Emerging Economies Are Playing A Pivotal Role In The Energy Transition
Historically and in keeping with the times, the development of the world economy and the global energy landscape has largely remained the responsibility of the most developed countries in Europe and North America. But as emerging economies like China, India and Brazil develop, urbanize and grow at a truly unprecedented pace, the world as we know it will change and depend on the decisions of these new world powers.
This is especially true of the global energy transition and the fight against catastrophic climate change, which will only work in a scenario in which all aging and emerging world powers work together to curb emissions and create a cleaner, greener energy landscape.
The success of this collaboration also depends to a large extent on the innovation of new clean energy technologies, as well as the funding and infrastructure to scale them up. For emerging countries such as China, India and Brazil (among others), whose industrial economies - and with it their carbon footprint - are growing rapidly, there is often a lack of funds for innovative technological research as well as infrastructure and implementation capacity.
This does not mean that these countries are not innovating or implementing clean energy at all - they certainly are. China has gone to great lengths to reduce its carbon footprint and is committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2060, an extremely lofty goal based on the expansion of nuclear and renewable energies.
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India has also exceeded its own CO2 emissions reduction targets and has committed to replacing much of its coal use with cleaner energy alternatives. The problem is that these emerging economies are growing so fast that the demand for energy is simply outpacing the growth of clean energy infrastructure.
“Six of these emerging economies - Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico and South Africa - have contributed more than 40% to global CO? Emissions in 2019. That's 1.5 times the combined emissions from the US and Europe, ”The Conversation reported this week, based on data from BP's 2020 statistical review. "At the same time, China, India and Brazil were the first, fourth and sixth largest producers of renewable electricity."
This fact, The Conversation argues, puts the economies of these three countries - the three largest of all emerging economies - at the center of the global clean energy transition. China, India and Brazil "are now at a crucial juncture and facing immense potential to become major innovators in the development of clean energy technologies." And, in large part, they are already making serious efforts to do so.
While there has been no significant progress in renewable energy in India, concerted efforts have been made to improve energy efficiency. For example, there was a massive campaign to bring huge quantities of light emitting diodes (LEDs) to market over a five year period. This has a significant impact on the country's energy consumption as LED bulbs are much more energy efficient and have a longer lifespan than other types of lightbulbs. While this may not be the sexiest energy-saving program, it is making serious strides. "India's LED transition is estimated to save more than 40 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity per year - roughly enough to power 37 million average Indian households or all of Denmark for a year," reports The Conversation. "In three years the country grew from a negligible share of the global LED market to around 10%."
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In China, alongside a huge expansion of nuclear power (which does not emit carbon dioxide), great efforts have been made to expand the solar industry. The world's second largest economy has developed into the world's largest single manufacturer - and the largest market - for photovoltaic cells and modules. China is now responsible for 69 percent of total world production and was also largely responsible for the global decline in solar module costs. "Between 2014 and 2018, China added around 158 gigawatts of solar PV - roughly the same as Brazil's total power generation capacity," reports The Conversation.
While renewable energies and climate change were certainly not high on the list of priorities for Brazilian President Bolsonaro, there is also a considerable track record for the Brazilian biofuel industry and what The Conversation calls "Brazil's long-term growth" as its largest producer, exporter and market for ethanol to become biofuel made from sugar cane. “However, there are some significant drawbacks to this development. While ethanol-fueled cars are expanding massively in Brazil, which means less gasoline is burned, biofuels have a fair share of negative external effects on the environment. They are still burned, which means that they still result in carbon emissions, and while they do not require fossil fuel extraction, very often they lead to extremely destructive practices of deforestation and large-scale monoculture resulting in "soil erosion, air and water pollution and the consolidation of land ownership among large ethanol producers. According to The Conversation, "when looking at the entire life cycle of sugarcane ethanol fuel from harvest to car, greenhouse gas emissions are lower than that of gasoline or corn ethanol."
These case studies illustrate a number of lessons: Emerging economies are critical to meeting global climate change goals and strive to stay up to date. However, these measures do not go far enough and not all “green” energy solutions are created equal. As in any country, it is important to criticize the distinction between washed green and washed green. Achieving global emissions targets will require coordinated efforts around the world, and while the first steps are being taken, much more can and should be done to support emerging economies through their own energy transition
By Haley Zaremba for Oil Genealogie
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