Ottmar Edenhofer, chief environmental economist with the Potsdam Institute and co-chair of the IPCC's Working Group III on climate change mitigation, is one of the largely invisible heroes, specialists at work on the climate problem over decades. As he prepares to step down from WG III he was recently interviewed on a wide range of climate policy topics, the link for which is here, and worth reading in its entirety.
As a follow-up to my previous post on the Financing for Development conference in Addis Ababa, I would signal one particular remark of Edenhofer's, because it makes clear the urgency of resolving the development questions that intertwine with climate mitigation. Here is Edenhofer's remark:
"... we see a renaissance of coal in Africa. Incredible, large-scale coal renaissance, in particular, in countries which are economically successful. So, up to now, the increase of emissions in Africa is basically driven by oil and gas, but now coal becomes more and more important. Africa could become the future China. So up to now, so we do not see, or we do not count Africa as a main emitter, but it could be the case in 10 or 20 years when they have built up the whole infrastructure. And Africa is now at a bifurcation point. So what does this mean for a short-term entry point? It does mean that exactly in a time where people in Africa, decision-makers, decide at what path that they should go, so we need a strong [market] signal. And we need a policy which makes low-carbon technologies much more competitive compared to coal.
This catches me off guard because I am in the habit of thinking of greenhouse gas emissions as a problem of the large economies: the US, the EU, China, India. Small economies in Africa and Latin America slip from my view, written off as irrelevant in scale. So when Edenhofer points to Africa as "the future China" in a decade or two--tomorrow, in the time scale of climate change--he gets my attention. Not just because all that coal is a disaster in itself, but because, as he suggests, it's not too late for Africa. China, India, the US--major coal interests are in place, and will need to be painfully, slowly displaced. But if Africa is at the point of "bifurcation," the promise of intervention is much greater. How? The Green Climate Fund, the sustainable growth goals--in short, all the international bodies that are looking for resources to help convert the emerging economies along sustainable lines. The moral imperative is clear (and the papal encyclical made it even clearer): developed nations have created the problem, and we owe the rest of the world this mitigation money, lots of it. But can we harness our political will to do the right thing?