News / Science & Technology

Soaring Population, Climate Change Stress Resources

Cooling towers of a power plant and chemical factory in China. Among the 1,200 proposed coal-fired power plants 76 percent will be built in China and India, already among the top emitters of climate changing greenhouse gases.
Cooling towers of a power plant and chemical factory in China. Among the 1,200 proposed coal-fired power plants 76 percent will be built in China and India, already among the top emitters of climate changing greenhouse gases.
Rosanne Skirble
Population growth threatens to strain Earth’s water and food resources. By 2050, nine billion people will be living on the planet, up from seven billion today. 

The problem facing the world community is how to meet those needs while reining in the global greenhouse gases warming the earth.

Advances and losses

Progress has been made. Since world leaders met in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the first Earth Summit on Sustainable Development 20 years ago, global poverty has fallen by half, per capita income has doubled and life expectancy has increased by four years.

Yet those advances have come at a very high cost to the global environment, says Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute.

Soaring Population Stresses World's Resources
Soaring Population Stresses World's Resourcesi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

“We’ve had 3.3 million deaths every year over the last 20 years from pollution. We’ve been losing forests, 13 million hectares every year. That’s the size of England every single year. We’ve had a 50 percent increase in carbon dioxide and we’re now heading towards a world in which average temperatures will be four degrees Celsius above what they were historically.”

Currently 1.3 billion people lack electricity, even as a burgeoning middle class - expected to grow from 2 billion to 5 billion people by 2050 - is demanding more electric power.

Steers says 1,200 coal-fired power plants have been proposed globally in 59 countries, largely in China and India, two of the world’s biggest sources of carbon emissions. He notes renewable energy investment fell in 2012 for the first time in eight years.

But Steers is encouraged by government policies which could help reverse that trend.

“Over 100 countries now have renewable energy targets. And so what we’re looking out for this year is whether some of those new policies have bite and whether we are going to cross a threshold so that renewable energy is recognized as a truly economically viable solution.”

Renewal bubble

Ken Green, who directs the Center for Energy and Natural Resources Studies at the Fraser Institute, a free-market public policy research group based in Canada, says the market share for renewables is slim and doesn’t see them making headway any time soon.​
Natural gas, one of the most abundant energy sources in the world, is favored by many nations as a transition fuel to a greener economy, as shown in this drilling rig in Uchsay, Uzbekistan. (Anatoliy Rakhimbayev)Natural gas, one of the most abundant energy sources in the world, is favored by many nations as a transition fuel to a greener economy, as shown in this drilling rig in Uchsay, Uzbekistan. (Anatoliy Rakhimbayev)
x
Natural gas, one of the most abundant energy sources in the world, is favored by many nations as a transition fuel to a greener economy, as shown in this drilling rig in Uchsay, Uzbekistan. (Anatoliy Rakhimbayev)
Natural gas, one of the most abundant energy sources in the world, is favored by many nations as a transition fuel to a greener economy, as shown in this drilling rig in Uchsay, Uzbekistan. (Anatoliy Rakhimbayev)

Instead he expects what he calls the renewal bubble to burst.

“The growth in green investments that have been inflated by governments spending themselves into huge debts and deficits, and from the look of things in Europe and in the U.S., all that debt-fueled spending is going to have to come to an end sooner rather than later, based on their economies," Green says. "So I'd expect green investments to decline as more private investors realize that it’s a highly uncertain place to put your money.”

Sustainable energy by 2030

In 2012, the United Nations launched an initiative to provide universal access to energy, double energy efficiency and double the share of renewables in the global energy mix by 2030.

The World Bank is a partner in the effort. Rachel Kyte, the bank's vice president for Sustainable Development, says to meet those goals and reduce the risks of runaway climate change, nations must consider a greener energy mix that includes renewable sources and natural gas.
In a remote village in Fiji, children get a chance to learn about renewable energy as part of their curriculum and try out a new solar powered lamp donated to the school. (Energy for All)In a remote village in Fiji, children get a chance to learn about renewable energy as part of their curriculum and try out a new solar powered lamp donated to the school. (Energy for All)
x
In a remote village in Fiji, children get a chance to learn about renewable energy as part of their curriculum and try out a new solar powered lamp donated to the school. (Energy for All)
In a remote village in Fiji, children get a chance to learn about renewable energy as part of their curriculum and try out a new solar powered lamp donated to the school. (Energy for All)

“There have been a series of very big natural gas finds offshore of the developing world. That becomes a huge opportunity to substitute for coal and to move to a greener energy mix in the short-to-medium term," Kyte says. "We’ve seen what gas has done for the U.S. emissions profile and for the U.S. economy and gas is changing the geopolitics of energy as a result.”

Infrastructure gap

The World Bank calculates there is a one-trillion-dollar gap in financing for infrastructure in the developing world. In spite of global economic uncertainty, Kyte says, ways must be found to cut investment risk.  

She suggests, for example, tapping the $500 billion industrial nations spend for fossil fuel subsidies.

"You can take that $500 billion and repurpose it to make the kinds of investments in the green infrastructure that you need for the future and the competitive jobs that people need to have in the future."
Scientists predict more extreme weather events like Typhoon Bopha which struck the Philippines in 2012, devastating homes. (OCHA)Scientists predict more extreme weather events like Typhoon Bopha which struck the Philippines in 2012, devastating homes. (OCHA)
x
Scientists predict more extreme weather events like Typhoon Bopha which struck the Philippines in 2012, devastating homes. (OCHA)
Scientists predict more extreme weather events like Typhoon Bopha which struck the Philippines in 2012, devastating homes. (OCHA)

Putting climate on political agenda

Scientists are predicting more extreme weather like the droughts, storms and wildfires that spread across the globe in 2012 as the planet heats up with man-made carbon emissions from factories, cars and buildings.

Kyte says more frequent and severe weather may be the impetus for more climate-savvy environmental policies.

“This is going to be a repeated pattern through 2013 and 2014, the intensity of these weather events. And nobody is immune. Nobody is immune. And so this will continue I think to push the [climate] agenda to the top of political priorities.”

Kyte says what needs to be done is mostly known. What is missing is the political will to act.

You May Like

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: John
January 25, 2013 6:56 PM
If you add up the CO2 separated from gas before it's piped to the consumer and the methane that escapes during production, the global warming effect can be greater than that of coal. This doesn't count the radon, which can provide as much radiation per kwhr as coal, and certainly more than is emitted by nukes. As gas, burned very inefficiently, is necessary to back up windmills and solar panels, renewables will not stop the production of greenhouse gases.

by: Kitagawa Keikoh from: JPN
January 18, 2013 7:02 PM
Is it OK we consider only CO2 emmision as the cause of the globa climate change?
Does burning natural gas cause bad influence against the earth?
All human activity is the cause of the climate change. We must reduce global population dramatically.

by: Metatropian from: Washington, DC
January 18, 2013 3:38 PM
7 billion. There are 7 billion people alive on earth.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More