Hogsback and the yawning gap in the Paris climate change accord

IT would be rude of Hogsback to yawn in the face to the Paris climate change accord. But it would be wise to make two observations.

Staff Reporter

Firstly that it’s full of holes and is unlikely to succeed, and secondly to remind readers about what Bill Gates had to say, which was: “Honestly, I’ve been a bit surprised that the climate talks historically haven’t had R&D on the agenda in any way, shape or form”

From the mouth of one of the world’s richest (and smartest) men has come a terrible truth. That climate change activists are not really interested in the future. They simply want to turn back the clock – and even The Hog’ dog knows that’s not going to happen.

Gates made his fortune as the founder of Microsoft, one of the world’s biggest software companies, and he did that by understanding the benefits of technology research and development because what you see today will not be what you get tomorrow.

Essentially, that means “times change” and with the change come better ways of doing things. Imagine a world without computers, or the software to drive them.

That’s the point Gates is making. He started his technology and business life at a certain point in time, back when pens, pencils, slide-rules and pocket calculators were cutting edge research tools.

Over time, quite rapidly as it happens with software, the world was captured by people like Gates and the rival teams at Apple and Oracle.

Once you understand how investment in R&D drives change you’re ready to ask the same of the Paris climate activists who seemed happiest when dancing around the Eiffel Tower wearing silly masks and face paint.

“Stop the world I want to get off” was the common (if unspoken refrain) from the latter-day Luddites who long for a world without carbon, which is bit like wishing for a world without people. (Note to self: that might not be a bad idea).

In any event, Gates nailed an issue which everyone else missed and that is the problem of simply suggesting laws limiting carbon dioxide emissions without analysing the other half of the equation which is funding research into ways to achieve that goal.

So, what we have is a Curate’s Egg of an agreement. Good in parts. Rotten in others, with the net result being that not a lot is likely to change over the next 20 years because everyone forgot the importance of R&D.

If funding for research into controlling CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels had been part of the Paris accord The Hog would be a lot happier because it would have shown that the people at the two-week talkfest were serious about addressing the core issue of climate change – and that is the great divide between the rich world and the emerging (poor) world.

Rich countries, with the cash to pay for a march into the world of renewable energy, will probably achieve their goals. Technologies are emerging that make home-generated electricity from solar panels (and the odd windmill) reasonably attractive.

When married to a battery storage system such as that being marketed by Tesla found, Leon Musk, it is highly likely that a lot of households with a few thousand dollars to spare will consider disconnecting themselves from the grid.

But, what happens in the suburbs of rich countries is just one, relatively small, part of the overall energy equation. Two far more important questions are what happens with big industrial consumers of electricity and what happens in poor countries which are just embarking on their version of the industrial revolution.

Without R&D into ways of ensuring that the emerging world gets the power it wants in the least polluting way possible it is highly unlikely that the bold target of restricting the worldwide temperature increase to 1.5 degrees about pre-industrial times will not be achieved.

The problem today is the same as the problem before the Paris conference and that’s the fact that coal remains a highly competitive fuel which is very appealing to emerging (poor) countries and it is those countries which will deliver much of the world’s economic growth over the next 20 years.

The Minerals Council of Australia, quite correctly, welcomed the Paris accord and noted the role of high-efficiency, low emissions (HELE) technology in modern power stations which work best using the sort of high-quality coal mined in Australia.

Gates, however, took the issue to the next level because what he identified is that HELE, as modern as it might be, is yesterday’s technology and what the world really needs is the sort of R&D which will produce the next generation of low-emission power stations.

The problem with the Paris meeting is that too many delegates simply want to avoid any discussion about making coal a better and cleaner fuel. They just want it to disappear, and that’s not going to happen because the emerging world will remain a big (and growing) user of coal.