From Lahore to Copenhagen

Last Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Pakistan telling the Pakistanis to burn more coal. Today, President Barack Obama met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House to assure her that the US will stand with the European Union on cutting emissions of carbon dioxide.

The juxtaposition of those two events provides a window into the essential conflict at the heart of any workable plan to deal with global carbon dioxide emissions. At the same time that Obama and top Congressional leaders are claiming that they are serious about cutting carbon dioxide emissions, the reality is that in developing countries like China, India, Pakistan, Brazil, and Indonesia, carbon dioxide emissions are soaring. A key reason for those soaring emissions: those countries desperately need electricity. And when it comes to generating electricity, coal usually provides the cheapest option. That reality leaves diplomats like Clinton with no choice but to acknowledge the obvious, which is exactly what she did during her meeting with business leaders in Lahore on October 29.

Clinton told her hosts that “Pakistan has to have more internal investment in your public services and in your business opportunities.” When it comes to electricity, that is abundantly true. Pakistan, with about 170 million people, has just 20,000 megawatts of installed generating capacity. For comparison, France, with about 61 million people, has 112,000 megawatts of electric generation capacity.

And make no mistake, there is a direct correlation between electricity use and development. As Peter Huber and Mark Mills declared in their 2005 book, The Bottomless Well, “Economic growth marches hand in hand with increased consumption of electricity–-always, everywhere, without significant exception in the annals of modern industrial history.”

Given that Pakistan will never develop its economy without more electricity, Clinton was careful in how she phrased her message to the Pakistanis – you can almost feel her squirming to get the wording right – but the underlying idea comes through loud and clear. “The more economic development, the greater the energy challenges,” Clinton said during her visit to the Governor’s House in Lahore.

I asked Minister Qureshi whether there had been any prohibition nationally under developing your coal deposits. Now, obviously, that is not the best thing for the climate, but everybody knows that. But many of your neighbors are producing coal faster than they can even talk about it. It’s unfortunate, but it’s a fact that coal is going to remain a part of the energy load until we can transition to cleaner forms of energy.

So getting the resources to exploit your coal as opposed to being dependent upon imported energy is a choice for you to make, but it is certainly a choice that your neighbors have made. And that’s something that should attract foreign investment and should attract capital investment within your own country. And we don’t know how we’re going to proceed on the climate change issue. We’re working hard to come to some framework before Copenhagen, but coal will be, for the foreseeable future, part of the energy mix. And if you have these kinds of reserves, you should see the best and cleanest technology for their extraction and their use going forward.

Clinton’s stilted endorsement of increased coal consumption in Pakistan came just a few days before Obama greeted European officials in Washington. Yesterday, Obama met with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt in the Oval Office. After the meeting, Obama told the press that it is “fair to say” that the world is “interested in an outcome that can start moving us down the path of a sustainable economy that is not accelerating the potential catastrophe of climate change.”

Today, during his meeting with Merkel in the Oval Office, Obama stayed on message, saying that Merkel “has been an extraordinary leader on the issue of climate change. He went on, saying “And the United States, Germany, and countries around the world I think are all beginning to recognize why it is so important that we work in common in order to stem the potential catastrophe that could result if we continue to see global warming continuing unabated.”

So here’s the summary: at about the same time that Obama’s secretary of state is encouraging the Pakistanis to burn more coal, Obama himself is assuring the Germans and the EU that he is serious, really serious, about reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

While few people doubt that Obama, Merkel, and their friends in the EU want to do just that, it is worth noting these facts: despite its much-touted embrace of solar power and wind power, Germany’s coal use has not seen a significant decline. In 2008, Germany’s coal consumption was almost identical to its coal use back in 1999. Furthermore, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy, Germany derives more of its primary energy from coal (about 27.7%) than does the US (24.3%). And given its huge coal reserves (the largest in Europe), Germany, like the US, will continue using coal to generate electricity for decades to come.

The lesson here is obvious: it’s far easier to talk about cutting carbon dioxide emissions than it is to actually do so and the upcoming climate talks in Copenhagen will only provide more proof of that lesson.

ROBERT BRYCE’s next book, Power Hungry: Our Quest For Horsepower, the Myths of “Green” Energy, and the Real Fuels of the Future, will be published in April 2010.




State Department, “Roundtable with Business Leaders Opening and Closing Remarks, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Governor’s House, Lahore, Pakistan, October 29, 2009,” Available: http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2009a/10/131073.htm

State Department, “Roundtable with Business Leaders Opening and Closing Remarks, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Governor’s House, Lahore, Pakistan, October 29, 2009,” Available: http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2009a/10/131073.htm

ABCNews.com, “The Presidential Planner,” November 3, 2009. Available: http://blogs.abcnews.com/politicalpunch/2009/11/the-presidential-planner-1.html




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