Political will needed to end fossil fuel era

The historic Paris Agreement is a step in the right direction ("Historic deal may signal end of fossil fuel era"; Dec 14, 2015).

At last, the world's leaders have come together in an attempt to arrest our planet's advance towards the precipice of catastrophic climate change ("Rising to the clean energy challenge" by Miss Lee Kay Yan; Forum Online, Dec 24, 2015).

Since the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century, the production and consumption of fossil fuels has underpinned the global economy. Despite efforts to end our dependency on unsustainable oil and gas resources, adoption of alternative energy sources remains sluggish, owing to a lack of both funding and commitment.

That human civilisation can continue to improve upon renewable energy generation is no mere pipe dream. To spur this, we need clear objectives and raw determination, as represented by the Paris accords.

In the spirit of the climate change deal, the onus is on governments to implement clear and progressive plans to redevelop their power-generation infrastructure and tighten their environmental regulations.

Perhaps states should seriously consider exploring measures including but not limited to cap-and-trade systems for carbon emissions, such as the European Union Emissions Trading System, or environmentally conscious incentives and subsidies, such as tax credits for the production and purchase of electric vehicles in some US states.

Of course, a massive paradigm shift in energy production cannot be accomplished overnight. Therefore, while investing heavily in up-and-coming technologies, we must, at the same time, be mindful of the transitional stage where greenhouse gas emissions must be kept to a minimum.

For instance, we can - as an interim measure - use carbon capture and storage technology for fossil fuel-fired power plants, to mitigate the environmental damage they would otherwise cause.

This could tide us over until alternative energy sources such as nuclear, hydro, solar and wind power have enjoyed sufficient technological progress as to become economically viable and capable of supporting a national grid.

In the past few years, humanity has seen the fearsome power of natural disasters exacerbated by anthropogenic carbon emissions.

It is within the capabilities of the international community to limit such damage to our civilisation.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 04, 2016, with the headline 'Political will needed to end fossil fuel era'. Print Edition | Subscribe