What are developing nations doing about global warming

It seems to me that the developed world is more or less on the right track with global warming, or at least starting to get on the right track. What about the developing world? Do they take this issue seriously or are they too concerned with economic growth to really care about anything like global warming?

China wants 15% of their energy to be renewable by 2020. A laudable goal, but even in the US we currently have about 30% of our grid electricity from renewable and clean sources (if you include nuclear, as I do). Some countries like France get 80% of their energy from clean sources.


India is supposed to get to 8% by 2015. Its a step in the right direction, but not really something to get excited about. That 8% figure doesn’t seem to include nuclear, which makes up about 20% of global energy usage.


It seems like the movement is away from grid electricity like we have in the developed world towards isolated electricity as that removes the need for massive non-existent infrastructure. Somewhat like cell phones being a novelty in the US, but a necessity in the developing world where phone line infrastructure doesn’t exist.

As it stands wind turbines are cost effective and equal to coal power (about 5-6 cents per kwh). Solar supposedly became cost effective in 2005 when Vivian Alberts created solar panels out of a 5 metal alloy that costs $1.60 per watthour ($2 is the cutoff to be cost effective with coal). So its not like cost is an issue to pick coal over renewables. Renewables are just as cost effective as coal plants. And clean coal technology is coming along and soon it should be cost effective to sequester CO2 produced in coal plants.

They aren’t really. A major and still insoluble problem with most renewables is the constancy of supply.

It may be possible to produce wind or solar power for $1.60 watt hour, but only while the wind blows and the sun shines. When the wind stops blowing or the clouds come over the system produces no power.

That means that in the real world people are still dependent on electricity generations stations. They may not be dependent on them all the time, but if they are dependent in them even 10% of the time they are still entirely dependent on them in the very real sense. People in the modern world can’t just not have the electricity supply fail randomly 10% of the time.

So we still need coal power stations or, failing that, we need to flood every river valley so we can store that solar and wind energy as potential energy. But because people will only be using those systems 10% of the time the price of that power will increase 90%.

And now we run into the crux of the problem. If we generate solar or wind power for $1.60/watt hour we will push the price of coal and hydro up by a similar amount to what we have saved. After all the price to build a dam or coal station hasn’t become any cheaper and the investors still want their money back. So there is no overall economic benefit to renewable power of this type. The more we produce the more expensive the non-renewable power needs to become to make up for the loss of demand, but people still need to pay for the cost of the solar panels or wind turbines as well. That means they are paying the same for the mains supply and an additional tab for the renewable supply.

Renewable energy as it stands is an environmental initiative with large costs attached. It is not a free ride and not an alternative to be adopted when economic considerations are foremost. There are certainly ways to mediate the economic problems of reliance on mains power, especially if homes can sell back into the grid during the peak business demand period of 8-6, but they will never bring the price down to being competitive with coal.

Where many developing nations do have an advantage is that people are often grateful to have electricity even 12 hours a day, and the electricity use of the average household consists of a TV, refrigerator and an electric fan. In those instances renewable power sources are very useful. But rest assured that if those nations ever reach first world standards people will start to demand a reliable electricity supply just as Americans do. That means coal, nuclear or hydro stations and all the infrastructure associated with that.

Wouldn’t the positioning of many developing nations on the equator assist with things like solar power?

Oddly enough it often makes it worse.

Tropical climates are often characterised by distinct wet and dry seasons. During the dry season things are just fine, but during the wet season it is normal to get an average of just a couple of hours sunlight a day for several months. During those periods solar power is essentially useless.

For solar power it is usually preferable to have constant low level sunlight rather than the high level but variable sunlight of many tropical regions.

I’m having trouble looking it up but from watching the history channel I’m pretty sure our grid system already is redundant with about 3 layers. The top layer for general electricity and the 2nd & 3rd for when electric demands become high (during midday during summer when people use AC for example). So the argument about redundancy and power plants may not apply unless renewable energies have a very high level of unreliability.

That would be 80% (actually, I think it’s more like 70%) of its electricity, not of its energy, since these “clean sources” are nuclear plants, and we stil don’t have nuclear powered cars, for instance.

Unreliable renewable sources like wind and solar are also a good fit for fuel-cell vehicles. You put the fuel cell factory on site of the generating plant, and run the factory while the power is flowing. When it’s not, you sit idle. This could be economical, for a mostly automated factory and power plant. It also solves the problem that many of the best sites for renewable power plants are far from the populated areas where people would be using the power: You’re going to have to distribute your fuel cells nationwide from whereever you make them, anyway, and it’s just as easy to have your distribution hub in the Mohave Desert as in Chicago or New York.

True, it doesn’t do anything for vehicle-generated greenhouse gases, but a rather large fraction (I believe it’s around 50%) of such gases are generated by fossil fuel-burning power plants. If we could replace all the coal and natural gas burning power plants with nuclear, it’d go a very long way toward reducing future global warming.

One interesting thing I learned recently is that rural China is the major market for solar water heaters. It’s become a status symbol in many parts of that country. It also gives these people one of the luxuries (hot bath/shower every day) that we in the West take for granted. Otherwise they’d have to heat the water for their bath by burning something. Since that’s a lot of work, without the solar water heaters, they usually don’t get a bath more often than maybe once a week.

And this happened without the government doing anything to encourage their installation. Hopefully, when these places do get on the grid, they will not replace these water heaters with electric/gas ones. Let’s also hope that solar water heaters catch on in other developing nations.

I’m not convinced that CO2 is responsible for global warming

For a start greenhouses work by reducing convection

  • also plenty of other gasses have similar effects to CO2
  • methane, and di-hydrogen monoxide in vapour form for a start

There is a strong argument for not emitting noxious substances, but it is one that has only developed in my lifetime. Acid rain in Scandanavia turned out to be acid Pine needles.

Pollution is hardly likely to worry the Indians or the Chinese, people put up with a bit of muck if they are moving from subsistence to comparative luxury, in the UK we did for at least 100 years.

I guess that dtilque knows that solar water heaters are compulsory in Israel

  • and they work very well
  • it beats me why they are not sold in Spain
  • probably because nobody has come up with a ‘designer model’

As clairobscur pointed out, you’re conflating electricity with total energy use. Electricity generation only constitutes about one-third of the total US energy mix. So if 30% of our electricity generation comes from renewables/nuclear, that’s equivalent to only about 11% of our total energy.

By the way, are you including the US in your estimate of the “developed world” as being “more or less on the right track” with regard to emissions reduction? How come? AFAICT, the US has been extremely resistant to implementing policies to limit global warming.

As for your factual question about what exactly the developing world is doing about global warming, you can check out this report (pdf) by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, on “Climate change mitigation in developing countries”, specifically Brazil, China, India, Mexico, South Africa, and Turkey. Some highlights:

Overall, I think it’s clear that the developing world, with its large populations and its rapidly growing energy demands, is currently more a part of the problem of climate change than a part of the solution. However, I think the same could probably be said of the US.

By the way, this link of yours seems to be talking about cost-effective healthcare measures for poor nations, not about anything to do with renewable energy or global warming.

You may not be convinced, however, all climatologists are. While greenhouses do reduce convection, that wouldn’t do much to the temperatures inside, since heat loss to space is ultimately by radiation (and greenhouses also reduce the amount of energy re-radiated). And while there are other greenhouse gasses than CO[sub]2[/sub], all of the others are either negligible in amount (like methane, though human processes which produce methane are still considered troublesome) or in a naturally well-regulated equilibrium, like water (if we release a lot of water into the atmosphere, that’ll just result in more rain falling out, with very little net effect on the water content of the atmosphere itself). Carbon dioxide, however, is both relatively abundant, and the amount in the atmosphere can vary greatly. Ice-core data dating back thousands of years very clearly shows a strong correlation between atmospheric CO[sub]2[/sub] levels and global temperatures, and while correlation does not always imply causation, in this case we have sound theoretical models as well which explain why CO[sub]2[/sub] would cause warming.

No, they are not. Most are, but by no means all.

I doubt that you could name a single issue that all scientists in that field are convinced of. Not all epidemiologists are convinced of germ theory. Not all geneticists are convinced of synthetic evolution. Not all physicists are convinced of relativity and so forth.

If we can’t convince all scientists on those points it should be obvious that all climatologists are not convinced of that CO2 is responsible for global warming.

Even the scientists of the IPCC will only concede that it is over 60% likely to contribute to the majority of the observed warming. IOW even the IPCC isn’t convinced.

True, but irrelevant. All that means is that the Greenhouse Effect is misnamed.

Any gas molecule with 3 or more atoms in it will contribute to the Greenhouse Effect. Industrial processes produce several of them including methane and ethane. Water, which is produced in combustion, is not really a problem as pollution or a greenhouse gas, since it will just rain out of the atmosphere.

I didn’t, but that doesn’t make my statement wrong. China’s a much bigger market than Israel.

Really? That’s interesting, since the Norwegian Government is still blaming it on sulphur emissions. And I have to say I’m curious as to how pine needles managed to suddenly sterilise rivers over large parts of scandinavia where pine-forest and riparian ecosystems have coexisted for milennia.