Independent Online

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Like us on FacebookFollow us on TwitterView weather by locationView market indicators

Oil production and the dilemma of the Glasgow outcomes

It would be a painful spectacle to watch as South Africa trips itself on another unmonitored embezzlement of loaned funds as they stumble from one embarrassing scandal to another, says the writer. AP Photo Jose Goitia.

It would be a painful spectacle to watch as South Africa trips itself on another unmonitored embezzlement of loaned funds as they stumble from one embarrassing scandal to another, says the writer. AP Photo Jose Goitia.

Published Jul 26, 2022


It is only fair to commend the combined endeavour of so many people whose diligent efforts have been and continue to be aimed at raising to higher levels the public awareness on climate change in general, and in like manner, humanity’s moral consciousness in respect of global warming in particular.

It is a developing phenomenon broadly attributable to the deleterious effects of rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere, and to some appreciable degree, the contributory effects of other associated greenhouse gases as well.

Story continues below Advertisement

And so within a relatively short period that commenced circa 1974 when Greenpeace picked up the cudgels to highlight the specific dangers associated with the use of the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and their resultant damage to the ozone layer, we have come very far in the battle against the destruction of the environment accounting to human behaviour.

The most significant milestone in this crucial battle, has been the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. From the founding heights of the 1995 Berlin conference, the Conference of the Parties’ platform was established. Pursuing a focused mandate, they have endured through a laborious journey filled with false starts, threats of withdrawals and at times, refusal to adopt the most basic resolutions that reinforce our common humanity. Regardless, the Parties have laboured at it painstakingly until they finally produced the Paris Climate consensus.

In it’s humble moment, the Accord provided an opportunity for individual member countries to bind themselves to some definitive emission reduction obligations.

Implicit in these obligations is the admission that the rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are caused by the deliberate actions of human economic activity.

To the extent possible, there is also the laudable project of curbing the atmospheric ambient levels from reaching 2°C by 2050.

To be sure, there are other gases like methane, sulphuric oxide and other nitrates that conspire with CO2 in the warming of the globe, thereby contributing to the phenomenon colloquially known as climate change.

Story continues below Advertisement

What’s more, even in the CO2 stable, there are some politically weightier culprits that emit as much, like cement production and coal fired power plants.

The policy insouciance and legislative apathy regarding the “others” is understandable.

Some topics are rather too sensitive to confront because finding alternatives for them may interfere with the Faustian pact between capital and governments. It is politically awkward.

Story continues below Advertisement

There is not enough political artistry for proscribing the rearing of cows for meat production simply because they produce a lot of methane gas.

Nor is it convenient in the current military geopolitics for any one country to prevent the US from destroying vast acres of land by cutting down trees just so they can build houses.

And so, perhaps for the sake of pretences, it should be possible for the Conference of the Parties to concentrate on fossil fuels.

Story continues below Advertisement

Yet, somehow the fossil fuel target seems to be aimed at the consuming countries.

From available records of policy statements by crude oil producing countries, whose entire livelihoods and lifestyles are depended on such production, their drilling programmes and capital investment for the discovery of the hydrocarbon molecule continues with vigorous pace. In the same way, the oil majors which used to attract the odd sobriquet of seven sisters, have struck equanimity with the Opec brotherhood. It is now official. In spite of our environmental ambitions, we have to watch in horror as the sorority consorts with the brotherhood.

And in this approach, the irony of ignoring the producers on the one hand and discouraging the consumers on the other cannot be lost. With oodles of liquidity at their disposal, some of the major producing countries as well as the oil majors can always lobby the US to take such discussions off the COP table.

Mouthing some incomprehensible propaganda about 2030 targets does in their view placate the restless global commons. In their power and cunning, they would know that Eric Hoffer was right. Propaganda does not deceive people. It merely helps them deceive themselves.

There is something patently disheartening about this approach to global warming.

It’s ambivalent instincts are consistent with the attitude of the military superpowers that make one set of financial commitments in Paris, and so soon thereafter resile from obliging in Glasgow.

And whenever they feel like, they can withdraw from a global pact as if there are two globes, one for them and the other for the rest of humanity.

South Africa is a curious case.

So much of its pollution of the environment derives from the burning of coal to produce electricity.

And in this fragile economy, electricity is a sensitive subject.

There is no gainsaying the fact that so many of the denizens of this country would not be prepared to discuss the emission effects of their sources of electricity.

The timing is not perfect.

There is hardly any electricity to speak of.

Yet still, there is no shortage of lobbyists who are always ready to reshuffle the deck of political cards, change the subject and talk about electric cars.

You would be forgiven to think that electric cars come with their own electricity!

Ours is a very curious country indeed. In COP 26 , China, the world’s second largest economy reported that they would be ready by 2060 to transition from coal to renewables. India, the world’s second most populous country, projected their transition targets even farther by a whole decade.

South Africa it would appear, claiming the most unenviable epithets of being the most unequal society in the world, the country arguably with the largest unemployment in the world, a weak economy and haplessly witnessing rampant vandalism of its premium infrastructure, seems to be ready right now to transition at the promise of a measly $8.5 billion.

Arguably this amount would, if Parliament agrees, be utilised to liquidate the R500 billion or so debt of Eskom and with the rest, begin to lay the foundations of a hydrogen energy-led economy.

This is only hoping that the $8.5 billion is a gift. If it is a loan, it does not require extraordinary genius to recognise the dexterity of the trick.

A smaller debt would be replaced by a bigger one. And it would be a painful spectacle to watch as South Africa trips itself on another unmonitored embezzlement of loaned funds, as they stumble from one embarrassing scandal to another.

There is a crucial junction where the trilogy of science, economic realities and politics don’t ever seem to meet. Science, ever so reliable within a tolerable margin of error, is determined in its purpose to make the appointment. The insufferable harsh economic realities affecting billions of the planet’s inhabitants, including plant, vegetation and animal species on which they are dependent, agree on the singularity of the purpose of the convocation.

Politics and its zealots, however, are bent on distorting both scientific reason and the measurable social impacts on local economies worldwide. However long the wait, politics will not show up at the junction.

To politics’ defence, someone bought them on their way to the rendezvous . No wonder then that the decibels of bedlam have since risen to a deafening cacophony that has loosed violence by one environmental victim upon another. They are holding different court. While politicians are feted in gilded citadels, pledging religiously on promises they have no intention to keep, the rest of the miserable billions in far flung places who are at the mercy of science, wonder in earnest at a weather pattern that has lost pattern and to their consternation, has become uncharacteristically violent.

No matter the country, however, if the hypocrisy of the powerful has lost all pretences to discretion, and the entire tapestry of compliance measures aimed at ameliorating the effects of greenhouse gases is finely knitted on scientific half truths, political mendacity and lobbyist speak, we are far, far from reaching our noble targets of pre-industrialisation levels of 1 degree Celsius.

Small wonder then that Glasgow palaver was a spectacular fiasco.

Ambasador Bheki Gila is a barrister-at-law.

Bheki Gila. Supplied