting in the skin of the character an exuding the mannerisms as actor Ben Kingsley. Episodes are crafted and grafted surgically, illustrating how Gandhi wove fragmented bits into a cohesive force, to confront he British empire. Most boldly the movie unfolds how British colonialism subjugated the Indian people to barbaric cruelty. With great mastery the cinematography captures the vast Indian landscapes and essence of livelihood of Indians under colonial rule. The movie most illustratively shows the crystallisation of anti-colonial fervour from the embryonic stage and how it fermented into an integrated movement. In a most subtle manner it illustr

25 years of CHT peace accord: A glorious chapter of conflict resolution in Bangladesh

By Kamal Uddin Mazumder*  Conflicts between the Bangladesh army and Shanti Bahini persisted in the Chittagong Hill Tracts for more than two decades. On December 2, 1997, Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti (PCJSS) and the Bangladeshi government signed the CHT Accord, putting an end to the violent armed conflict and improving the life of a lot of the people there. It has been made possible through just seven meetings under the worthy leadership of Sheikh Hasina. The historic peace agreement created an atmosphere of peace in the mountainous region. An atmosphere of peace has been established by ending the armed conflict. The geographical features and ethnic diversity of Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) are distinctive. The 13,184 square kilometer territory is bordered by Myanmar and the Indian state of Mizoram on the East and Tripura on the North. With its 1.6 million people, it entails great importance to Bangladesh for its geopolitical location. Due to the conflict-prone Northeast Indi

Galileo-Catholic church affair: must history repeat at Malaysia’s St Francis Xavier church?

By Jay Ihsan*  Christianity is the enemy of liberation and civilization -August Bebel Christianity taught men that love is worth more than intelligence -Jacques Maritain Real Christianity can be summed up in two commands: Love God and love people. - Joyce Meyer Pious XI was too neutral to mention the gas chambers; decent people like my own family were turned into devils by crude Christianity - Lionel Blue Religious doctrines cannot escape the liberty of thoughts and expression. To each their own, so it is said. From all things nice to all things that make one cringe - religion is polarised and in this regard, Christianity has over time faced the wrath of bigotry espoused by those "bequeathed" to protect it. Take Pope Francis for example. He had a secret meeting with giant pharma Pfizer chief executive officer Albert Bourla last year while the world struggled to make sense of the word "lockdown" and suffer adverse effects of the Corona virus vaccines produced by Pfiz