Rhein on Energy and Climate

In 11 months from now the Paris Climate Conference (COP 21) will have terminated its work. The French President and the UN Secretary General will have hailed it as a success. But it seems prudent to anticipate another failure.

On the basis of the procedures adopted for its preparation, the COP 21 will not to stop the inexorable accumulation of green house gases in the atmosphere. CO2 emissions have risen by 65 per cent since 1990! There is little reason to believe that Humanity whose numbers and per capita energy consumption keep rising will succeed in reversing the trend. Last year global C02 emissions, the major component of green house gas emissions, have for the first time reached 40 bn tons.

According to 2014 IPPC assessments humanity has already discharged two thirds of the global “carbon budget” of 1000 Gigatons, (GT) beyond which irreversible changes for the planet will happen. Unless humanity starts reducing its C02 output now it will reach the point of no return as early as 2030. Temperatures will rise far beyond the two centigrade that the international community has fixed as its supreme climate goal in 2009.

The international debate has not sufficiently stressed the seriousness of what lies ahead. Either the three major polluters – China,USA and EU- signal their willingness to work for full-scale de-carbonisation of their energy supply by the middle of the century, or the world is heading towards a climate disaster in the second half of the century.

The COP 20 in Lima has merely invited countries to indicate their voluntary “contributions” towards a sustainable world climate.

So far only EU, USA and China have indicated what they might be ready to put on the table in Paris. Only the EU comes close to what is required: it aims at cutting its emissions by 40 per cent until 2030 and reducing them by 80 per cent until 2050.The USA aims at reducing its emissions by some 28 per cent until 2025; China so far contends itself with “peaking” them latest by 2030.

The “contributions” from the rest of the world will no doubt fall far short of those from EU or the effort announced by the USA. The best guess is for most of the countries, including the prosperous ones, to align on China and start reducing emissions by minimal steps from 2030 onward.

As a consequence, instead of declining towards zero as they should, annual global emissions are likely to exceed 50 GT by the middle of the century; and it will become impossible to stabilise global warming at 2°. Such a disaster scenario must be prevented at all costs.

Much stricter contributions will therefore be indispensable; the higher per capita emissions the bigger the contributions to be made. Developed countries will have to contribute the lions share .

EU, USA. Korea, China, Canada, Australia, Saudi-Arabia, etc. will have to announce an 80 per cent reduction until 2050, while countries with minimal emissions should be granted a 10 year exemption. That will be extremely hard to achieve.

 

Thanks to impressive cost-reductions for renewable energies in the last few years it is possible to achieve a large-scale de-carbonisation of the energy supply starting with power generation and transport. It hinges essentially on the political will among the major polluter countries which must be willing to prepare long-term energy strategies to that end.

For the success of the COP 21 these issues must be clarified between the key players before the beginning of the Conference.

If the world fails on mitigation, adaptation will be a poor and excessively costly substitute. The global cost of climate-related natural catastrophes (floods, hurricanes, droughts) already exceeds $100 billion per year, the promised volume of the Green Fund. It is therefore only after the crucial issues have been settled that the secondary issue of the “Green Fund “ should be addressed. That might also happen in a extra donor conference in early 2016.

The EU role will be decisive. In the months preceding COP 21 it should organise informal meetings with China and USA to address the issue of emission reductions until 2050.

Last not least, a durable success of global climate policy will need responsible and effective UN institutions. Without something like a “Climate Security Council” to monitoring and, if necessary, sanction authority without veto !) it will be next to impossible to overcome the resistance and blockage from individual countries.

It is high time to understand that climate change is a matter of decent survival for humanity and not a normal international negotiation.

Brussels 08.01. 2015 Eberhard Rhein

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