Home > Environment > Turning the corner

Turning the corner

December 13th, 2015

The agreement just announced from the Climate Conference in Paris isn’t by any means, a solution to the problem of avoiding climate change. But, along with other developments over the past year, it signals the fact that the world community has turned the corner on this issue. Barring a catastrophe[^1], the world is now on the path to near-complete decarbonization of the economy by the middle of this century, and to stabilization of the global climate with less than 2 degrees of warming.

The big developments of the past year include:

* An apparent (though small) decline in global CO2 emissions in 2015

* Peak Coal. Not only has global consumption of coal begun to fall, but the pressure to abandon coal, exerted at every stage from the initial financing of mines to the burning of coal in power stations has grown in intensity.

* Continued progress in renewables, notably including the appearance of commercially viable battery storage systems. It’s now obvious that, taking all the costs into account, renewable electricity is cheaper than the fossil fuel alternatives, and capable of completely replacing them.

* The political eclipse of leading denialists, most notably Abbott and Harper, and the disarray of US Republicans on the issue

* Looking at the agreement itself, it’s as ambitious as could reasonably have been hoped. Big points include
– The adoption of 1.5 degrees as a goal towards which efforts will be aimed
– The “ratchet” mechanism of 5 year reviews
– The acceptance that all countries need to act to reduce emissions over time.

Taken together, these developments put the world on a path to steadily more ambitious reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, consistent with stabilization of the global climate at 2 degrees of warming or less.

[^1]: The most obvious possible catastrophe would be a Republican victory in the 2016 US elections. But the momentum for change is such that even four years of unified Republican rule would probably not be enough to stop it.

Categories: Environment Tags:
  1. Ikonoclast
    December 13th, 2015 at 16:21 | #1

    There are things happening which might make a difference. The COP21 is not one of them. It looks completely toothless (non-binding) to me. I agree with James Hansen on that point.

    “It’s a fraud really, a fake. It’s just b******t for them to say: ‘We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.’ It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continue to be burned,” – James Hansen.

    The things that are happening and which might make a difference are;

    1. Solar and wind power really do work energetically speaking (meaning EROEI).
    2. Intermittentancy and storage are solvable issues.
    3. There are plenty of energy savings possible in our economy.
    4. Coal power is being out-performed economically by solar and wind power.

    I have ceased looking at mainstream politics for any solutions. That avenue is quite hopeless. The solutions will come from natural systems (telling us what works and what does not), and from people doing good science and good economics (not neoliberal economics) and finding sustainable ways to survive. The solutions will come from ordinary people not from “leaders”.

    Tolstoy likened the words and actions of leaders and diplomats to the foam at the prow of a ship. It is a fundamental mistake to think the foam steers the ship. COP21 is just foam.

  2. December 13th, 2015 at 16:26 | #2

    When all the gloss is gone from the Paris talks,,, when all the backslapping has finished,,, when all the dust has settled and all the spin, smoke and mirrors have been scraped away ,,,,,, what will we be left with ? Yes, WHAT ?

    What effective action has been initiated ? I mean action which really will achieve a substantial reduction in pollution next week. I mean substantial action which will start NOW, and not weak political promises which may happen “soon”.

    I hope I’m wrong, but I feel the outcome may look something like this cartoon . . . . . . .

    https://cartoonmick.wordpress.com/editorial-political/#jp-carousel-205

    Cheers
    Mick

  3. December 13th, 2015 at 17:04 | #3

    No, I agree with JQ, I think this is a turning point. It’s not wonderful but it’s a start.

    Of course, I’m an incurable optimist, where eg Ikon is probably an incurable pessimist (well obviously not altogether but about politics and political leaders at least). Political leaders are at least meant to represent the people and maybe enough of the people have convinced them that
    – this is serious (the scientists)
    – we want something done about it (the people)

  4. rog
    December 13th, 2015 at 17:11 | #4

    Another own goal for Abbott et al is their obvious deference to the mineral council and its constituents. At the current rate of decay BHP, RIO and others will be penny dreadfuls by 2016 and the glut in commodities will hit speculators hard. By acting against renewables the LIP/NP govt has put themselves and Australia well outside the tent.

  5. rog
    December 13th, 2015 at 17:16 | #5

    Resource companies can’t blame greenies lefties or any other bunch for their implosion: it was all done by themselves using their preferred methodology employing free market tactics to grow the pie.

  6. Ivor
    December 13th, 2015 at 18:39 | #6

    Pundits trying to discuss this issue need to adopt higher standards of analysis.

    It is not good enough to say:

    The big developments of the past year include:

    * An apparent (though small) decline in global CO2 emissions in 2015

    without mentioning the critical qualification included in the source that:

    But the paper’s authors warned the fall may only be temporary and that a switch away from fossil fuels to clean sources of energy needs to be accelerated if dangerous warming is to be avoided.

    We all know that due to the current long-running crisis of capitalism, industrial output has declined over 2015 (United States -0.2%, Brazil -10%, Germany -1.4% ) and oil demand has consequently fallen.

    The actual Nature article (R B Jackson et al) demonstrates “slower growth” and the so-called decline is a projection driven almost entirely by projections for China !!!! [Jackson et al fig 2].

    Also worth mentioning is the fact that the new Agreement only comes into force “not earlier than 2020” – see Article 18, pg 26, Draft Agreement, circulated New York Times.

    While a 100 billion fund for undeveloped economies sounds good – what is the when, how, who, and how?

    There will be no 100 billion until after 2020.

    So let the capitalists clap and cheer as they change “projections” into “apparent” and deploy other smoke and mirrors.

    For the rest of us … atmospheric CO2 will continue to increase, deforestation will continue, carbon sinks will saturate, population will increase, and new weather records will emerge.

  7. Douglas Hynd
    December 13th, 2015 at 21:14 | #7

    There is no single turning point and Paris can only the beginning but this opens the door – whether it will lead to movement where we need to go quickly enough I don’t know – but I think it creates the space for civil society and entrepreneurs who see an opportunity to move to do so.It creates the opportunity to get a less worse outcome than we may have been looking at without any agreement.

  8. Dick Veldkamp
    December 13th, 2015 at 21:18 | #8

    Paris doesn’t do much in the way of concrete action, but I think it does mark a shift in attitudes. It’s the first step at last.

  9. John Bignucolo
    December 13th, 2015 at 21:28 | #9

    the disarray of US Republicans on the issue

    While there may be other issues on which the US Republicans are in disarray, when it comes to Climate Change, the party orthodoxy that it’s “crap” is unchallenged. Denialism is an intrinsic part of being a member of the conservative tribe and all the candidates have publicly articulated their support for this view.

    The position is summed up by the likely Republican Presidential nominee, Ted Cruz, (yes, you heard it here first) at the hearings he chaired of the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness on 8 December.

    President Obama can expect zero support from the US House of Representatives (controlled by the Republicans) or the Senate (controlled by the Republicans). There’s a reason he’s had to do everything as regard climate change mitigation via regulatory measures during his presidency.

  10. m0nty
    December 13th, 2015 at 21:39 | #10

    Expecting the Paris agreement to do all the work in a display of hegemonic fireworks seems like foolishness to me. This is being done the Obama way: no big flashy astoundingness, just methodical application of soft diplomacy over the course of a string of steadily advancing agreements, with light touches of power when needed to coax the process along.

    Perhaps it is good luck rather than good management that OPEC has been sidelined and coal demand is dropping, as demand for all energy is dropping. Most importantly, the economic actors in the market have already been experiencing the economic effects of the political consensus in the form of the glut that rog mentions, so Paris is just a signpost on the way rather than a starting line.

  11. Ikonoclast
    December 13th, 2015 at 21:40 | #11

    @Val

    I’ve stopped watching mainstream political developments. It is my assessment (for what it’s worth) that mainstream political developments are very poor predictors of real action in this arena.

    Technological developments first and then economic developments second seem to be better predictors of progress. Mainstream politics seems to follow on after real technological and real economy developments and to react rather than predict, create or lead them in any way.

    I feel that following J.Q’s. blogs has helped me to see things that way. And looking at J.Q.’s asterisk dot-points he does list real developments first and mainstream political “developments” lower down.

    Mainstream political developments seem very much to be the wind-vane and not the wind. There are other political-economy ideologies (informed by science) which are predictive rather than just reactive as neoliberalism is. The issue is our neoliberal political weather-vanes (politicians) have long responded to corporate pressure not to public pressure. They are wavering a little now as if sensing the public (not to mention the climate) might yet prove more powerful than the corporations.

  12. Robert (not from UK)
    December 13th, 2015 at 21:49 | #12

    Paul Sheehan seems now to be advocating, in The Sydney Morning Herald, vegetarianism. I would never have pegged him for such a thing. Make of the result what you will:

    http://www.smh.com.au/comment/from-arnold-schwarzenegger-to-tuyu-the-buffalo-the-future-of-protein-is-not-meat-20151213-glmerq.html

  13. Newtownian
    December 13th, 2015 at 21:54 | #13

    Sorry John, but one thing you learn to recognize when you work on the ground in environmental management is hollow Memoranda of Understanding that tweak and weasel the facts and the money to create an illusion something is happenning.

    This is exactly what I saw in the summary in The Conversation right down to Fabius’s nostrums.

    Paris is a watershed but not in the way you suggest. This will be the point where a majority of people who wish to be involved in the change and give up on ‘representative’s’ capacity to take a to take the lead.

    And it appears that James Hansen agrees. Already noted above but here is the link.

  14. Newtownian
    December 13th, 2015 at 22:04 | #14

    @Ikonoclast
    I have to second that comment on weather vane politics, the classic illustration for me is how Stockholm 72 about sustaining the natural world morphed in the Rio sustainability conference which in turn morphed into Rio20+ sustaining the current economic system under euphemisms like adaptation, green growth, circular economy and heaven knows what next.

  15. Newtownian
    December 13th, 2015 at 22:51 | #15

    Finally at the risk of being boring here is perhaps the best spin that can be put on COP21 by the dread Georgen Monbiot.

    His thesis is:
    – on the plus side that COP21 outcome is as good and possibly better than could have been expected all things considered.
    – on the downside the result is miserably inadequate especially when it is recognized that negotiation wise little progress has been made since Kyoto.

    And herein lies the continuing problem which is eating away at nominally progressive politicians like a cancer.

    Its the bigger reality that is important and would mark the change needed, not another round of MOUs. The latter were provisionally ok as a start 20 years ago at Kyoto. But our leaders and key advisors have proved in that time they are nothing of the sort in the field of environmental impact mitigation of which climate issues are only one group.

    My favorite memory of this lack of vision is still Kevin Rudd in 2007 when confronted with his and his wife driving a pair of gas guzzler 4WDs and how inconsistent this was with climate change said words to the effect of “oops I’d better change to (lightly less guzzling) Camry hybrids” even before Labor showed its commitment was as half hearted as the coalition’S.

    While Monbiot doesnt present evidence to support this we now so much evidence that substantive change is still just a promise – to list a few factoids:
    – continued land clearing and burning in the tropics recently in Indonesia
    – the domination of the Australian car fleet by gas guzzling 4WDs bigger then anything in the 1970s when we had our first oil shocks
    – the Australian government climate change report that lauded Australia’s reduced emission but failed to highlight the caveat that our industrial emissions across the board had risen 40% since 1990 and no change in infrastructure was in place.
    – reductions in US and UK CO2 emissions can be accounted for by transfer of manufacturing off shore particularly to China.
    – the muting of Turnbull’s climate change mitigation rhetoric during his time as a minister in Abbot’s government and since his own ascendancy.
    – the continued dominance of the growth paradigm among economists (I’m thinking of a personal left leaning socially concerned acquaintance rather than JQ).

    These ‘Indicators’ for me speak volumes locally. And on the global scale concentration continues to rise. It would be good if JQ were revisit COP21 each year on this anniversary for the next 5 years to see if anything substantive had been achieved and show me to be unduly pessimisstic.

  16. jrkrideau
    December 14th, 2015 at 00:17 | #16

    @Robert (not from UK)
    Until recently, meat has always been the most efficient way of producing protein for human consumption and nutrition.

    Where did he get this from? And when is recently– up till the invention of the plough or earlier foraging techniques? I get the impression that Paul Sheehan really knows nothing about vegitarianism. Definitely a confused column.

    And for your dining enjoyment may I suggest w.amazon.ca/The-Insect-Cookbook-Sustainable-Planet/dp/0231166842

  17. December 14th, 2015 at 00:25 | #17

    I agree with John and Val that this is a turning point. The recognition of climate justice issues, even though weak, gets all countries engaged; the monitoring is important for encouraging everyone; and the framework and timelines agreed to are consistent with a bold attempt to actually solve the problem. The 1.5C commitment is particularly important because anything higher would have meant that essentially the developed nations were telling the Pacific Islands and coastal developing nations to drown, without any offer of support. I think this agreement needs to be seen in the context of agreements like Montreal and the FCTC. It isn’t necessarily the specifics of the agreement that count, but the clear commitment by the majority of the world’s countries to do something about the problem with a shared framework for action.

    It’s not enough but it’s much better than I was expecting and it is a real impetus for real action. Also the INDCs at the conference show that we are committed, probably, to a maximum of 3C warming with business as usual. Even a small amount of additional effort means we may actually be able to avoid civilization collapse. That’s a surprise to me and I’m very happy to hear it.

  18. Ivor
    December 14th, 2015 at 07:39 | #18

    @faustusnotes

    Unfortunately given the risks from greenhouse gas emissions – only specifics count.

    Everything else is eye-wash.

    A “shared framework for action” is what politicians present when they are unable to deliver actual action.

  19. Ikonoclast
    December 14th, 2015 at 07:52 | #19

    While welcoming the agreement, James Renwick, Professor of Physical Geography at VUW and IPCC Lead Author writes;

    “However, the lack of any action during the 20+ years of the COP process to date means that we are now in an urgent and very serious situation. This is still not fully addressed in the Paris Agreement. Targets remain voluntary and the required (but unspecified) actions remain daunting.”

    http://paristext2015.com/2015/12/guest-editorial-james-renwick/

    James Renwick maintains a measured tone but behind this he is saying matters are now very serious indeed.

  20. Mark Lillywhite
    December 14th, 2015 at 09:04 | #20

    For my part I think that the outcome is great, not because of the direct actions of government, but because it gives some moral authority to those who object to investment in brown projects (coal etc) and simultaneously gives an impetus to investment in renewables.

    Ultimately, greenhouse gas emissions are driven by commercial interests and regardless of what we think about that, the summit sends a fairly clear signal for change. There is an enormous amount of money to be made in the transformation to a carbon neutral economy – far more than extraction – and I think this summit has removed the powerful impediments to investment in this area. That can’t be anything other than great!

  21. Aardvark
    December 14th, 2015 at 09:30 | #21

    It appears we created a giant global cartel where the members agree to do certain things to meet a defined target/production level. At the same time a large proportion of the membership is going to subsidise cheap energy of competitor nations.

    Interesting to so how individual nations set their own targets and what policies they put in place and what will be the consequences of not meeting them. Like all cartels members will have an incentive to cheat the qouta if they can do so at the expense of other members.

  22. Ikonoclast
    December 14th, 2015 at 10:22 | #22

    From Climate Nexus “CARBON BUDGETS – Science, Context and Background.

    http://climatenexus.org/sites/default/files/article/CarbonBudget.pdf

    This paper illustrates the clear contradictions between our economic system and what is actually required to prevent dangerous climate change. Pay particular attention to the paragraphs under the heading “Challenge: Stranded Fossil Fuel Reserves”.

    Known fossil fuel reserves are already double what we can safely burn to remain within a carbon budget. Our economy has a serious “carbon bubble” in economic terms (let alone in environmental terms). This entails a lot of wasted investment on assets which should now be regarded as stranded assets. There is even continued exploration for further fossil fuel resource assets which should of course all remain stranded if we are to ever meet even a 2 degree target.

    When we compare a piece of paper MOU to the aggregate complex system of real economy plus political economy plus financial economy and the combined investments, commitments and momentum of all, the CO2 abatement task looks well beyond the functional capability of the current poltico-economic system. As Naomi Klein says, we need system change to get the real change.

  23. James Wimberley
    December 14th, 2015 at 10:24 | #23

    The latest emissions data and the fall in coal consumption in China mean that analyses based on the INDCs is too pessimistic, since these include China’s over-cautious target of peaking by 2030, rather than yesterday.

    Jim Hansen is a great and courageous scientist but also an ass in politics. His team win an amazing victory in getting the 1.5 degree target, even if it’s only an aspiration, and he denounces it as worthless because there’s no carbon tax.

  24. Ikonoclast
    December 14th, 2015 at 11:31 | #24

    @James Wimberley

    No, I disagree. To be an ass in politics is to bow to the false group-think rather than to keep pointing it out. The Emperor, the economic system, now acknowledges it has no climate clothes, yet still refuses to do anything real about it. The job is only half done. Hansen is right to keep pushing on the issue.

  25. John Quiggin
    December 14th, 2015 at 11:57 | #25

    @22 While it’s true that money is still being spent on exploration for oil, budgets have been cut in half since 2013, and are likely to fall further. According to this story, new discoveries are only replacing half the amount being extracted, and many companies have virtually given up on exploration

    http://fuelfix.com/blog/2015/10/12/tph-many-oil-companies-virtually-abandoning-exploration/#34823101=0

  26. Ikonoclast
    December 14th, 2015 at 12:17 | #26

    @John Quiggin

    That is true as far as it goes. However, since our known reserves are about twice as large as the allowable fossil fuel consumption to reach 2 degrees warming (let alone 1.5), would it not be rational and efficient to cease ALL coal and oil exploration right now (or even earlier!)? Markets can stay irrational longer than environments can sustain them long term.

  27. ZM
    December 14th, 2015 at 13:11 | #27

    I think the climate conference in Paris has had about as good an outcome as could have been expected, and has overall been positive even if it isn’t enough in itself to fix climate change.

    The goal of 1.5 degrees is good news, as some earlier agreements mentioned vaguely that the target should be in line with science, but a number below 2 degrees hasn’t been mentioned in the agreements before.

    Its a shame that the national commitments at this stage are not enough to stay within the 1.5 degrees goal, but that was known before the conference.

    The 5 year time frame for assessing national goals and efforts is a good idea, and I am glad the first one is in 2018 rather than 2020, which means that 2018 can become a target for civil society efforts to get national commitments into line with the goal of 1.5 degrees, which should keep up momentum.

    The side events have taken on a life of their own now — and a lot of these were very promising, like 100% renewable cities, and an interesting new network was launched the “Global Zero Carbon Practitioners Network” made up of science and technical organisations focused on plans for zero carbon (Beyond Zero Emissions, negaWatt, Track 0, World Future Council, Zero Carbon Britain, the Tyndall Institute, the Nordic Folkcenter for Renewable Energy and INFORSE).

    In terms of the livestock issue mentioned in the SMH, that is a real issue. Livestock contributes the bulk of agricultural GHG emissions from the production side (estimated at around 14.5-18% in a 100 year time frame assessment*) and including consumption and transport etc food is responsible for around 30% of GHG emissions. Moving to lower animal product consumption diets in line with decreasing livestock for climate change would also have co-benefits from a health point of view. Also how livestock is farmed can contribute to lower GHG emissions, livestock should be organised in a way more reminiscent of nature with movement across a landscape (by using electrical fences is how farmers do this) like natural herds so as not to let the plants become eaten down too much or the soil get too compacted — this would allow for more trees and shrubbery in livestock areas which would help meet biodiversity goals.

    * Agricultural emissions are one of the difficult emissions to count. This is due to methane acting differently in the atmosphere than carbon. If you work it out for a 100 year time frame livestock accounts from around 14.5-18% (or so) of GHG emissions — but if you work it out for a 20 year time frame it rises to up to about 50% (or so) of GHG emissions — this difference is due to methane dissipating in the atmosphere after a few decades in comparison to carbon’s longer atmospheric life.

    There is a related issue of what to count as agricultural emissions. For instance, if you are doing a life cycle analysis of greenhouse gas emissions would you count cutting down forests for agricultural land or burning forests and savannahs? some studies do, and some studies don’t, so the numbers vary widely in comparison to other figures.

  28. John Goss
    December 14th, 2015 at 15:14 | #28

    We have turned a corner in the last year as John says, and nothing illustrates it better than Clive Hamilton’s pieces (links below). Clive has always been a bit of a curmudgeon and one would never accuse him of being an optimist on the prospects of change coming quickly enough to prevent major damage. But he recognises that big business is moving as are many other actors like city mayors.
    https://theconversation.com/the-earth-has-moved-big-businesss-radical-climate-shift-is-now-unstoppable-52119
    On the other hand Clive accepts that the pessimistic view still has a lot of evidence behind it, so to declare victory now would be premature. There has been a turning point in this last year, but the world could turn again. https://theconversation.com/good-deal-or-bad-emotional-turmoil-as-paris-climate-talks-draw-to-a-close-52243

  29. Jim Birch
    December 14th, 2015 at 16:22 | #29

    I guess I should have been over it years ago, but once again I’m surprised by the rusted-on negative responses on this page. I’m not sure exactly what anyone was expecting but it seems to be absolute pie-in-the-sky stuff. Seriously, was China for example, or anyone else for that matter, going to sign up to a externally enforceable system based on monitoring mechanisms that don’t exist?

    This seems quite a cultural move from the last meeting. The denialist position has passed into the political fringe. There is a general and firm commitment to the 1.5 degree target. The culture has moved on from you-first. The five year review process got accepted, which provides enforcement-by-shame.

    A big positive for me is exactly what the detractors see as failure: the recognition that a centrally mandated one-size-fits-all enforcement protocol is not going to work and we shouldn’t be waiting for a magical agreement. It has so far proven to be recipe for endless argumentation with every country pushing for the special consideration. This actually pushes the onus back on individual countries to achieve carbon neutral economies themselves – in what is a fairly rapid time frame considering the magnitude of the change – as per their unequivocal statement of commitment.

  30. John Goss
    December 14th, 2015 at 17:03 | #30

    One should never give up hope Jim. If Clive Hamilton can move from his rusted-on negative position to a more variegated paradoxical position then there is hope for the posters on this blog. (I’m very tempted to say Clive has moved to a more ‘nuanced’ position but I know both Clive and John would object. I loved the ‘F..k nuance’ piece by Healy that John has previously linked to).

  31. Donald Oats
    December 14th, 2015 at 18:59 | #32

    We had Westpac CEO stating that if their criteria were satisfied, they would invest in coal (mining).

    I think the message we need to send out as loudly and clearly as we can to business is that any spending on coal mining and/or coal use for fuel, electricity, is a guaranteed risk waiting to blow up in their faces, that they are taking on board. There will be law suits fought over this, as people and countries cotton on to the fact that corporations involved in funding or in using coal are endangering all of us. If the CEOs of big banks like Westpac go down this path, well they’d better believe it that compensation is going to be a big issue, as all the world’s major financial corporations are patently aware of the direct connection between coal and climate change damages—and, now that COP21 has really put it on the front page around the world, everybody else knows this too.

    There are no longer good reasons for “investing” in coal; yet, both the LNP and the ALP have claimed that there is always a place for coal in our energy future. No, there is not. Our party leaders need to break this news to the coal industry, and search for ways of enabling coal workers to manage a transition to other lines of work.

    If we want to keep to the parameters for which the climate changes don’t spiral out into some vicious cycle of reinforcing feedbacks, we really can’t risk getting to the 860GtCO2 of remaining admissible emissions (if we are to have a decent chance of keeping below a 2C increase in global temperature). At our current emissions output trajectory, that target is blown by 2031 to 2033, which isn’t far away. Even if we accept a lower probability of staying under 2C, the budget is blown by 2045 or thereabouts.

    It’s no longer good enough for any political leader to be saying that there is always a place for coal, as if there is a viable future for it. The only way there is a viable future in it is if we keep playing the coal lobby’s game, leaving the door open when it should already have been firmly shut.

  32. James Wimberley
    December 14th, 2015 at 19:06 | #33

    @Donald Oats
    There is one way to offer a future to the oil and coal companies: produce as much as you like – and sequester all the carbon, ton for ton.

  33. John Goss
    December 14th, 2015 at 19:24 | #34

    I don’t know Donald why you need to prosecute your case with such black and white thinking. Coal is not the devil incarnate. We need to reduce coal use quickly, and move to net negative carbon emission over the next few decades, but some coal use, especially coking coal, will still be useful as we make the transition. And even when we get to net negative carbon emissions, there may still be a minor role for coal as long as it is offset.

  34. Ikonoclast
    December 14th, 2015 at 19:34 | #35

    “Fossil fuels are reaping $550 billion a year in subsidies and holding back investment in cleaner forms of energy, the International Energy Agency said.” – Bloomberg Business, 2014.

    How soon are governments going to end fossil fuel subsidies? That would be a minimum condition for realistic action. It’s good economic practice too to remove market-distorting subsidies.

    Also, why do trade agreements have teeth (ISDS) but climate change prevention arrangements have no teeth at all? This is a very revealing anomaly. It shows that agreements can be given teeth when certain parties want it. Clearly, the major players wanted a show-piece MOU with no teeth.

  35. Donald Oats
    December 14th, 2015 at 19:40 | #36

    @James Wimberley
    Right you are, right you are.

    And they should sequester it underneath the CEOs’ homes, in “secure” geological formations.

  36. December 14th, 2015 at 20:01 | #37

    John Goss there is a big difference between moving to net negative emissions and zero. If we move to zero within the 1.5C deadlines and within our carbon budget we have room to spare and we can take our time about carefully developing carbon sinks that are safe. But a move to negative emissions, in order to enable us to overshoot our carbon budget using coal in teh short term, has huge risks, most particularly:
    1) if you overshoot hte carbon budget you lock in the warming associated with that budget – it takes centuries to unwind warming associated with any total carbon budget
    2) we’re going to need a fairly large amount of currently undeveloped sinks in order to get to zero emissions permanently, in order to offset certain industries that can’t go carbon neutral (agriculture, cement, smelting and air travel). Adding additional sinks to undo past extravagance is going to be really difficult
    3) given 2, if we get to that point, the temptation to go for untested geoengineering without proper time to assess the risks will be great and the consequences potentially huge.

    We need to phase out coal as quickly as possible so we don’t find ourselves contemplating point 3.

  37. Ikonoclast
    December 14th, 2015 at 20:45 | #38

    Can we make steel without coal? The answer is complicated and a qualified “yes, maybe”. See the article below.

    https://coalactionnetworkaotearoa.wordpress.com/2013/04/24/can-we-make-steel-without-coal/

    But we can make huge strides in dropping coal use by;

    (a) ceasing use of thermal coal;
    (b) recycling iron and steel even more;
    (c) using some natural gas in steel making.

    Cement making is another issue of this type. Standard processes result in the release of CO2.

  38. John Goss
    December 14th, 2015 at 20:45 | #39

    Faustusnote. I wasn’t arguing that we move to negative emissions to enable us to overshoot our carbon budget. I think we will need to move to negative emissions to enable us to reduce the carbon emissions we have already put into the system. So the more quickly we can reduce all fossil fuel burning the better, as it means there is less of a mess to clean up with negative emissions.
    The only point I was trying to make was that there will be some coal use (and oil and gas use) for a long time into the future, but that is OK as long as it is only necessary use and as long as it is offset.

  39. Ivor
    December 14th, 2015 at 21:11 | #40

    @John Goss

    So what is the timeline for moving to negative emissions?

    What mechanism do you know that creates global negative emissions?

  40. Ivor
    December 14th, 2015 at 21:14 | #41

    @faustusnotes

    So where are these undeveloped sinks?

    How many Gigatonnes can they sink by 2020?

  41. John Goss
    December 14th, 2015 at 22:07 | #42

    Ivor
    It will indeed take some time to move to zero net emissions. Hopefully by 2040. We achieve negative emissions through more trees and algae. And perhaps fertilising the ocean might work. I am not opposed to geoengineering options if they are done carefully.

  42. December 14th, 2015 at 22:42 | #43

    Ivor, I have consistently argued on this blog that those sinks are going to be very hard to find and develop, and so we need to move aggressively to cut emissions so that we have as much space as possible for residual emissions from agriculture and cement in our budget. I’m arguing with John Goss that we have limited sinks available, and we should commit them to offsetting unavoidable emissions – shipping and agriculture getting priority – rather than squandering them on coal. For the same reason I think it is criminal of Japan adn Germany to close functioning nuclear power plants – whether or not you think new nuclear is a good idea or viable, closing functioning plants is just increasing the work that land use changes and reforestation have to do.

    I think most people on this blog are more optimistic than me about the potential for carbon sinks, and I count JQ amongst the optimists.

  43. Ivor
    December 14th, 2015 at 23:00 | #44

    @John Goss

    Most trees stop acting as nett sinks when they mature and deforestation is exceeding reafforestation – particularly in Queensland. Planting trees does not even offset the emissions we have today.

    Generally algae is being developed as a biofuel. This is not negative emission because the CO2 is re-emitted when the fuel is used.

    Where do you store 100 years worth of 2-4 gigatonnes of algae product?

  44. Ivor
    December 14th, 2015 at 23:03 | #45

    @faustusnotes

    Current limited carbon sinks are becoming saturated.

    Google: carbon sinks saturated

    These so-called optimists are sailing on the Titanic.

  45. December 14th, 2015 at 23:34 | #46

    I agree Ivor. Which is why I think we need rapid reductions now so that we can take our time tailing off the hardest industries later.

  46. John Goss
    December 15th, 2015 at 06:35 | #47

    Ivor
    I agree that as we understand it now, there is not much of a carbon sink in new forests. But some genetic engineering might help.
    With algae I would grow it in sea water pumped up onto the Australian desserts, and just leave it there, rather than burn it.

  47. Ivor
    December 15th, 2015 at 07:13 | #48

    I would think that if gigatonnes of suitable algae can be removed from the environment, then this may have relevance.

    However the specifics are missing. Algae is not an inert form of carbon and if spread in the open air in large quantities (or even in pits) – it would be colonised by microbes, fungi and insects.

    These release CO2 see for example: FUNGUS CO2

  48. December 15th, 2015 at 09:48 | #49

    Something that has received little attention is that in or around 2013 the world passed peak steel and peak aluminium. Because both these metals are very recyclable we are unlikely to ever use as much iron ore, bauxite, or coke again. This is of course good news for reducing carbon emissions.

    Can we make steel without coal? Of course. (The article Ikonoclast linked to mentions wood but doesn’t mention the fact that Brazil has produced millions of tonnes of steel using wood charcoal.) With a high enough carbon price lower emission methods of steel production will be used.

    A moderate carbon price will also greatly reduce emissions from cement making. This is because coal ash is currently added to concrete in order to cure it. But with a suitable carbon price either no coal ash would be added and the concrete would be allowed to cure slowly and absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, or they would use ash from a biolgical source instead. And with a high enough carbon price, cement/concrete making and steel making would go completely carbon neutral.

  49. December 15th, 2015 at 13:27 | #50

    Looking into cement making, I see it is a bit more complex then I made it out to be. Only non-hydraulic cement absorbs CO2 from the air. Hydraulic cement, the stuff that cures under water doesn’t, and that would be the bulk of cement used in the world today. And that has coal ash added to it because it’s cheap and while not cement itself helps bind it together. But people have looked into plenty of ways to make cement manufactuer less CO2 intensive and with a carbon price various methods will be put into practice. Just what exactly will be done will depend on the how high the carbon price is, but people have made various types of concrete that are carbon neutral that may end up being used.

Comments are closed.