Monday, July 27, 2009

The Core Narrative of Climate Change – 7

Here, I wrote last week, is a truth that few dare to speak – growth may pit the interests of the poor in the Developing World against others. Not others in the Developed World but in the Developing World itself. If that is the case we need to know the numbers and also ask if the numbers should count. But wait! Doesn’t everyone loose when it comes to climate change – rich and poor? Not necessarily. Let’s being by considering individuals … albeit hypothetical individuals. Suppose my household economy is improved only by causing climate change – because of the economy-energy function. Suppose I am net worse off in the new climate even though I am richer. (eg. $1000 pa in 450ppm versus $2000 in 550ppm.) But that is not the end of the story IF I am better off @ $2000 relative to other more prevalent “stressors” in my environment (level of nutrition, health care I can afford, education I can afford etc) AND that improvement is greater than the net negative climate effect. So, for example, the probability of my offspring reaching a productive age, in my $2000 pa household may be improved even though it is associated with higher ppm which have adverse effect on that outcome. Might this hypothetical turn out to be real?

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Core Narrative of Climate Change – 6

How much economic growth would the Developing World have to sacrifice if there is no technology transfer solution that allows for intended growth at the projected rate AND green energy? Using the IPCC figures, about 25% less growth by the end of the century. But wait a minute:
1. Why think there is no such technology transfer solution?
2. And even if there is none, if fossil fueled economic growth begets climate change, why think the Developed World would be better off?
Here is an overview of where I think the answers lie:
1. The problem of green energy is not just a matter of who pays. Nor is it just a matter of overall energy demand and supply. As the Developing world grows, both solar and wind energy will be of limited value without massive storage capacity to provide for uninterrupted supply. Moreover, even bracketing that problem, if we look at the timetable for growth and associated energy demand, keeping up with that timetable for renewable energy growth in capacity is a central challenge.
2. If fossil fuel (or balanced growth) drives growth, we need a model to estimate how much climate change will undermine the rise in GDP or even overwhelm it. We have good short term estimates of the effects on the poor. But what we need are long term estimates for the Developing World as a whole. Here we have a truth that few dare to speak – growth may pit the interests of the poor in the Developing World against others. Not others in the Developed World but in the Developing World itself. If that is the case we need to know the numbers and also ask if the numbers should count.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Core Narrative of Climate Change – 5

Last week’s focus was on whether can provide enough clean energy of the right kind given the growth projections for the Developing World. The IPCC sidesteps this issue by providing a number of scenarios for the rest of this century. The so-called A1 family assume population growth slows but growth is high. That is then combined with a number of associated energy assumptions – coal and oil (A1F), renewable (A1T) and a “balanced” portfolio (A1B). A1B produces enough greenhouse gasses to push all the way to 650 ppm and a 3.5 (degrees Celsius) temperature rise by the end of the century unlike A1T which keeps things in bounds at 550 ppm and 3 degrees. So fine, let’s just plan on doing A1T whoever ends up paying for it. But the problem is that A1T is a thought experiment! It is a hypothetical scenario that assumes the technology is available to provide clean energy in the right form to (literally) fuel the assumed rate of economic growth. Absent the scenario being real, the choice becomes A1 versus a low growth family of scenarios (the B family). The contrast now becomes striking when you ask how much economic growth would the Developing World have to sacrifice. Here are the IPCC figures for projected World gnp: A1B: $528.5 trillion, B1: $334 trillion.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Core Narrative of Climate Change – 4

Picking up the thread of 3 weeks ago, whether or not you view to promise of technology transfer as buying you more climate saving than the low carbon plans or essential to them, the key unexamined assumption is this: is the technology available to achieve these goals whoever is paying for it? There are two issues here: 1. Is there enough of it? 2. Is it of the right kind?

As Claude Mandil, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), said in May 2004, ‘‘In the absence of strong government policies, we project that the worldwide use of oil in transport will nearly double between 2000 and 2030, leading to a similar increase in greenhouse gas emissions’’ (IEA, 2004).

Significantly, between 2003 and 2030, over 1400GW of new coal capacity will be built. These plants would commit the planet to total carbon dioxide emissions of some 500 billion metric tons over their lifetime, unless ‘‘they are backfit with carbon capture equipment at some time during their life,’’ as David Hawkins, Director of Natural Resources Defense Council’s Climate Center told the US House Committee on Energy and Commerce in June 2003. ‘‘To put this number in context, it amounts to half the estimated total cumulative carbon emissions from all fossil fuel use globally over the past 250 years!’’ (Hawkins, 2003)
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Note: I have misplaced where I filched these quotes from – but I think it was from the Center for American Progress.)

You can dream about renewable energy, or hybrid cars but these really are dreams – at these levels of deployment. What about carbon capture and sequestration? Even if you think this can work – and I do think it can work - it is one think to build a demonstration plant and then deploy at scale on new plants. “Backfitting” raises a quite different set of problems – not just of technical feasibility but just how well such plants can be expected to be run, to put it tactfully, given the variety of oversight regimes in place across the World.