“Could we be heading into an East-West dichotomy where different directions for the energy sector are pursued, making the East more energy secure and imperiling energy security in the West?”

“China emits more carbon dioxide every 16 days than Australia emits in an entire year. Together, India and China are responsible for 35% of all carbon dioxide emissions globally.”

While leaders in the West are obsessed with a fossil fuelless utopia, the developing economies of the world are going full-throttle with superior mineral enemies.

Could we be heading into an East-West dichotomy where different directions for the energy sector are pursued, making the East more energy secure and imperiling energy security in the West?

It seems the likely case.

Eastern Giants Go Big on Fossils

India and China alone account for nearly 3 billion people and represent the largest fossil fuel consuming block on the planet, with China the undisputed champion.

The carbon dioxide emission levels from China and India can give us a sense of how big the fossil fuel industries are in these countries. China emits more carbon dioxide every 16 days than Australia emits in an entire year. Together, India and China are responsible for 35% of all carbon dioxide emissions globally.

Their love for fossil fuel, however, stands in stark contrast to their emission reduction pledges at the international climate conferences. This is because both nations are aware that the future success of their energy sector is contingent on fossil fuels.

India is currently the world’s second largest consumer of coal and has announced that it is pursuing 32 new coal mining projects despite being a signatory of the Paris climate agreement. The projects, valued at  $6.4 billion, are estimated to provide 193 million tons of coal a year. India has never before approved projects of this capacity in a single calendar year.

But the new projects are only a tiny fraction of the future investments the country is planning to do. India’s Home Minister Amit Shah said that, “India expects to invest ₹4 trillion ($54.5 billion) in clean coal projects over the next decade as it seeks to tap domestic energy sources and curb imports.”

The coal sector acts as the central pillar of India’s booming power industry, which caters to the electricity demand from more than a billion people, and new mining projects are critical in ensuring continuous supply and meeting future demands. 

Speaking at an event, the Home Minister said that “the coal sector will be the largest contributor to India’s ambition of being a $5 trillion economy.” According to the Government’s official planning commission NITI Aayog, the consumption of coal is set to rise in the next three decades regardless of the increase in percentage share of renewables in the energy mix.

Biden Approach, in Retrospect

In contrast, the newly elected Biden administration is set to announce unprecedented changes to the energy sector with new laws in April 2021. The Wall Street Journal commented that the proposed laws “could rock fossil-fuel companies and boost renewable energy businesses.”

Biden’s decision to halt the issuance of oil and gas drilling licenses in the U.S. is already threatening the livelihoods of thousands of workers across the country and the sector’s positive contribution to the economy.

The threat is much higher in states where the economies depend more on oil and gas. In a letter to Biden, New Mexico Democrat Senators Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Lujan, explained,

Oil and gas workers, and communities they live in, have helped build our nation for more than a century, and revenues from mineral production have supported New Mexico’s educational system and state budget.

Senator Steve Daines from Montana voiced similar concerns about the ramifications of Biden’s cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline. Sharing a video on twitter, he stated,

The Keystone XL is a lifeline for eastern Montana—creating jobs & bringing in millions of dollars in tax revenue. Joe Biden killed this project on Day One to satisfy environmental activists. Now, hardworking Montanans like Josh are dealing with the fallout.

Besides proposing radical changes to the domestic energy policy, Biden has also vowed to make climate change an integral aspect of U.S. foreign relations, thereby paving the way for U.S. influence on domestic energy policies in other countries and stopping international funding for fossil fuel projects—leaving a vacuum that China is intent on filling, with serious geopolitical consequences.

Biden’s promises to meddle with international energy policies was hailed as a victory for the anti-fossil media groups’ international climate movement. So much so, that media agencies like the New York Times expressed disappointment when Biden did not interfere in foreign fossil-fuel policies in recent weeks.

The Times grieved:

When Mexico earlier this month passed an energy bill that set back the country’s climate goals, the Biden administration raised no public objections. The White House has taken no fresh steps to block one of the world’s highest-profile fossil fuel projects, a natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, despite assuring Congress that Mr. Biden opposes it.

So, developing-world economies are increasing their reliance on fossil fuels, developed-world economies are seeking not only to limit their domestic reliance on fossil fuels but also to restrict fossil fuel use in other countries.

This dichotomy in approach towards fossil fuels will continue for the near future, strengthening developing economies and weakening developed ones.

Will the developed countries eventually wake up to energy reality when their anti-fossil stance creates widespread energy blackouts, stalled economies, declining employment, and shrinking state revenues? It’s probably too early to tell, since we’re just at the start of long-haul energy and economic chaos.

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Vijay Jayaraj (M.Sc., Environmental Science, University of East Anglia, England), is a Research Contributor for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation and resides in India.

Previous essays by Mr. Jayaraj at MasterResource include:

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By Vijay Jayaraj — April 14, 2021