In an apparent coincidence, Warsaw is hosting both the International Coal and Climate Summit and the United Nations’ Convention on Climate Change. Guess which one the Poles, who rely on coal for 90% of their electricity, like better? While the two meetings have little in common but the word “climate”, both emphasize the impact of coal on “the poor”. Unsurprisingly, they see things differently. There are “1.3 billion people in the world who live without electricity,” said Godfrey Gomwe, of the World Coal Association. “A life lived without access to modern energy is a life lived in poverty.” Coal is here to stay.
Across town, representatives of some of the world’s poorest countries argue that, far from paving the way out of poverty, coal is the major contributor to climate change, whose impacts are already overwhelming the poor. They talk of “climate injustice” and demand compensation.
There seems little likelihood much will change. “Lectures about compensation, reparations and the like will produce nothing but antipathy among developed country policy makers and their publics,” said Todd Stern, America’s climate envoy. Meanwhile, the U.S., which has scaled way back on domestic coal use, now exports millions of tons to Asia.
So we are left with a conundrum: the only path to prosperity we understand is an economic growth so dependent on energy extraction that it threatens to become our road to ruin. In either case, the primary victims are the poor, real people who have become an abstraction. We need a different way.