A Western guy, let’s call him Doug, walks into a rural African village. Horrified, he runs over to a woman cooking over a wood-burning stove. “You can’t do that,” he says, “think of the pollution!” Doug offers her a solution: “From now on you must use this bright and shiny hydrogen stove, and I’ll even come back every week to sell you the hydrogen fuel. By the way, that’s £250 for the stove – I know it’s expensive, but think of all the good you’ll be doing the planet!”

Doug’s position is clearly inappropriate, but if we extend the perspective to a country-to-country level, perhaps, that isn’t so apparent. Let’s consider international oil and gas and its evident clash with a net-zero global agenda. Can we legitimately demand, Doug-like, that all countries stop extracting fossil fuels?

If asked, the developing world can claim in a perfectly reasonable and compelling way that improved wellbeing and living standards are an absolute short-term necessity and...

Robert Heaton