Tech and Human Rights Series
November 15, 2021
By Alexandre Cohen
The effects of climate change and its impact on our everyday lives is becoming more and more apparent. As nations finally start to understand the consequences of human driven climate change and implement actions to counter them, the inequalities between rich and emerging markets and developing economies (EMDEs) are increasingly evident.
The world is currently recovering from a pandemic that has affected all of us, with some countries trailing behind others. The European Union (EU) as a whole, among other regions and countries, has decided the way to rebuild the economy is partly through sustainable/green projects. A significant part of these projects are grants and subsidies aimed at stimulating the development and implementation of green technology. By adopting this strategy, western countries are attempting to recover from the pandemic by allocating more funds to green and renewable energy to accelerate the industry.
These grants and subsidies are an important step forward. However, if there is not a similar drive to bring green policies and investment to developing economies – large inequality will grow between these two parts. This is partly because climate change does not have a one-size-fit-all solution but will require a multitude of systems complimenting each other to provide reliable and sustainable energy.
Thus, the systems created will be more specialized for each region in which they are developed and will not be universally applicable. Solutions created in the EU will be tailored to the environment commonly found in the EU – with designs requiring access to infrastructure similar to what is commonly found in the EU. For example, in order to have a windfarm, specific infrastructures are required. These include the following: a centralized grid; high-quality roads to bring the equipment to the site; the right type of landscape; available heavy-duty construction vehicles; etc. While all these elements are often found in developed countries, they are not present everywhere. Much like the variation in the effectiveness of vaccination programs, the pursuit of green/sustainable energies and a net zero future highlights the economic disparities between different countries and regions.
This issue has been partly recognized by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and in 2009 wealthy countries pledged $100bn (USD)per year by 2020 to EMDEs as “climate finance”. This is a good first step, yet it is not sufficient and has not yet been met. As of 2019 (which is when the last complete dataset was published), the pledge was still $20bn short. While this pledge started to address the potential future inequality, it is imperative that it is now used to spearhead further action beyond the current goal.
Despite a majority of scientists agreeing on the impact humans have on climate change, there still exists skepticism about our impact on the earth. Even when (wrongly) dismissing the effect of fossil fuels on the climate, it is clear that green/sustainable energy alternatives provide a cleaner environment. This is mostly due to the low-waste nature of these technologies and the different, more sustainable criteria used in the design process.
Green alternatives, in contrast to fossil fuels, are primarily based on harnessing the power of nature (sun, wind, wave, etc.) to generate electricity. Thus, little to no waste is created and does not require proper management and treatment, allowing for a safer and healthier environment. On the other hand, one can look at the quality of air due to fossil fuel power plants and car emissions. As wealthy countries move towards electric vehicles and large-scale green electricity production, their air quality (especially in cities) is bound to improve – reducing the cases of environmental illnesses, such as respiratory diseases. As developing countries would be deprived of these technologies (mostly due to the high costs and low availability), their populations are exposed to greater health risks than in wealthy countries.
Renewable sources of energy have a multitude of benefits for the environment and have the potential of raising the living standards. Thus, limiting the access and development of these technologies to developing countries will cause a divide and can increase the potential of human right violations. We must continue and increase efforts to level the playing field by supporting policies aimed at the development of green technology in EMDEs and ensure that they do not hinder progress, even if it is achieved at a slower pace than that seen in developed countries.
Alexandre Cohen received his Masters in Mechatronics Engineering from the University of Glasgow, graduating with distinction. Drawing from his experience in the fields of robotics and artificial intelligence, he is currently working in the renewable energies sector. Presently, Alexandre works at Kitepower, a start-up hoping to revolutionize the energy industry by harnessing wind-energy with kites.