The climate change issue has preoccupied the thoughts of many for decades now. Not only are climate scientists consumed by the countless debates that have been held over the years. Instead, business leaders and politicians have also entered the fray lately.

Many agreements have also been signed detailing the pledges and promises made by countries to cut emissions and embrace the non-fossil economy. Unfortunately, pledges remained just that, unfulfilled promises.

Few countries eventually did ratify such agreements. The Kyoto Protocol must count to be the most publicised among the many agreements. It eventually also failed to take off. Many key players could not agree to ratify. The United States, which counts among the largest contributor to fossil-based carbon emissions, was one of those which succumbed to the strong fossil lobby at home.

Many excuses were offered. One concerned the issue of the common but differential treatment between developed and developing economies. Developed economies complained why developing countries, especially China and India, which do emit considerable amounts of carbon, are not included in the list of countries which have to cut emissions.

Though on a per capita basis, both China and India emit much less than the United States and the European Union, but as a country both their emissions are considered high. This issue took a few years to resolve.

Finally, two years ago, in Paris, all the countries in the world agreed to put into place the necessary actions to cut emissions, irrespective of whether they are in the category of developed or developing nations.

Malaysia, as a country, has long offered to play our part to reduce emissions, conditional upon the fact that technology and financing are accessible. The Paris Agreement also agreed on some kind of common fund to help the less developed economies deal with the issue.

Many hailed the Climate Agreement reached in Paris as a resounding success for the world. President Obama, who played a key role as well in securing the consensus among countries of the world, was optimistic that at last a solution was finally in sight.

The world can also rest easy when both China and India gave their pledges to phase out their dependence on fossil energy. China, which for years suffered from hazardous air quality which inflicted their cities, took a serious stance to eventually move away from coal. They have now put together a long-term plan to develop more viable alternatives. It has been reported that China is setting their sights on solar. They are investing big in solar, planning to lead the world in the technology. It has been reported that China would pump in US$360bil (RM1.54tril) through 2020 in advanced-energy technology, including solar.

While China is making leaps into solar, the United States is backtracking on climate change. The new administration has openly called the climate change theory as fabricated untruth and fake. The country is in the process of revitalising their coal industry. They have also declared substantial cuts in the budgets of the country’s environmental agencies. Not to mention serious cutbacks in the allocation for R&D. Will they live to regret it?

A recent analysis on solar has suggested that by about 2030, a mere 13 years from now, solar will be able to produce electricity at half the cost of coal and lower than the cost of any carbon source. Talking about disruption, what could be more disruptive than that. With the expected improvements in battery technology, it is inevitable that all forms of transport will go electric.

As in the case of microprocessors, the costs of solar have come down as a result of the same principle of cramming more capability into smaller spaces. Technologists have been able to reduce the thickness of solar cells and use less silicon per watt, thus driving down manufacturing costs while at the same time increasing each cell’s efficiency. As a result, the price per watt of solar modules has dropped from US$22 in 1980 to under US$3 (RM12.80) today.

Similar progress has also been reported in battery technology. With such a rapid pace of development, many predict the disruption will deal a severe blow to the oil and gas businesses. What is also clear is that when solar costs reach such low levels, climate agreements like the Paris Accord are no longer relevant in the fight against climate change!

Source: The Star Online | 26 July 2017

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