Monday, September 28, 2009

The bad news and the good news

President Hu Jintao’s speech to the UN this week offered standard fair in on one hand when he pledged to “increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 15 percent by 2020”. That is 15% of a moving target as China’s overall energy consumption is growing at a massive rate. On the otherhand he also said this: “We will endeavor to cut carbon dioxide emissions — (inaudible) — GDP by a notable margin by 2020 from the 2005 level” (according to the transcript of his speech provided by the Federal News Service). This is notable because for the first time, we have a declaration of a FIXED target and one that involves a reduction from current and planned levels of output even if the target is the 2005 level itself – which was 5.3 gigatons (billion tons) of CO2. That said, stabilizing at 450 ppm of CO2 is commonly assumed to require a worldwide cut from current levels of 28 gigatons to 18 gigatons. Assuming a world population stabilizing at 9 billion people with China at 1.5 billion, the per capita allocation for China would be 3 gigatons. That is below 5.3 gigatons by a really “notable margin”! There is also the worrisome use of the word ‘endeavor’ in his statement.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Holding my breath

Reuters reports: “The U.N. climate chief said on Monday he expects China to become a "world leader" on climate change after President Hu Jintao announces policy measures on Tuesday. Yvo De Boer said he expects Hu to announce, in a speech to a U.N. climate change summit in New York, a series of measures "that will take Chinese emissions very significantly away from where they would have been and are."” But….. listen carefully to see if there is any commitment to ABSOLUTE levels of carbon output as opposed to decreasing the proportion of it. The latter is only equivalent to the former if you bracket GDP growth – which is currently running, and planned to run, at 8-9% a year. That rate of growth produces massive compound increases in GDP over time and with it, energy needed and associated carbon output unless you grow with “clean” energy. But here is (yet another) inconvenient truth – 80% of current energy is fossil based. The idea that current energy (let alone the energy to fuel growth) can be provided on a clean basis can be produced at the needed scale and be deployed on any politically realistic timetable is a pure fantasy.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Fairness – again

The World needs to plan massive cut backs in current and prospective greenhouse gas output. Most people agree that fairness demands an equal per capita share even as the details of history and prospective population need to be taken into account. On this basis, the United States gets about 5% of the world limit which means about a 90% cut from current levels. But there is another way to approach this issue. Pacala et al. (in PNAS)argue that we should look at who is currently exceeding their allocation on an individual basis and generate country obligations for cut backs on that basis. Doing things that way makes hardly any difference in the case of the U.S. But the approach makes a big difference for almost everyone else. For almost every country has SOME people who are using more than their fair share. Not unreasonably, Pacala et al. think that fairness is an individual matter and so that is where to locate the calculus – even though they are willing to also look at some sort of offsetting consideration for the very poor. So a country with rich people who are above their fair share, ought to be able to take into account the fact that it has lots of people who are far below their fair share and need to benefit from economic (and energy) growth to reach some minimum level of welfare. But once you recognize this fact, the logic of such an approach begins to dissolve. For there is a strong defense to be made about fairness assigned by way of national allocations – for better or worse, nation states are the units that enter into agreements on allocational issues globally. How they then divide their allocation internally is deeply relevant to different development strategies. One thing is clear though – all countries need some method of capital accumulation and that usually entails some inequities – be it robber barons or state capitalism. As with capital so with carbon usage.

Monday, September 7, 2009

CCS in China

Anyone who imagines that deployment of carbon capture and sequestration can allow for Developing World growth and needed restriction on greenhouse gasses should pay close attention to a new report on China. In "The Real Drivers of Carbon Capture and Storage at Scale in China and Implications for Climate Policy", Richard K. Morse, Varun Rai, and Gang He. Morse et al. argue that, most importantly that: ".. the primary driver of current CCS projects in China is the strategic development of its energy security agenda, with particular emphasis on diversity of energy supply, reliable and cheap electricity, and the development of domestic intellectual property for energy technologies. Unfortunately, many analysts who are rushing to declare that CCS has arrived in China are confusing these motives for an enthusiastic embrace of CCS for purposes of large scale CO2 emissions reductions. A crucial distinction must then be made: while these energy security drivers are likely to foster the development China’s CCS demonstration efforts(as we are likely to witness in the near term), they do not translate into incentives to deploy CCS at scale. In fact, as we argue later, CCS at scale will place a heavy burden on China’s coal supply chain and is more likely to harm China’s energy security than to help it. The only manner in which CCS would concretely serve energy security needs would be if China were subject to a stringent greenhouse gas reduction regime at some future time, in which case CCS could facilitate the use of domestically-available coal (for either power or for transport using coal-toliquids technology). However, we argue that such a scenario is likely many years from being a reality, mainly because China has no core interest in agreeing to and enforcing such a regime on itself until it has developed economically to the point where a large domestic constituency values climate change action as much as rapid economic growth." For the full report, go to: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1463572