September 29, 2014
The UN Climate Summit on September 24, 2014 has once again underlined the threat of global warming and climate change for future generations but stopped short of responses to what constitutes the overriding challenge for Humanity.
A mobilisation event is not enough, even if the thousands of people that flocked the streets in USA and Europe have been impressive.
Action is required; and it must come urgently and be effective. Bottom-up approaches by cities, regions or corporations are welcome but too tiny to have a global impact.
To keep the planet temperature from rising beyond the critical two centigrade humanity must reduce C02 emissions between 40 and 70% until the middle of the century, which only the EU has pledged to do so far, with its 80-95 reduction target.
In order to be successful the international community must focus on the major countries and sources accounting for the high and rising level of C02 emissions:
- China, USA, EU, India, Japan, Russia, Brazil, Indonesia, Korea, Canada and Australia are jointly responsible for more than three quarters of total emissions. Without them joining the efforts there will be no effective action and no way to prevent havoc: USA, EU, Japan, Russia, Korea, Canada and Australia will, of course, have to deliver much more than emerging countries.
- Fossil energies are the main sources driving climate change accounting for roughly 80% of the global C02 output.
Humanity has become fossil-addicted; very few people can imagine 9-11 billion human beings doing without fossil energies by 2050-2100.
Coal being by far the worst polluter the international community should in a first step agree on a halt of new coal-fired power plants and a phasing out existing ones by 2050.
To that end, the December 2015 Paris climate conference should agree to:
- prohibit the construction of coal-fired power plants that are not equipped with CCS as of 2020;
- withdraw annually at least 5% of non -CCS coal-fired power plant capacity;.
The USA has started the process of replacing coal by shale gas which emits only half as much C02 as coal-fired power plants. Between 2012-16 it plans to retire 60 GW of the total capacity of 310 GW.
The EU is sending mixed signals.
On the one hand, major coal countries like Poland and Germany continue expanding lignite/coal fired power.
On the other ,UK is preparing to build a 450 MW demonstration plant that will capture 90% of its C02 emissions and store them in deep North Sea waters. UK aims to phase out its coal-fired power and become one of the world leaders in carbon capture and storage technology, a strategy for which it deserves praise.
Politically, it will be anything but easy to conclude an international agreement to stop commissioning new and phase out existing coal-fired power plants.
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) should be the way to overcome the understandable resistance, in particular from emerging countries like India that have hardly contributed to global climate change so far.
It is therefore urgent to build demonstrations plants like the UK is doing.
In parallel, utilities should invest in power plants operating on shale gas, LNG, wind/solar and biogas as alternatives to lignite/coal.
The first step is for the EU to take: it must urgently freeze and start phasing out its lignite/coal-fired power capacity.
This would constitute a strong gesture to the international community.
Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 20/9/2014Author : Eberhard Rhein