But world governments must open their wallets first
Guest Blog Post by Tamar Cerafici*
This is my last post from Sweden, as things heat up for the climate change conference next month in Copenhagen which is just across a narrow body of water (left) called the Kattegatt.
A bit of history: the Kattegatt is an interesting maritime formation, where the Baltic Sea flows through narrow and shallow straits before it joins the north sea. Dutch mariners called it the "Cat's Hole" because it was so narrow and shallow that even a cat would have difficulty squeezing its way between the reefs and narrow passages.
Copenhagen lies at one of the narrowest points of this treacherous course (the honor for narrowest goes to Elsinore, where Sweden's shores are a mere 2.5 km northeast ).
There will be some interesting goings-on at the climate change talks in Copenhagen next month.
Some, like the Guardian, have already hinted the something is rotten in Denmark, or at least in predictions of the World Energy Outlook (WEO), the leading energy forecast prepared for the 15th round of climate change talks since the international community sang kumbaya in Rio.
Rotten or no, the WEO is grim
The international community as a whole has failed to make adequate infrastructure changes to support a meaningful response to climate change. Developed nations have, in fact, cut back on energy investments that would contribute to reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
The International Energy Agency (IEA), publisher of the report, clearly recognizes the world Is in a deep recession and life is miserable on many fronts. It also recognizes that with the recession carbon emissions have gone down, and the international community has a unique opportunity to make the investments it needs to meaningfully address climate change this time around.
With the recession carbon emissions have fallen to the point that there is some breathing room. Investments have fallen, too.
Time for a low-carbon revolution
This is a problem. With the lack of capital the impact on more efficient use of energy is seen when a household keeps an old refrigerator and our energy security rises when exploration ceases and low carbon projects are shut down.
Sure, households and private industry must make significant Investments. But governments must also step up to the plate. They set national and international policy – households and industry don’t.
Governments hold the keys to changing the mix of energy development. Only governments can make the national and international policy framework that can steer Investment and consumption decisions to low carbon options.
An alarming fossil energy path
This is big news, because the economists behind the WEO don't generally get terribly excited, or political. They are this year.
For example, one set of predictions, the Reference Scenario, assumes that no changes are made in world energy policy. The Reference Scenario predicts that increased fossil fuel use (arguably as a result of our failure to invest now) moves us "inexorably" towards a long-term concentration of GHG in the atmosphere that will cause a 6° C rise in global average temperature. Sea rise follows as day follows night.
Increased reliance on imports from countries that still have fossil fuel will adversely affect energy security worldwide.
Moreover, failure to invest now will lock us into high carbon energy use for years to come as a result of long engineering, procurement and construction lead times for most low carbon alternatives.
Limit global temperature rise to 2° C
The IEA lays out a clear plan for avoiding Doomsday. This is going to require aggressive commitments in international agreements and national policies, and apparently some militancy from the developing world.
And it’s easier said than done.
The UN’s Barcelona run-up to Copenhagen two weeks ago wanted the developed nations to commit to reductions of 25-40% of GHG by 2020. It’s been difficult for industrialized nations to commit, so the African delegations boycotted the meeting. An entire continent walked out for a day.
In response, a US negotiator accused the boycotting countries of refusing to accept responsibility for immediate action. Really?
Governments must fund the global revolution
The happier "450 scenario," where governments agree to limit global rise in temperature to 2° C, is based on an international investment of around $10.5 trillion over the period between now and 2030; in the long term the investment would be returned on the sale of carbon credits, increased health, and energy security benefits. Short term government investment - in the form of stimulus efforts is crucial.
The cost averages out to an annualized investment of about $50 billion for the US, with similar commitments required from other industrialized countries. The G-20 finance ministers couldn't even agree to that last week.
Governments must commit to aggressive action
Globally, the challenge is to find the right tools and incentives to insure that developing countries will reduce their carbon emissions. The likelihood of this happening in Copenhagen is as grim as the WEO.
Nationally, at least in the US, the politics of climate change must change.
Coal state Democrats are threatening to scuttle the Senate climate change bill, likely limiting the effectiveness of US participation in Copenhagen. In any case, it is unlikely there will be any Senate action worth talking about when the climate conference kicks off.
A “thumbs up” for nuclear
The WEO notes that the low carbon revolution must be supported by increases in renewables (72% by 2030), nuclear (19%), and carbon sequestration.
Fatih Birol, the economist who prepared the report, said that nuclear energy would not be a “bridge technology” like natural gas. Instead, nuclear energy is going to play a “crucial role” in the 450 Scenario.
In fact, the report gives an unequivocal thumbs up to nuclear, noting: "Nuclear technology is the only large-scale, baseload electricity generation technology with a near-zero carbon footprint, apart from hydropower (potential for which is often limited).”
Good news on the global front. Now, if the US delegation, the administration, and Congress will pay attention, we can have a nuclear renaissance here.
Actually, I don’t think we have a choice. But if the Dutch traders could successfully navigate the Kattegatt, it’s possible that we can make it through the dangerous waters ahead.
Tamar Jergensen Cerafici, firstname.lastname@example.org
(She is currently on travel in Sweden)
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