Escaping the Fossil Fuel Trap

MILAN – There are many problems with fossil fuels. They are expensive and a source of political and supply volatility. As consumption rises globally, the costs associated with them will probably rise sharply. Worst of all, they carry large and unsustainable costs in terms of carbon emissions. Indeed, their contribution to rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere is beginning to overshadow the other problems.

But use of fossil fuels, and hence higher CO2 emissions, seems to go hand in hand with growth. This is the central problem confronting the world as it seeks to forge a framework to combat climate change. Compared to the advanced countries, the developing world now has both low per capita incomes and low per capita levels of carbon emissions. Imposing severe restrictions on the growth of their emissions growth would impede their GDP growth and severely curtail their ability to climb out of poverty.