Uncharted Territory

July 29, 2009

Confident in Copenhagen?

Filed under: Energy policy, Global warming, International climate deals — Tim Joslin @ 8:04 am

I’ve been thinking that, rather than just add them to my thousands of Firefox bookmarks, I should start to flag up interesting articles which catch my eye.

I can’t help but agree with Gideon Rachman’s pessimistic comments in the FT. He notes:

“The Indians and the Chinese have so far refused to accept binding targets on CO2 emissions. Even if they change their position during the Copenhagen negotiations – and that is far from certain – that will come at a price. The proposed deal is that rich countries essentially bribe poorer countries to cut emissions and adopt cleaner technologies. China has proposed that developed nations should all agree to contribute 1 per cent of gross domestic product to help poorer nations fight global warming.

Now imagine that you are Mr Obama trying to sell a deal like that back home. The US is running a budget deficit of 12 per cent of GDP. The Chinese are sitting on the world’s largest foreign reserves. The president would have to ask the American people to write a large cheque to China to combat global warming – while simultaneously praying that the Chinese graciously consent to keep buying American debt to fund the deficit. It does not sound like a political winner.”

Quite.

Rachman’s comments are echoed by the latest FT report today – subtitled Countries at odds over climate change – of the facts on the ground in the ongoing G2 dialogue.

There’s general agreement that the US’s own legislation to reduce its own emissions lacks real bite. A report from the National Academies of Science also suggests a lack of real ambition. CNET’s commentary notes:

“In assessing the transportation sector, the study’s authors concluded that petroleum will continue to fuel the country’s cars and trucks in the next three decades, although maintaining domestic petroleum production will be challenging. Once again, the best near-term option to cutting oil consumption is better vehicle efficiency.

Making liquid fuels from biomass, such as wood chips, and from coal with carbon capture and storage could replace about 15 percent of today’s fuel consumption. But both approaches still have significant technical barriers. Also, there are potential environmental problems from using large amounts of land for biofuels and coal-to-liquid fuels would increase emissions without carbon capture and storage, according to the study.”

Sounds to me like they’ve reached a “conclusion” which doesn’t in fact follow from their own analysis. That’s the scientific establishment for you!

What’s needed is not technologies like CCS and biofuels to shore up today’s fossil-fuel-based energy-supply technology, but a paradigmatic change – a technological revolution, disruptive innovation – to most probably an almost entirely electricity-based energy system. Transport, buildings, industry all powered by electricity generated by renewable and nuclear technologies. Replacing what’s current with current perhaps. Yes, it’s a big job. But then so was building all the fossil-fuel infrastructure. That is virtually all less than 40 years old, so surely we can replace it by 2050. Just get on with it!

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