2015 saw the milestone Paris Agreement to prevent the world’s temperatures rising beyond the 2°C threshold necessary to make any subsequent climate changes manageable. While the signing of the agreement by nearly 200 countries was momentous, some of the responses to it have proved positively vacuous — take the UK, for example, where in the past five years tax incentives for renewable energy use have been discarded by the government (putting many renewable energy companies out of business) and an addiction to shale gas exploration has taken hold, with fracking machines about to be unleashed on the country’s national parks. If every country acted as the UK does, the prospect of the world meeting its 2°C target would be laughable; the small island nations which are most defenceless against climate change and that the UK should empathise with would have to be evacuated today.
Elsewhere in the world, however, many nations are actually doing something about our ever-rising climate and fulfilling the ideals of the Paris summit. This often boils down to one word: solar. In the North African state of Morocco vast swathes of its desert are being converted into a solar energy power station. Meanwhile India, one of the world’s fastest growing economies, has committed $30 million into solar energy.
2016 should be the year when the rest of the world follows suit, particularly in the hottest and driest areas of the planet. There are four reasons for this. Firstly, and most obviously, these places have a lot of sun — it can reach 40°C or more in some countries with a hefty amount of desert. Incidentally, that desert is often not doing a lot for these countries economically — sticking it full of solar panels would create both energy and growth for the nations involved.
Thirdly, the hottest countries are in many ways the ones which are going to do worst out of climate change — the gulf states like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are expected to become uninhabitable if temperatures rise beyond 2°C. It’s therefore in their interests to shift to solar, and the sooner they do so the better.
Finally, in some sort of twisted irony, it is those countries which are best placed to take advantage of solar energy which are stubbornly and gleefully pumping oil out of the ground like it’s honey. Saudi Arabia, UAE, the other gulf nations, American states like Texas, African countries like Uganda — these places are all warm, dry and perfect for solar, but their populations still cling to oil for their energy and economy. They could be the ones that suffer most from climate change — they should make the change to solar in 2016, before it’s too late.
Jon commentates on the ways culture and politics interact.