Thursday, May 21, 2015

De-carbonization—the new buzzword in climate change policy?

Today we have a cheery little piece from Deutsche Welle about the issues facing the upcoming climate change conference in Paris this Fall.  Keep in mind here that DW is an organ of the German government and that only a tiny handful of countries even come close to taking the issues of climate change as seriously as do the Germans.  So this article is about as enlightened as elected governments and mainstream media get.

We are in such trouble!  Start with the historically obvious fact that the climate change conferences have accomplished absolutely nothing of substance since that first one in Berlin in 1995.  I have charted the atmospheric CO2 concentrations against these well-intentioned but ultimately irrelevant conferences since then. So will Paris 2015 accomplish anything of substance?  I bet NO!

(click to enlarge)

There is one hopeful note.  The idea of decarbonization seems to have finally gotten a spot on the agenda.  Apparently, decarbonization is just a fancy term for doing away with fire—a strategy so obvious it occurred to me in the late 1980s.  Unfortunately, this is listed as a long-term goal, NOT a stop-everything-else-and-let's-do-it immediate objective.  So if you remove the possibility for a real solution, everything else is just window dressing.  Oh well, at least the Paris Conference attendees will have some excellent restaurants to choose from.

The we're-wrong-about-everything-else IMF has weighed in and their "solution" is to stop the $5.3 trillion in subsidies granted the fossil fuel industries.  Now I am sure that given a long enough time frame, making fuels more expensive will reduce demand.  In the meantime, such a move will cause enormous economic hardship for those of us who must either use fossil fuels or we die.  Learning to get along without fire will be the biggest cultural change in the history of the human race but our friends at IMF think that the problems will magically disappear with some tax-policy tinkering.

And of course, no one is even talking about the house-cleaning the economics profession must undertake to rid themselves of the austerity ghouls who preach belt-tightening when what we need is $trillions invested in the real economy.

Climate countdown: 200 days to Paris

DW  Irene Quaile  20.05.2015

Negotiators have just 200 days left to prepare for the key UN climate conference in Paris, tasked with a new global agreement to reduce CO2 emissions and limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. A tall order?

When the international community meets in Paris at the end of November, the pressure to succeed will be stronger than ever. Time is running short to come up with a new global agreement to halt climate change. In March, the global monthly average carbon dioxide concentration surpassed 400 parts per million. It was the first time in recorded history with such a high.

CO2, released into the atmosphere through the burning of coal, oil and gas, is one of the chief factors responsible for the rise in global temperature. As one of the chief greenhouse gases, countries have to reduce such emissions dramatically in order to achieve the goal set by the international community of keeping global warming to under 2 degrees Celsius, a benchmark seen as triggering potentially dangerous consequences.

Too big for one meeting

The United Nations Climate Secretariat UNFCCC - based in Bonn, Germany - is working around the clock to prepare for the key Paris meeting and ensure that governments put firm pledges on the table. The next round of preparatory talks will take place in Bonn early in June.

But climate change has become an issue on the agenda of other key international meetings. This week, Germany's Chancellor Merkel hosted the Petersberg Climate Dialogue in Berlin. The annual round of informal talks was launched in 2010, after the failed climate summit in Copenhagen the year prior.

Among the representatives of 35 countries attending were the president and foreign minister of France, which will host the key talks at the end of the year. Paris is also currently staging a Climate Week, which will include a high-level business summit to mark the "200 days" to Paris talks.

Decarbonization: a long-term goal

In a joint statement, Merkel and Hollande said they would strive, with all partners in the UN, "to decarbonize fully the global economy over the course of this century." That would mean a complete turn away from burning oil, gas and coal.

Merkel also expressed tentative support for a contentious coal levy, proposed by her cabinet to slash emissions from the most-polluting, soft-coal-burning plants in Germany. "We need credible fulfillment of our 40 percent goal, and I believe that the levy mechanism is one possibility," Merkel said Tuesday in Berlin.

Merkel stressed that the fight against climate change may not come at the expense of competitiveness and prosperity. "We cannot do without growth - we just have to generate it in a different way."

Hollande also stressed the need for low-emission technologies and "innovative ways to attract investment."

Both Merkel and Hollande emphasized that incentives for business were essential to "reach an ambitious, comprehensive and binding UN climate agreement by the end of this year."

Jennifer Morgan, Global Director of the Climate Program at the World Resources Institute (WRI), told DW that companies have a massive role to play. "Companies are the ones that can bring in innovation, out-compete each other to find the solutions," Morgan said. "They're the ones that can engage their consumers in the solution, as some companies are now doing."

Falling short for 2-degree target

And while there is no shortage of high-profile meetings with politicians stressing the need for rapid climate action, the pledges on the table so far are not sufficient to cut emissions to the level necessary to keep to the 2-degree target. Countries have been asked to put their figures on the table by October. So far, 38 countries have done so.

Morgan told DW there is still a gap between what has been promised and what is necessary. She said available solutions are not yet being deployed at the scale or speed required to accomplish an orderly transition to a low-carbon and climate-resilient economy.

"What Paris can help do is close that gap, both by getting stronger targets and commitments from countries," Morgan said. She added that the agreement itself should include a mechanism that will strengthen targets every five years, and aim toward a long-term goal of phasing out emissions by mid-century. "That type of ambition can send signals that can accelerate the pace of change - which is very much needed," Morgan concluded.

Positive signs

On the road to a new world climate agreement, there have been positive signals from the world's biggest emitters - China and the USA - with both agreeing to new limits on carbon emissions starting in 2025. China said its emissions would peak by 2030.

India, which is the world's number-three emitter of greenhouse gases, has been under pressure to come up with its own commitments. During a recent visit to China by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the two largest developing nations issued a rare joint statement calling on rich countries to increase their efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

China and India also urged wealthy countries to provide finance and technology to emerging countries to help them reduce their own emissions. They called on the developed world to honor its commitment to provide $100 billion per year by 2020 to developing countries already struggling with the impacts of climate change.

Historical debt?

Developing countries point out that the industrialized world is responsible for the rise of past emissions, and argue that it should therefore be primarily responsible for reducing emissions and funding climate adaptation in developing countries.

India, for instance, says it will focus on increased use of clean energy to fight the adverse effects of climate change - but cannot commit to emissions cuts as it still needs to industrialize to lift millions of people out of poverty.

The Paris conference aims to bring significant progress not only on cutting emissions, but also on financing adaptation to climate change and compensating developing nations for loss and damage as a result of climate change.

At the Berlin climate dialogue this week, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed that she would use the next G7 summit - to be hosted by Germany in June, and with an emphasis on several environmental issues - to remind her western partners of that funding pledge. She stressed the need to involve and support developing nations in the fight against climate change, saying global action taken in the next 15 years would be crucial.

Growing recognition of fossil-fuel costs

Experts agree that putting a global price on CO2, making it expensive to emit climate-harming gases, is a key instrument in the decarbonization process. Merkel has called for a reformed version of the European Union's Emissions Trading System (ETS), to be adopted globally. Earlier this month, the European Union agreed on a deal to start reforming the ETS from 2019, such as to raise the price of carbon pollution to a more restrictive level.

This week, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) published a new estimate on the "true cost of fossil fuels." It calculates that fossil fuel companies are benefitting from global subsidies of $5.3 trillion (4.8 trillion euros) a year - equivalent to $10 million for every minute of every day.

The IMF calculated the sum by including the costs incurred by governments through the burning of coal, oil and gas. These include the harm caused to local populations by air pollution, as well as to people around the globe affected by floods, droughts and storms driven by climate change.

The IMF - one of the world's most respected financial institutions - said that ending subsidies to fossil fuels would cut global carbon emissions by 20 percent.

No alternative

France's foreign minister Laurent Fabius, who will chair the key Paris summit, told the Petersberg Dialogue in Berlin that more countries were coming out in support of a long-term decarbonization goal, as part of the proposed UN climate pact.

The goal of Paris would be to limit warming to between 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius more than pre-industrial levels, said Fabius: "We must commit ourselves very resolutely, because there isn't an alternative solution - for the simple reason that there isn't an alternative planet."

German environment minister Barbara Hendricks spoke of a moral obligation to fight climate change, but stressed the need to take a long-term approach to "terminate the age of fossil fuels."

With just 200 days to go until the start of the two-week Paris meeting, the sobering assumption seems to be that the conference itself will not come up with enough pledges to keep to the 2-degree target, let alone the 1.5-degree target that many experts say would be a preferable goal.

Yet there is also widespread acknowledgement that there is no alternative to a world climate agreement. Mechanisms must somehow be put into place to steadily increase momentum in a transition to a low-carbon economy by the second half of this century. more


  1. Jonathan! It is time after decades of waiting for a greener future to be started by the institutions of energy/banking/govt for us to admit these institutions will not move forward until they are pushed by the loss of profit and power.

    For decades citizens worldwide have done numerous appeals and political action using the mainstream systems of voting/lobbying govt and energy companies to modernize only to see institutional pace is glacial as instead they protect their fossil-fuel investments.

    Even those bold early adopters who went ahead solo to buy their own household solar systems and dutifully attach to the grid only to receive a fractional payment for the energy supplied back to energy companies have now been rewarded by govts doing energy company bidding by slashing metering payments.

    This is our era's version of ripping off farmers back in 1890s, and using grandpa's example what needs to be done is create a populist movement to subvert the energy companies monopoly. We must seize the future ourselves.

    These energy companies even with climate change and early solar adopters they still drag their we have to push harder.

    In Boulder CO, they managed to create a municipal energy utility and I heard of people here in Minneapolis proposing we do the same, but then this talk disappeared (I imagine tamped down by the local chamber of commerce and city council) while maybe we could push for that approach again, I think it would be a waste of time and money.

    Instead we bypass this approach completely and go straight to homeowners--and develop a household energy system that is fully detached from the grid, all it takes is--
    --solar panels,
    --a cheap/easy salt water battery system, and
    --determination to be as free of the energy company monopoly as humanly possible, which requires--
    -----willingness to spend ~$20000 regardless of ROI, and
    -----acceptance of lifestyle changes whereby 24-7 year-round 70 degree household HVAC climate and 50 inch TV on 12 hours a day no longer exists.

    If people can't manage this little sacrifice, they deserve to be treated like the pawns they've become. Grandpa was dumping milk and withholding crops and getting killed by union busting thugs, and we can't be bothered to turn off a babbling TV.

    Surely a financing program could be launched, or solar panel companies themselves create one; these are details that can be determined later. The key is this movement can start now, without any leadership really, it just takes people who are willing to take charge of their lives.

    This push alone, done by a mere 15% of households would break the monopoly. A 15% removal of households no longer dependent and no longer sending checks to energy companies would definitely get their attention. They would either increase their pace of modernization or risk losing another 15% of households as the movement gains steam.

    The principles of the movement would be similar to prior populist movements where the core program of vendors and installers would be developed and send community to community to recruit others to join. It will not be a $100 trillion movement, rather it is small nickel and dime the institutions until they can no longer ignore that things are changing outside of their control.

    Being small is an advantage as you control yourself, making small cuts intending to take down the energy giants, it will be ignored at first, then flailed at once they realize they are being pestered, but we will be spread out around the country and leadership so unseen and dispersed that no one law or arrest stops us. Their ROI discussion will be--
    --spend millions to create citizen regulations that will then require billions of enforcement (but some cops will be the ones using our systems), or
    --accelerate spending the billions they already expected to spend to modernize their monopoly.

  2. Let me also add, if you want change in politics in America, then this is your candidate to talk up in every discussion right up to the voting booth--

    Regardless of his electability, Bernie is the ONLY candidate challenging the status quo and his voice will be critical in all discussions to push the debate in this direction--
    "PLUM LINE: Should the Democratic nominee offer a platform that goes considerably farther than what the president has done?

    SANDERS: Yes.

    PLUM LINE: What would that look like?

    SANDERS: It would look like a tax on carbon; a massive investment in solar, wind, geothermal; it would be making sure that every home and building in this country is properly winterized...".

  3. Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I am working pretty hard on my video version of What Must be Done these days and comments like yours help me shape the final product.

    As for taking on the energy giants, I would MUCH rather work with them. Here in Minnesota, our big utility is now so heavily invested in wind power I am pretty sure they are beyond backing down.