Special to Financial Post Joe Oliver
I recently returned from a Petroleum and Energy Summit in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea (PNG), which put into stark relief the moral imperative of developing fossil fuels, especially for the poorest people in developing countries. By implication, it reinforced the profoundly unethical stand of climate-change alarmists who are working to rid the world of hydrocarbons, irrespective of the harm to economic growth, employment and a decent standard of living for billions of people.
A mere 13 per cent of Papua New Guineans have access to electricity. The government’s goal is to extend electrification to 70 per cent by 2030, an ambitious precondition to substantially raising GDP per capita above its current $2,400.
PNG is far behind in electricity usage among larger Asia-Pacific countries. There is a strong correlation between GDP and energy consumption, which requires affordable power sources. Energy mix varies considerably in the region and has been critical to growth. For example, coal supplies 64 per cent of energy in Australia and 55 per cent in Indonesia, while gas represents 63 per cent in Thailand.
Hundreds of millions of people have escaped from dire poverty in China and India, thanks to fossil fuels
PNG imports heavy fuel oil and diesel for 40 per cent of its energy, but does not access its abundant coal reserves. Yet coal is an important source of inexpensive energy in south-east Asia. Over 2,500 coal plants, with total generating power of around 2,000,000 megawatts (mw), are operating or in development in Asian signatory countries of the Paris Accord. For context, Canada’s 100 largest generating stations have a combined capacity of 100,829 mw.
PNG is now debating development of its coal resources. It will take into account safety and economic advantages for its citizens. It should not consider global climate consequences because they will be infinitesimal.
Over a billion people lack access to electricity and another billion and a quarter have insecure access. It is impossible to elevate people in dire need to a decent standard of living without very inexpensive electricity. Depriving them of the opportunity to escape grinding poverty would be inexcusable, without an existential justification.