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

    No More Space Race for US, Rivalry Gives Way to Collaboration

    What began as a struggle for dominance in space between two world powers has changed entirely to one of joint efforts

    Beijing Warns Critics Over South China Sea Dispute

    Official warns critics that the more they challenge China's position regarding disputed territories in one of world’s busiest waterways, the more it will push back

    Move Over Millennials, Here Comes iGeneration

    How the first generation to be born, almost literally, with a smartphone in hand, might change America

    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.
    Image Recognition Market Seen Doubling by 2020i
    X
    Ramon Taylor
    May 05, 2016 10:05 PM
    From auto tagging on Facebook to self-driving cars, image recognition technology as it exists today is still in its beginning phases, experts say — and will soon change the way users and corporations interact with the physical world. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
    Video

    Video Image Recognition Market Seen Doubling by 2020

    From auto tagging on Facebook to self-driving cars, image recognition technology as it exists today is still in its beginning phases, experts say — and will soon change the way users and corporations interact with the physical world. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
    Video

    Video Child Labor in Afghanistan Remains a Problem

    With war still raging in Afghanistan, the country also faces the problem of child labor as families put their school-age children to work to help make ends meet. But, thanks to VOA's Afghan Service, two families whose children had been working in a brick-making factory - to earn their livings and pay off family debts - now have a new lease on life. Zabihullah Ghazi reports.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Troops Recount Firefight Which Killed US Navy SEAL

    A U.S. Navy SEAL killed Tuesday, when Islamic State fighters punched through Kurdish lines in northern Iraq, was part of a quick reaction force sent to extract other U.S. troops trapped by the surprise offensive. VOA's Kawa Omar spoke with Kurdish troops in the town of Telskuf -- the scene of what U.S. officials called a "dynamic firefight."
    Video

    Video British Lawmakers Warn EU Exit Talks Could Last A Decade

    Leaving the European Union would mean difficult negotiations that could take years to complete, according to a bipartisan group of British lawmakers. While the group did not recommend a vote either way, the lawmakers noted trade deals between the EU and non-EU states take between four and nine years on average. Henry Ridgwell reports on the mounting debate over whether Britain should stay or exit the EU as the June vote approaches.
    Video

    Video NASA Astronauts Train for Commercial Space Flights

    Since the last Shuttle flight in 2011, the United States has been relying on Russian rockets to launch fresh crews to the International Space Station. But that may change in the next few years. NASA and several private space companies are developing advanced capsules capable of taking humans into low orbit and beyond. As VOA's George Putic reports, astronauts are already training for commercial spacecraft in flight simulators.
    Video

    Video US Worried Political Chaos in Iraq Will Hurt IS Fight

    The White House is expressing concern about rising political chaos in Iraq and the impact it could have on the fight against the Islamic State. The U.S. says Iraq needs a stable, central government to help push back the group. But some say Baghdad may not have a unified government any time soon. VOA's White House correspondent Mary Alice Salinas reports.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora