Leading article: An air of denial hangs over this gathering


In some ways, the gathering of six of the world's biggest polluters and assorted representatives of the global energy industry in Sydney is an indication of the success of environmental campaigners. Those attending this meeting of the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate are making many of the right noises about global warming. All are agreed that climate change is a serious problem. No one denies that it requires urgent action. There is none of the disingenuous questioning of the science by energy industry vested interests of the sort that was so common until recently. The debate has substantially shifted and this is due, in large part, to the determination of green campaigners.

But the debate has not shifted far enough. An air of denial still hangs over this gathering. The ethos of the meeting was summed up yesterday by the US Energy Secretary, Sam Bodman: "Those of us in government believe our job is to help create the environment, as such, that the private sector can really do its work." This is a thinly veiled way of saying that the market alone will solve the problem of climate change. This is the next illusion that needs to be dispelled.

The ire of environmental protesters on the streets of Sydney has focused on the coal industry. Coal is a good example of why the laissez-faire attitude to energy that has pertained for so long cannot continue. Coal generates a quarter of the world's energy. And as oil prices increase and gas supplies look unstable it will grow more popular. For the energy-thirsty economies of China and India, coal - which is cheap and abundant - is a lifeline. It is also the most polluting of all fossil fuels.

It is true, as representatives at the Sydney meeting will be keen to stress this week, that new technologies can make it cleaner. Coal washing and carbon capture techniques can cut emissions. And as-yet undiscovered energy technologies will certainly play a role in reducing global emissions. Last year's G8 meeting in Gleneagles was not a complete waste. It was a real achievement to sign up developing economies to the climate change agenda. There is now a greater chance of persuading them to adopt new, cleaner coal-burning techniques.

But technology must not become a distraction from the need for mandatory curbs on the emissions of developed countries. The pressure exerted by targets is vital to boost investment in new technologies. If initiatives such as emission trading schemes are to expand, there must be greater market incentives. The sad fact is that many energy lobbyists are now using the technology argument to fend off calls for statutory emission cuts.

When asked yesterday why he had such faith that businesses would adopt more expensive technologies in the absence of financial incentives, Mr Bodman replied: "I believe that the people who run the private sector - they too have children, they too have grandchildren, they too live and breathe in the world." That is true. But what really makes businessmen sit up and take notice is threats to the bottom line. With the world facing a crisis such as global warming, there is a moral responsibility on our governments to impose financial penalties on heavy polluters.

The evidence for global warming is multiplying. Asia is experiencing an unusually cold winter. A drought in Kenya is threatening the lives of more than two million people. The natural world is also under unprecedented threat. A deadly fungus unleashed by global warming is killing off the world's population of frogs. Radical action cannot be postponed. According to the International Energy Agency, if the world's governments stick with their present policies, global carbon emissions will be 50 per cent higher in 2030 than in 2005. This is not a problem that the market can be relied upon to solve.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Website Editor

£15 - £17 Per Hour: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently r...

Primary Supply teaching jobs in Stowmarket

£21552 - £31588 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education ar...

Year 1 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Birmingham: The Job An inner city Birmingham sc...

Year 2 Teacher - Maternity cover

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Year 2 maternity cover, startin...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Young Syrian refugees gather around a small fire at the Minieh camp in Lebanon  

Cameron and Obama may want to ‘destroy’ Isis, but what will they do about the growing number of refugees fleeing Iraq and Syria?

Kate Allen
“You're running away!” Nick said to me the other night as I tried to leave the hospital  

In Sickness and in Health: ‘There’s nothing I want more than to have you at home, but you’re not well’

Rebecca Armstrong
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments