Two Oxford academics have published a paper arguing that rich countries must pay for the introduction of low carbon technology in poorer nations if significant emissions reduction is to be achieved.

The paper controversially focuses on “clean-coal” technology, despite the fact that coal is an industry that many argue should be phased out in the drive for emissions reduction. Drs Arunabha Ghosh and Kevin Watkins argue that in the medium term, for which interim climate change targets will be set, this is simply not feasible, and so reducing emissions from coal-fired power plants should be a primary aim.

Neil Bowerman, Oxford DPhil student and Executive Director of Climatico, (a group specialising in analysis of climate change policy) fully agrees with the recommendations of the paper, but warns that a focus on “clean coal”, which at full capacity would capture “at maximum 85% of emissions” is “at best a temporary solution and at worst a false distraction” from the more pressing task of reducing overall emissions. Aside from tar sands, coal power is “still the most polluting form of energy we have” and will never be clean enough to serve as a long-term solution.

The paper, “Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change – Why Financing to Technology Transfer Matters”, explains that worldwide emissions must halve by 2050 to avoid a global temperature increase of 2°C. By contrast, current estimations show emissions increasing by 45% during this period, with 90% of this growth coming from developing countries. In India alone, it is expected that a 500 megawatt coal-fired power plant will be constructed each week, on average, until 2030.

Ghosh and Watkins assert that the key to reducing these projections is technological change, yet this is expensive. Unsurprisingly, only rich countries have the money and resources to put low emissions technology into action: the best performing coal power stations in developed nations are 50% more efficient than the average plants in India and China. Developing nations are loath to pay for costly clean technology which would come at the expense of poverty reduction. The investments that are needed are staggering: achieving 45% thermal efficiency by 2030 would cost India $5.2-8.4 billion more than planned per year.

Emphasising that climate change is a global problem, that developed countries have had the greatest emissions over time, and that developed countries have the greatest capability to pay, Ghosh and Watkins argue, “Rich countries should finance the full incremental cost of the transition to higher efficiency.” They further explain, “This can be done through the creation of a Low Carbon Technology and Finance Facility to mobilise around $50 billion a year by 2020 through the public purse, with additional amounts leveraged through private investment.” The academics believe that this is the key to a meaningful agreement in the Copenhagen climate conference this December.

Mae Penner, Chair of OUSU’s Environment & Ethics Campaign, agreed with the paper’s recommendations, stressing the international nature of the climate change problem. “We in Britain cannot separate our future from that of developing nations whose emissions are set to skyrocket in the next few decades: their ability to become low-carbon will define the future of our shared planet, so it is essential that we offer them as much support as we can.”

This view is shared by Alice Heath, University College JCR President, who emphasised that “The blunt truth of climate change is that poorer countries who have emitted virtually no CO2 will suffer the most.”