Energy and climate crises: hitting individuals and economies

Despite the lofty title, this is not some in depth analysis of the socio-economic impact of energy or climate crises that this world currently faces. However, it must not be forgotten that both energy and climate crises are real, global in nature, and affecting at all levels of our social architecture – from individuals to corporations to government.

Here are two interesting tidbits that I read today about global efforts to solve the energy and climate crises that I wanted to share. They are both, frankly, a bit comic in nature. And I am unsure how much effect either will really have on the problems that they are meant to solve. But in some ways it shows that while the more affluent of the world are arguing about the comparative costs of solar vs wind vs coal/natural gas, the poorer parts of the world are REALLY struggling to figure out how to manage their energy shortages and bills, and play their roles in solving the global climate problem.

Item 1: UN asks world to eat less meat – By Juliette Jowit

LONDON, Sept 7: People should have one meat-free day a week if they want to make a personal and effective sacrifice that would help tackle climate change, the world’s leading authority on global warming has told The Observer. Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the United Nations Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change, which last year earned a joint share of the Nobel Peace Prize, said that people should then go on to reduce their meat consumption even further.

His comments are the most controversial advice yet provided by the panel on how individuals can help tackle global warning.

Pachauri, who was re-elected the panel’s chairman for a second six-year term last week, said diet change was important because of the huge greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental problems – including habitat destruction – associated with rearing cattle and other animals. It was relatively easy to change eating habits, compared to changing means of transport, he said.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation has estimated that meat production accounts for nearly a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions. These are generated during the production of animal feeds, for example, while ruminants, particularly cows, emit methane, which is 23 times more effective as a global warming agent than carbon dioxide.

The agency has also warned that meat consumption is set to double by the middle of the century.

“In terms of immediacy of action and the feasibility of bringing about reductions in a short period of time, it clearly is the most attractive opportunity,” said Pachauri. “Give up meat for one day (a week) initially, and decrease it from there,” said the Indian economist, who is a vegetarian.

However, he also stressed that other changes in lifestyle would help to combat climate change. “That’s what I want to emphasise: we really have to bring about reductions in every sector of the economy.”-Dawn/The Guardian News Service

Item 2: New steps to reduce oil consumption: Two weekly off days, petrol pumps to close on Fridays – By Khaleeq Kiani

ISLAMABAD, Sept 7: Faced with the highest ever current account and fiscal deficits, the government is expected to announce two weekly off days and closure of petrol pumps for one day in a week to reduce oil consumption.

“An announcement about five-day week and closure of petrol pumps for one day is expected this week,” a senior government official told Dawn on Sunday.

The federal cabinet in a recent meeting decided to take steps to curtail consumption in transport and power sectors, but deferred the announcement till after the presidential election.

According to the decision, Saturday and Sunday will be off days while petroleum products will not be sold on Fridays.

The oil import bill, which surged to $11.38 billion or almost 30 per cent of total imports of about $40 billion in 2007-08, was more than 55 per cent higher than $7.33 billion a year ago, mainly because of higher international prices and increased consumption.

The Economy Monitoring Committee, headed by Finance Minister Syed Naveed Qamar, had directed the petroleum ministry to suggest ways of curtailing oil consumption. Among other things, the ministry proposed two steps — five weekdays and closing petrol pumps for a day, which could reduce oil consumption by almost 20 per cent, the ministry said.

The last PPP government had also introduced two weekly holidays but the move was soon reversed because it resulted in higher than usual fuel consumption and government employees started taking three off days.

It was witnessed that people moved out of the cities and towns where they worked to enjoy longer weekends. Therefore, the concept of stopping petroleum sales on Fridays is being introduced to discourage the trend.

As a result of record international prices and higher consumption, the government had to pay $4 billion (Rs270 billion) more on oil imports in 2007-08 than in the previous year. The import of petroleum products showed a 65 per cent increase to $6.158 billion from $3.73 billion, while crude imports surged by 45 per cent to $5.22 billion from $3.6 billion in 2006-07.

The consumption of petroleum products went up by about 19 per cent to 10 million tons from 8.6 million tons, while crude imports surged by 5.2 per cent to 8.6 million tons from 8.2 million tons in 2006-07.

The fiscal deficit reached 7.7 per cent of GDP or Rs777 billion against the budgeted target of 4.2 per cent of Rs398 billion. The current account deficit, too, set a new record at almost $16 billion last year with no respite in the initial two months of the current fiscal year.

The government had estimated the oil import bill to stay at $8.8 billion in 2007-08, but it had to pay about $2.6 billion (Rs170 billion) more because the estimates had been based on an expected international crude price of $70 per barrel.

Petroleum emerged as the largest contributor to the total import of $39.97 billion in 2007-08, followed by machinery imports at $7.4 billion, which was 10.32 per cent higher than $6.7 billion of 2006-07.

The government increased duties on more than 250 items last month to discourage import of non-essential products. The opening of letters of credit is also subject to 100 per cent cash margin to discourage importers from unjustified flight of capital. The two measures are estimated to save about $1 billion.

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