Over the years, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has helped build scientific consensus about the nature of the climate problem. Climate change remains a scientific fact, and no amount of ideology or propaganda can change that. Climate scientists continue to express their alarm at the slow rate of political change and the growing use of fossil fuels in emerging economic powerhouses such as China and India. According to New York Times reporter Justin Gillis:
Nations have so dragged their feet in battling climate change that the situation has grown critical and the risk of severe economic disruption is rising, according to a draft United Nations report. Another 15 years of failure to limit carbon emissions could make the problem virtually impossible to solve with current technologies, experts found…The report said that governments of the world were still spending far more money to subsidize fossil fuels than to accelerate the shift to cleaner energy, thus encouraging continued investment in projects like coal-burning power plants that pose a long-term climate risk. While the spread of technologies like solar power and wind farms might give the impression of progress, the report said, such developments are being overtaken by rising emissions from fossil fuels over the past decade, especially in fast-growing countries like China.
All of this is true, but somewhat beside the point. There are many forces driving the increased use of fossil fuels, and they will not be easily countered. The first is the rising demand for economic consumption in the developing world. This demand creates a political force that is impossible to resist. Moreover, leaders in these nations largely see their job as delivering economic growth as quickly as possible. They know that the stability of their regime and their own power depends on it. The second driver of fossil fuel use are those corporations that own the resource and have massive amounts of capital invested in the infrastructure to extract, transport and burn fossil fuels. These companies and their owners are longstanding experts at projecting their economic power into political influence.
This magnitude of economic and political self-interest will not be countered by a United Nations panel of experts. Some believe that since government cannot address the climate issue, the business community will somehow step into the vacuum. According to Mr. Gillis:
Business leaders will tackle many of the problems raised in the draft next week, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where a day will be devoted to addressing the rising economic costs of climate change — and the costs to businesses and governments of solving the problem.
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