Governments around the world are working towards a commitment to deep cuts in CO2 emissions by 2050, or earlier, in the apparent belief that cuts are achievable, affordable, politically acceptable, and will have a measurable influence on climate change. Few would argue against the desirability of developing new, secure energy sources in order to reduce and eventually eliminate our dependence on so called fossil fuels. However, there seems to be no clear strategy for achieving CO2 emissions cuts of up to 80 per cent.
I do not intend to discuss the science of climate change in this article, which pulls together some of my previous posts. Instead I will try to demonstrate the huge problems that make current government climate policies ’emission impossible.’
First, below I have listed the top 25 world CO2 emitters as of 2004 ( A full list is available by following the link):
Ranking of the world’s countries by 2004 total CO2 emissions from fossil-fuel burning, cement production, and gas flaring. Emissions (CO2_TOT) are expressed in thousand metric tons of carbon (not CO2). Source: Gregg Marland, Tom Boden, and Bob Andres. Oak Ridge National Laboratory:
1/UNITED STATES OF AMERICA/1650020
9/REPUBLIC OF KOREA /127007
10/ITALY(INCLUDING SAN MARINO)/122726
13/ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN/118259
China’s rapidly growing emissions are obviously an obstacle to achieving any meaningful global CO2 emissions reductions, as demonstrated below:
Our results suggest that the anticipated path of China’s Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions has dramatically increased over the last five years. The magnitude of the projected increase in Chinese emissions out to 2015 is several times larger than reductions embodied in the Kyoto Protocol. Our estimates are based on a unique provincial level panel data set from the Chinese Environmental Protection Agency. This dataset contains considerably more information relevant to the path of likely Chinese greenhouse gas emissions than national level time series models currently in use. Model selection criteria clearly reject the popular static environmental Kuznets curve specification in favor of a class of dynamic models with spatial dependence.
University of California, Berkeley
Richard T. Carson
University of California, San Diego
By AUDRA ANG, The Associated Press
Wednesday, June 20, 2007; 10:53 PM
BEIJING — China has overtaken the United States as the world’s top producer of carbon dioxide emissions – the biggest man-made contributor to global warming – based on the latest widely accepted energy consumption data, a Dutch research group says.
According to a report released Tuesday by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, China overtook the U.S. in emissions of CO2 by about 7.5 percent in 2006. While China was 2 percent below the United States in 2005, voracious coal consumption and increased cement production caused the numbers to rise rapidly, the group said.
Just two countries, Somalia and Haiti, are currently living a lifestyle compatible with an 80% reduction in per capita CO2 emissions:
(See Prometheus: ‘China’s growing emissions’)
Gwyn Prins and Steve Rayner tried to warn against further Kyoto style policies prior to the Bali Conference in an article published in the journal Nature:
by Gwyn Prins and Steve Rayner, Nature Vol 449 25 October 2007
The Kyoto Protocol is a symbolically important expression of governments’ concern about climate change. But as an instrument for achieving emissions reductions, it has failed. It has produced no demonstrable reductions in emissions or even in anticipated emissions growth. And it pays no more than token attention to the needs of societies to adapt to existing climate change.
The impending United Nations Climate Change Conference being held in Bali in December — to decide international policy after 2012 — needs to radically rethink climate policy.
Prins and Rayner also released a fuller pdf version of their analysis, pointing out that, in their opinion, there is no ‘silver bullet’ answer and a ‘silver buckshot’ approach should be used instead, plus adaptation is being neglected in favour of mitigation:
Gwyn Prins: Professor and Director of the Mackinder Centre for the Study of Long Wave Events at the London School of Economics.
Steve Rayner: Professor and Director of the James Martin Institute for Science and Civilization at the University of Oxford.
Time to Swap Trousers?
Now is the moment to swap trousers. If the Bali Conference can become the occasion when the principles of an oblique and clumsy approach supplant the obsolescent approach which gave us the Kyoto Protocol that has dominated climate policy so fruitlessly for the past fifteen years, we believe that there are then strong grounds for hope. That hope is of two sorts. The first is hope that the Prometheus of humanity’s ingenuity and intellectual energy can be swiftly unbound from the rock of Kyoto to begin to break the link between the fossil-fuel energy nexus and world-wide wealth creation, which alone can restore harmony between the twin goals of climate security and human development. The second hope is that we may avoid the otherwise looming possibility of a collapse of public support for any forms of action on climate policy when the current spinning of the failure of Kyoto as success fractures irrevocably before the eyes of the concerned public. So this essay has been a conscious contribution to a controlled collapse of expectation, since the other alternative is to let events take their course, as bankers did in the Great Crash of 1929. Passivity before such a prospect is neither courageous nor wise.
The Right Trousers?
….climate change is not a discrete problem amenable to any single shot solution, be it Kyoto or any other. Climate change is the result of a particular development path and its globally interlaced supply system of fossil energy. No single intervention can change such a complex nexus (…the attempt to do so has produced unintended and unwelcome effects). There is no simple silver bullet.
Prins & Rayner suggest Seven Basic Principles:
1. Use ‘silver buckshot.’ This would mean adopting a wide variety of climate policies—silver buckshot—and non-climate policies with climate effects. Impossible to predict in advance which of these approaches might stimulate the necessary fundamental change.
2. Abandon universalism; focus on the 20 countries that account for 80% of the world’s emissions
3. Devise trading schemes from the bottom up; allowing governments unrestricted powers to allocate allowances instead of auctioning a limited supply, leads to a collapse in the price
4. Deal with problems at the lowest possible levels of decision-making; at local rather than national level
5.Invest in technology R&D; new energy technologies – put investment on a ‘war footing’
6.Increase spending on adaptation;
7.Understand that successful climate policy does not necessarily focus instrumentally on the climate.
However, according to computer modelled ‘consensus science,’ the situation is even worse and even an 80 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions is nowhere near enough:
H. Damon Matthews
Department of Geography, Planning and Environment, Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Department of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Stanford, California, USA
Current international climate mitigation efforts aim to stabilize levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. However, human-induced climate warming will continue for many centuries, even after atmospheric CO2 levels are stabilized. In this paper, we assess the CO2 emissions requirements for global temperature stabilization within the next several centuries, using an Earth system model of intermediate complexity. We show first that a single pulse of carbon released into the atmosphere increases globally averaged surface temperature by an amount that remains approximately constant for several centuries, even in the absence of additional emissions. We then show that to hold climate constant at a given global temperature requires near-zero future carbon emissions. Our results suggest that future anthropogenic emissions would need to be eliminated in order to stabilize global-mean temperatures. As a consequence, any future anthropogenic emissions will commit the climate system to warming that is essentially irreversible on centennial timescales.
GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS, VOL. 35, L04705, doi:10.1029/2007GL032388, 2008
Received 17 October 2007; accepted 11 January 2008; published 27 February 2008.
Keywords: carbon dioxide emissions; climate change; climate stabilization.
“In the absence of human intervention to actively remove CO2 from the atmosphere [e.g., Keith et al., 2006], each unit of CO2 emissions must be viewed as leading to quantifiable and essentially permanent climate change on centennial timescales. We emphasize that a stable global climate is not synonymous with stable radiative forcing, but rather requires decreasing greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere. We have shown here that stable global temperatures within the next several centuries can be achieved if CO2 emissions are reduced to nearly zero. This means that avoiding future human-induced climate warming may require policies that seek not only to decrease CO2 emissions, but to eliminate them entirely.”
Meeting follows meeting, as a global emission reduction deal is sought. Governments don’t seem to have noticed yet that, according to Matthews and Caldiera, anything less than near-zero emissions deal very soon would be pointless. Air-capture rather than emissions reductions could be the only solution to the computer modelled phantom mence of CO2 driven climate change. Emission impossible indeed.