Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Too Little, too Late

Two world leaders met
and the summit labored and brought forth a mouse.

Looking for help (©BZ/Haitzinger)
We read in the press that the US and China agreed on a future reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in spite of the fact that only 41% of the Americans recognize that the climatic change observed is man-made. The Beijing agreement is hailed by a few as a major breakthrough but seen with mixed feelings by many.

The positive aspect of the mutual understanding is that China being the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide with nearly 10 billion tons per year no longer insists on its status of a developing country with a per capita emission of only 7.1 tons of carbon dioxide per year compared to 16.4 for the US and 9.7 for Germany. It seems that China eventually recognizes its responsibility towards its citizens* when Chairman Xi announced to level off fossil fuel consumption by 2030.
*We all have seen those pictures of massive air pollution in the streets of Beijing

Total emission and emission per capita of carbon dioxide in 2012 (©BZ/dpa)
The main reason, however, for Xi's decision is that by 2030 China will have little left to burn.

China's yearly consumption of coal (©Der Spiegel)
Fossil fuel reserves of our planet and
coal reserves of selected countries (©Der Spiegel)
Red Baron did a back of the envelope calculation based on the two graphical presentations above.
China's coal consumption leveling off in 2030 as promised by Chairman Xi
China's reserves of coal amount to 110 billion tons in 2014. In extrapolating the yearly consumption the rate will increase from 3.6 in 2012 to 4.2 billion tons per year in 2030. In that year the country will be left with a reserve for another 10 years when using coal at a constant rate of 4.2 billion tons per annum*. So it will be high time not only to level off but to peak off coal consumption in China as indicated in the sketch. So what some consider a major breakthrough in China's climatic policy is just born out of necessity.
*A scientific MIT-Tsinghua University study also concluded that China's coal consumption will peak 17% higher in 2030 compared to the year 2014

At the same time President Obama announced that the US will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 26% below 2005 levels by 2025. When he made the promise, did he consider the new political constellation in Washington? I understand that the coal lobby is strong among Republicans with many of them simply denying man-made climatic change*. Indeed Americas coal reserves are much bigger than those of China . In addition there are the "new" fossil fuels gained by fracking. Presently cheap fossil energy is consumed in the States at a high rate with a per capita emission of 16.4 tons of carbon dioxide per year as mentioned before. China's present value of 7.1 will possibly stay below 8 by 2030 taking the scenario developed above and a rather moderate population growth into consideration.
*cf. Jim Inhofe's book published in 2012: The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future

And my country, green Germany? The goal is a 40% reduction of carbon dioxide emission below 1998 levels by 2020. With the present measures only 32% will be reached and drastic actions are needed. The fight is on for the shut-down of lignite fired power stations.

Still the biggest polluter: Kraftwerke (fossil power stations)
(©Wikipedia/Robert A. Rhode))
The Minister of Environment claims that only by shutting down a couple of those old polluters the goal of 40% by 2020 can be met while the Minister of Economy and Energy states: You cannot shutdown nuclear power* and fossil power at the same time. A delicate fact is that both ministers belong to the Social Democratic Party.
*Nine nuclear power station are already shutdown in Germany with the rest to follow until the year 2040.

Red Baron's gloomy guess is that the world will miss its goal limiting the temperature rise to two degrees centigrade by 2100. Why are we more concerned with the climatic change and speak little about the limited resources of our planet?

So even when we loose the climatic battle renewable energy is needed. It is part of the intergenerational justice that we create the energy sources of tomorrow for our descendants.

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