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Fossil fuel not as much responsible for global warming as population explosion

By NS Venkataraman* 

The Global Climate Meet at Paris, at Glasgow, and subsequently at Egypt,  were marked by high concern, expressed by leaders of every country about the climate crisis and the need for strategies to protect the global climate from impending disaster.
However, subsequent to the much publicized conferences, little has effectively happened by way of positive results to prevent the grave climate issue caused by steady increase in average global temperature.

Call to reduce fossil fuel consumption

It was recognized during the several global climate conferences that reduction in the production and consumption of fossil fuel, particularly coal and crude oil and ultimately total elimination of the use of these fossil fuels, must be given the top priority. It was pointed out that fossil fuel are the culprit, as its use as fuel result in emission of noxious gas such as carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide.
Further, it was stressed that the methane emission during the production and transport of coal, natural gas and from livestock and other agricultural practices and by the decay of organic waste in municipal solid waste landfills should be curtailed to a significant level. Methane has a much shorter atmospheric lifetime than CO2 (around 12 years compared with centuries for CO2) but it is a much more potent greenhouse gas, absorbing much more energy while it exists in the atmosphere.

Increase in production/ consumption of fossil fuel

However, the nations which largely produce fossil fuel have only increased the production of fossil fuel such as crude oil, coal, instead of reducing them. The consuming nations of fossil fuel have also increased the consumption level in the last so many years.
As of January 2023, 20 countries have more than one new coal project planned. India and China account for around 80% of all active coal projects in the world. China plans to build some 100 new coal fired power plants to back up wind and solar capacity, which goes against China’s stated intention to reduce the use of coal.
In 2022, global crude oil production increased by a record 5.4% rate, much above its 2021 growth.
There is little reduction in the generation of methane over the years in the world.
Such scenario has happened despite 151 governments having pledged to achieve net-zero emissions – or no net emissions from 2050-2070.
In effect, the decisions taken during the different climate conferences to prevent global warming have all gone virtually for a toss.

Strategies inadequate

Of course, as part of strategies to tackle the climate crisis, steps are being taken to build capacities for production of renewable energy such as solar power and wind power.
However, the generation of renewable energy is seasonal and average capacity utilization is less than 25% as against around 60% for coal based thermal power plants and around 90% for nuclear power plants.
Green hydrogen economy is being highlighted as a possible alternative to the use of fossil fuel.
Water electrolysis hydrogen projects are power intensive and the power for the production of green hydrogen has to be from renewable energy source and not from fossil fuel based power plants, if they were to be christened as green hydrogen.
Considering that millions of tonne of green hydrogen production are required to replace fossil fuel as energy and feedstock source, it is not possible to have the level of renewable power required to produce green hydrogen in a massive scale globally. In any case, the production cost of green hydrogen is likely to be so high that green hydrogen would not be an economical substitute for energy produced from fossil fuel. While R & D efforts are being made to optimise the process technology and production cost of green hydrogen, the efforts are in work in progress stage at present and with no certainty of success. One has to keep the fingers crossed with regard to the future availability of green hydrogen at economical price in large scale.
Nuclear power is eco friendly. However, there are many apprehensions about the safety issues due to radioactive wastes such as uranium mill tailings, spent (used) reactor fuel, and other radioactive wastes in nuclear power plants.
As of now, all such measures and a few more to replace fossil fuel is unlikely to have any significant impact on the ground scenario in the foreseeable future.

The alternate strategy

It is high time that alternate strategy has to be thought about and implemented to overcome the climate crisis and reach what is termed as zero emission target.
As it is not possible to replace the fossil fuel largely by alternate eco friendly energy source, only way is to ensure that use of fossil fuel would be brought down by reducing the demand for energy and consequently demand for fossil fuel.
The only way to reduce the demand for energy and fossil fuel is to reduce the level of population in the world, which now appears to have increased beyond the critical point as far as energy requirement is concerned.

Impact of population on energy consumption

Population growth itself causes ecological issues, due to higher needs for production to meet the increase in consumption demand, consequently requiring more exploitation of natural resources such as oil, natural gas, coal etc. as well as causing other issues such as deforestation. .There must be less demand on energy requirement / fossil fuel, that can be achieved only by ensuring less population growth in coming years and possibly by reduction in the global population level significantly.
The historical data shows that there is relation between growth of population and growth of global temperature or global warming (Source: United Nations Population Division). 
World population trend – Period 1900 to 1950:
Average annual growth rate - 0.85%
World population trend – Period – 1960 to 2022:
Average annual growth rate 0.85%

Relation between global population and average global temperature

World population has been steadily increasing over the years, primarily causing increase in the global temperature.
From 1880 through 1970, the global average temperature increased roughly 0.03 deg C each decade. Since 1970, that pace has increased dramatically to 0.13 deg C per decade. Two thirds of the increase of nearly 0.8 deg C in the global temperature since the 1880 has occurred in the last 40 years and 9 of the 10 warmest years happened in the last decade.
October 2023 was the warmest October on record globally, with an average surface air temperature of 15.30 deg C, which is 0.85 deg C above the 1991-2020 average for October and 0.40 deg C above the previous warmest October, in 2019.

Let population control be the theme for climate conference in UAE

Next global climate conference (COP 28) will take place in UAE from 30 November until 12 December 2023.
During earlier Climate Conferences, it was decided that increase in global warming should be less than 2 deg C with all countries setting target to limit it to 1.5 deg C.
Considering the ground reality today, it is evident that the strategies evolved to reduce global warming during the earlier conferences have not yielded results.
The main reason is that neither the producers of fossil fuel nor the consumers of fossil fuel, have been able to reduce the level due to lack of economically viable alternate options.
In a scenario where such viable alternate options for fossil fuel are unlikely to see the light of the day in the near future . the only way is to reduce the demand for fossil fuel by reducing the population growth. Obviously, instead of fixing a target to limit the global temperature, it would be more appropriate to fix a target for global population in the coming years. Reduction in the population growth and stabilising the population growth at appropriate level would result in reduction in demand for energy/ fossil fuel.
This appears to be the sure way to protect the global climate from impending disaster.
Let the forthcoming climate conference in UAE have the global population control as the main theme for discussions and deliberations.
---
*Trustee, Nandini Voice For The Deprived, Chennai

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