The potential for global technical fixes

Economic development in poorer countries today is not a matter of replicating the model set by Europe and the US in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The context is radically different, with opportunities and constraints imposed by the global economic and political regimes forged since then by the world's economic and political leaders. Developing countries interpret and respond in ways that reflect their differing priorities, traditions and resource endowments. Nevertheless access to modern energy services and associated fuels and technologies is a common concern the world over.

As the agreement reached at Bali under the UNFCCC in December 2007 showed, there is now global recognition of all nations' common interest in stabilising the climate. Fortunately many technologies are available that can simultaneously improve energy security and reduce emissions. Some can also help tackle local environmental problems such as air pollution or deforestation (IPCC, 2007b).

In looking for synergies of this kind there is an inevitable temptation to cut through the complexity, ignore national differences and point to one or a few 'silver bullet' technologies that will prove irresistible across the developed and developing worlds. First nuclear power could replace fossil fuels for electricity generation. Alternatively, or in tandem, the carbon content in power station emissions could be stripped out and sequestered through CCS. Thirdly biomass could supply liquid fuels to replace oil, and solid fuels for use in space heating and distributed electricity generation. This section does not rule out the contribution that could be made by any of these technologies, but cautions against the kind of 'appraisal optimism' underlying claims for their capacity to solve the world's energy and environmental problems. In each case the contribution may not be as large or timely as is claimed, and uptake (and its consequences) rather more complex than is often recognised.

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