The energy would come from everywhere. We have been so wrapped up in the idea of “free energy” to date that we have overlooked another possibility, one the U.N. has been working with for years.
One possibility—called “fiscal transparency”—is that governments around the world would voluntarily report all of the energy they emit to the U.N. And, as one of the few remaining nations on Earth that uses fossil fuels, the U.S. would be part of that effort. In fact, since its creation in 2013, the National Climate Assessment reports that, in fiscal year 2016, the U.S. burned more than 1 trillion barrels of oil and 2 trillion kilowatt hours of energy—equating to more than 100 times more energy now in the ground—than it used last year. At the same time, the U.S. has been pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a rate that’s about 400 times faster than other countries have been. And it’s doing so at a cost.
The U.N. has identified this problem as “carbon leakage”—the leakage of greenhouse gas from fossil fuels into the atmosphere. To mitigate this problem, the U.N. calls for governments to publish information on the amounts of fossil fuel and energy they’ve emitted, as well as how much that fossil fuel has been offset. By monitoring the country’s progress toward the Paris climate accord, it could also help countries make hard choices about who to cut from their energy programs.
But before the U.N. gets involved (which it says is “inevitable,” as we’ve pointed out many times before), there’s a big problem that needs to be solved. “When we talk about fossil fuels, we usually talk about coal and natural gas burning,” explains Matt Herley, head of the U.S.-based Natural Resources Defense Council’s climate program and the former global lead adviser to the Obama administration on climate issues, and now director of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. “Unfortunately, there isn’t much that does burn fossil fuels today that is as carbon-neutral or less polluting than any other resource.”
For example, while natural gas and lignite are considered to fall under the U.N.’s definition of “renewable,” those two are also some of the dirtiest fossil fuels anywhere. And many experts say that in order for the U.N. to be successful in its goal to have 100% of its energy coming from renewables by
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