Rhein on Energy and Climate

According to the calculations of the world’s top climate scientists, humanity has only 30 years to go, until 2045, before reaching an increase of global temperature of more than two centigrade, its self-imposed “red light”. Indeed, at present annual global emissions of 40 billion tons the atmosphere will no longer be able to absorb additional CO2 by the middle of the century.

Humanity must therefore reduce its annual emissions to close to zero by 2050!

This is common knowledge on which “negotiators” in Paris must focus before addressing any other issues, from climate financing to adaptation and burden sharing.

There are four ways for reaching that goal that should be used in combination.


Raise energy efficiency.

Countries like Ukraine, Russia, USA, China, Australia and Canada continue to waste huge amounts of energy. By better insulation of buildings, more energy-efficient appliances, motor vehicles and production processes they could easily save up to a quarter of the energy they consume.


Generate essentially all electricity from renewable sources, in particular wind, solar and hydro.

Thanks to rapid technological progress, generation costs of hydro, wind and solar are can already or will soon compete with fossil power and overcome the handicap of intermittency by appropriate storage capacities.

Humanity should therefore boost investments programme in wind and solar power at a rhythm that China, USA and some European countries have temporarily sustained.


Electrify passenger cars/light vehicles.

Road traffic accounts for about a quarter of global C02 emissions. It is therefore crucial to replace internal combustion engines by electric or hydrogen ones as the propulsive power. Technically, the ground work has been laid; but vehicles equipped with alternative propulsion are still too costly and their market share therefore tiny.

By imposing ever stricter emission standards for conventional engines car manufactures must be lured to give priority to hydrogen and e-vehicles and reach the economies of scale for reducing the costs of production.


Phase out coal-fired power generation.

Coal is the worst contributor to climate change; the biggest CO2 emitter countries are also those which burn most coal: China, USA, India, Indonesia, Australia, Russia, South Africa, Germany, Poland and Korea.

Jointly these 10 countries emit seven billion tons of CO2 annually for heating and electricity-generation , i.e. almost 18 per cent of global emissions. They must be convinced to commit phasing out their coal-fired power plants and replace them by gas-fired ones. That would be the easiest and least expensive way for achieving a substantial reduction of global CO2 emissions, as USA experience has shown in the last few years.

In Paris the international community should therefore exert pressure on the big coal-using countries to follow the American path. Globally, the transformation is under way: for one new coal-fired power plant two are being closed. All that is necessary is to accelerate an on-going process.

The alternative would mandatory carbon capture and storage; but it would make power generation substantially more expensive. Replacing coal by gas will therefore be more likely in the coming 20 years than CCS.

Brussels 22.04.2015 Eberhard Rhein


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  3. This is such a ridiculous posture. Can anyone really visualise how things would be made without fossil fuel power?IPHONE How would the steel for the wind turbines and their future replacements be made? How would the raw materials for solar panels be extracted?

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