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

Recruitment Genius: Health and Social Care NVQ Assessor

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: It is also essential that you p...

Recruitment Genius: Service / Installation Engineer - South East England

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The successful Service Engineer...

Recruitment Genius: ICT Infrastructure Manager

£27000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Edinburgh city centre scho...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist / Physio / Osteopath

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for o...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Don’t pity me for eating alone, just give me a better table

Rosie Millard
Aerial view of planned third runway at Heathrow  

Heathrow expansion: This final 'conclusion' has simply fanned the airport flames

Chris Blackhurst
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most