Forum > Climate change and Global Warming > The poor of the world are providing breathing space to the world

Posted by Susan Sharma on December 12, 2007


The poor of the world are providing breathing space to the world

"We believe India must take a proactive and leadership position on the issue of climate change. It is also important to assert the linkages between increasing weather disasters and climate change. It is clear that while we will never be able to make absolute predictions or direct correlations between events that we see around us and the warming that is now inevitable, there is enough evidence to make connections. For instance, we know that climate change will lead to intensification of tropical cyclone events, like the one in Bangladesh, which has devastated the lives of millions in that country. We also know that rainfall in our world will become more variable – devastating for people dependent on rainfed agriculture. We can already see the rapid melting of glaciers (, which will threaten water security in large parts of the country.

Biofuels are being touted as the new panacea for climate problems. All the biofuel in the world will be a blip on the world’s total fuel consumption. In the us, for instance, it’s agreed that if the entire corn crop is used to make ethanol, it will replace only 12 per cent of current gasoline—petrol—used in the country.If we factor in fuel inputs that go into converting biomass to energy—from diesel to run tractors, natural gas to make fertilizers, fuel to run refineries—biofuel is not energy-efficient. It is estimated that only about 20 per cent of corn-made ethanol is ‘new’ energy. This reckoning does not account for the water it will take to grow this new crop. There are fears that rainforest might be cut to expand biofuel crop cultivation; this will contribute substantially to climate change.

So how should biofuel be used to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? Any strategy must be founded on an understanding that biofuels aren’t substitutes for fossil fuels, they can make a difference if we limit our fuel consumption. If that’s the case, governments should not give subsidies to grow crops for biofuel. They should, instead, invest in public transport that will reduce the number of vehicles on roads. Biofuels should be just for public buses and only if cars get off the road

Biofuels could be a part of the climate solution but only if they are used to help the world’s poor to leapfrog to a non-fossil fuel-based energy future. The poor are today providing the world its only real opportunity to avoid emissions. For, the bulk of renewable energy -80 per cent-is the biomass-based energy used by the poorest to meet their cooking, lighting and fuel needs.

So, the opportunity for a biofuel revolution is not in the rich world’s cities to run vehicles-but in the grid-unconnected world of Indian or African villages, where there is a scarcity of electricity for homes, and generator sets to pump water and to run vehicles. It here that fossil fuel use will grow because there is no alternative. Instead of bringing fossil fuel long distances to feed this market, this part of the world can leapfrog to a new energy future. The biofuel can come from non-edible tree crops-jatropha in India, for example-grown on wasteland.

The irony is that it is the poor in the world who provide us breathing space today. Currently, about 80 per cent of renewable energy is biomass based energy used by the poorest to meet their cooking, lighting and fuel needs. This also provides us the opportunity for a biofuel revolution – reinventing the energy options for millions who are still unconnected to the fossil fuel grid ( In this challenge, our forests can be critical players – planting trees to provide employment, which will also absorb carbon dioxide and increase the sinks for our emissions (


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