Mitigation Technology: Half full or nearly empty?

A paper by Christopher Green in the February issue of Nature Climate Change titled, “Mitigation Technology: Half full or nearly empty?” provides a critique and brief summary of the “Key Indicators…” document described in an earlier post.  It asks the critical question, is the world currently on track to meet the global climate challenge?  The authors answer is simply, “it is difficult to be sanguine”.  Several concerns are highlighted:

  1. While there has been a significant increase in non-hydro renewable energy (namely wind and solar) in the past 15 years, it still accounts for only 2.8% of global energy consumption and has been almost completely offset by a 2.0% reduction in nuclear energy. The net effect is that the share of fossil energy in global energy consumption has remained almost constant between 86% and 87% throughout the period 2000 and 2015.
  2. Absent a significant breakthrough in large-scale energy storage technology, any substantial increase in wind and solar will require a parallel increase in back-up capacity, generally from fossil fuel “spinning reserves”.
  3. If the primary objective of the Paris Climate Agreement of holding the global temperature increase to “well below 2oC” is to have any chance of being met, it will be necessary to reduce carbon emissions by at least 80% between now and the year 2050. This requires an average annual rate of decline in carbon emissions of ~5.0 %.  If the global GDP grows at an annual rate of 2-to-3% per year then the carbon intensity of economic activity would have to decline at a rate of 7-to-8% per year.  (This is some 3 to 4 times the rate of decline experienced during the period 2010-2015.)

Key Indicators of Progress on the Paris Agreement

A paper published in the February 2017 issue of Nature Climate Change, entitled “Key indicators to track current progress and future ambition of the Paris Agreement”, outlines a method whereby it would be possible to track how well country-level progress is being made in achieving the goals set forth in the Paris Climate Agreement.  The method outlined is based on the so-called “Kaya identity” which relates CO2 emissions to the product of GDB, energy intensity of GDP, and carbon intensity of energy.  It further decomposes the carbon intensity of energy into the share of fossil fuels in total use and carbon intensity of fossil-fuel combustion.

The authors apply the method to data covering the period 1990 through 2015 for China, the USA, the EU28 countries, India and “the rest of the world”.  Interestingly, the analysis demonstrates that the decline in the carbon intensity of fuel which has occurred within the US in recent years is due more to the substitution of natural gas for coal than it is to the expansion of renewable energy.  The EU carbon intensity decline is dominated by the growing share of renewables.

The study also shows that, “Although there has been strong growth in solar and wind power recently, the growth in global energy use has largely been dominated by increases in fossil-fuel use and, to a lesser extent by nuclear and hydropower.”

The study goes on to conclude that, “although many key indicators are currently broadly consistent with emission scenarios that keep temperatures below 2oC, the continued lack of large-scale carbon capture and storage threatens 2030 targets and the longer-term Paris ambition of net-zero emissions”.

 

 

A Major New Assessment of the Paris Climate Agreement

The primary objective of the climate agreement reached in Paris in December of 2015 is to limit global warming to “well below 2o C (3.6oF)” and to “pursue efforts” to limit warming to 1.5oC.  In order to achieve that objective, countries submitted information outlining the efforts that they were willing and able to make beginning in 2020 to reduce global warming.  In total, some 160 “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs)” were submitted in preparation for the Paris conference.   It became evident during the course of the Paris Conference, based on preliminary analyses performed by several organizations, that the INDCs were not sufficient to meet the stated objective of holding global warming to less than 2oC.

A new and comprehensive assessment of the Paris Agreement was published on 30 June 2016 in the journal Nature.  The title of the publication is, “Paris Agreement climate proposals need a boast to keep warming well below 2oC”.  The conclusion reached is that even if all of the INDC’s are fully met, and that “climate action continues after 2030 at the level of ambition that is similar to that of the INDCS”, there is 50% probability that global warming will exceed 2.7oC by 2100.  Moreover, there is a 34% probability that global warming will exceed 3.0oC and a 10% probability that it will exceed 3.7oC.

Unfortunately, the results summarized above are based on the most optimistic of the four scenarios examined in the study!  Arguably, as the study demonstrates, under less optimistic assumptions concerning mitigation efforts, global warming could exceed 4oC by 2100.

The study concludes that even if all of the INDCs are fully implemented, global greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 will reach approximately 53 billion tons of CO2e per year, which is well in excess of current emission levels.   Moreover, the cumulative carbon budget necessary to keep global warming to less than 2oC will be “virtually exhausted” by 2030.

The only scenarios that are consistent with the 2oC objective require: (1) the complete phase out of CO2 emissions from energy production and industrial applications within the time span of approximately 30 years, and (2) the rapid deployment on an industrial scale of negative emission technologies that are capable of removing vast amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere and sequestering it geologically.   By 2050 it would be necessary to capture and sequester approximately 10 billion tons of CO2 per year.

The study concludes that, “substantial enhancements or over-delivery on current INDCs by additional national, sub-national and non-state actions is required to maintain a reasonable chance of meeting the target of keeping warming well below 2oC”.

Our Perspective:

It is hard to underestimate the significance of this study.  It provides a comprehensive and accurate assessment of the current climate crisis.  The only rational conclusion that one can draw is that the principal objective of the Paris Agreement of holding the increase in global warming to “well below 2oC” simply cannot be achieved.  It is naïve in the extreme to believe that there is some magical set of “enhancements” to the INDC’s that will be adopted during the coming decade that will somehow result in a “reasonable chance” of meeting the 2oC objective.

The continued pursuit of a goal that is clearly unattainable is a fool’s errand!  The development of increasingly fanciful emissions scenarios based on progressively less realistic technological assumptions is highly counterproductive.   It conveys the impression that the scientific community is simply out of touch with reality, and as consequence leads many to believe, wrongly, that the underlying climate science itself is similarly suspect.

It is time for the scientific and engineering community to state openly and unequivocally that human civilization is entering a new and admittedly dangerous climate era – and that there is no realistic way to limit global warming to 2oC.   Effort needs to be re-directed toward finding ways to minimize the impact of the pending climate crisis and to focus on finding realistic ways to rapidly phase out the use of fossil fuels, even if the 2oC objective is no longer obtainable.

 

 

 

 

Global CO2 Emissions Projected to Reach 43 Billion Tons Per Year by 2040

The International Energy Outlook 2016 (IEO2016) recently released by the US Energy Information Agency (EIA) projects that world energy consumption will rise from 549 quadrillion BTU in 2012 to 815 quadrillion BTU in 2040, an increase of approximately 48%.

The document makes clear that economic growth and population growth are the key determinants of growth of energy demand.  In that regard, it is worth noting that the IEA assumes that the world’s GDP will more than double during the next 25 years, growing at an average annual rate of 3.2%.  The EIA’s economic growth assumptions are generally in line with recent IMF and World Bank projections.

Renewable energy is expected to be the fastest-growing energy source, increasing by 2.6% per year through 2040, followed by nuclear energy which increases at an average annual rate of 2.3%.  Unfortunately, fossil fuel use also increases during this time period.  Natural gas consumption is projected to increases at an annual rate of 1.9%.  Petroleum and other liquid fuels consumption increases from 90 million barrels per day in 2012 to 121 billion barrels per day in 2040, an average annual increase of approximately 1.1% per year.  Coal consumption also continues to increase, albeit at a slower rate of 0.6% per year.  The net effect is that fossil fuels will still account for 78% of energy use in 2040.

Because of the increase in fossil fuel use, world energy-related CO2 emissions are expected to rise from 32.2 billion metric tons in 2012 to 43.2 billion metric tons in 2040 – an increase of 34% over the reference period. Continue reading

US Wind Capacity Update

US wind capacity increased by 8.6 GW during 2015, bringing the total installed capacity to approximately 74.5 GW according to the American Wind Energy Association.  During the past five years wind capacity has increased by 54%.  There are currently more than 52,000 wind turbines in operation in the US.  During 2015, wind energy provided about 4.5% of the electrical energy generated within the US.  Continue reading

Key Elements of the “Paris Agreement” On Climate Change

On 12 June 2015, the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) adopted what is called the “Paris Agreement”.  This Agreement will be open to ratification from 22 April 2016 to 21 April 2017 and will enter into force 30 days after ratification by 55 Parties to the Agreement representing at least 55% of global emissions.  The following is a brief summary of the key elements of the Paris Agreement.  The complete Agreement can be found HERE. Continue reading

Can Global Warming be Limited to a Maximum of 2oC ?

One of the great scientific myths of this century is that there exists a large number of “magical” solutions to the climate problem that would limit global warming to less than 2oC using technologies that are currently available and economically feasible if only the political will existed to implement those technologies on a massive scale.  Within the last six months, the scientific and engineering community has begun to openly express doubts as to the feasibility of virtually all of these “magical” solutions. [In fairness, many people within the scientific and engineering communities have long harbored doubts concerning the feasibility of the 2oC objective but have hesitated , for a variety of reasons, to openly express those doubts .]

Continue reading