Climate of Fear XIV.

In November 2014, China and the United States reached a bi-lateral non-treaty agreement on reducing carbon emissions. President Obama committed the United States to cut carbon emission by 26-28 percent below the level of 2005 by 2025.[1] President Xi Jinping committed China to reach peak carbon emissions by or before 2030. In addition, China agreed to raise its nuclear, wind, and solar energy generation to about 20 percent of the total by 2030.

The Sino-American agreement prompted diplomats negotiating the draft framework for a new international climate-change agreement to change their own approach.[2] They adopted the idea of allowing each country to commit to reducing carbon emissions without specifying how or by how much they will do so. Countries are supposed to announce during March 2015 how much they will cut emissions after 2020. No one thinks they will set ambitious targets. All 196 nations will agree to sign the new agreement in Paris in November and December 2015.

 

All well and good. What are some of the key problems for which people should be looking during 2015?

Currently, China gets about 10 percent of its energy from non-carbon sources. Experts seem to believe that China will need to deploy an additional 800-1,000 gigawatts of “zero emission generation capacity” to get to 20 percent non-carbon energy-generation by 2030. This is more than all the coal-fired power plants that exist in China today. If China is going to massively expand its non-carbon energy generation just to get to 20 percent of the total, then that suggests that China will also massively expand its carbon energy generation at the same time.

The Obama Administration is pressing for a non-treaty agreement because of the doubts it could pass the Senate. However, a non-treaty is non-binding on all of the signatories. Furthermore, China has always resisted international monitoring of its economy.[3] This could end up like the Kellogg-Briand Pact (1928) “outlawing war.”

Reducing the amount of coal burned will have effects on several societies as well as on the environment. As of 2012, China got 81 percent of its electricity generation from coal; India got 71 percent; Australia got 69 percent; Indonesia got 48 percent; Germany got 44 percent; the UK got 39 percent; and the US got 38 percent. Shifting some of these countries off coal-burning will require heavy investment in new technologies. There is no sign that any cheap alternative to fossil fuels is at hand. Then coal is an important export for some counties. In 2013 Indonesia exported 426 million tons of coal; Australia 336 million tons; Russia 141 million tons; and the US 107 million tons. Dissuading countries from burning coal for energy will have an effect on the incomes of these countries. If coal turns out to be too dug- in[4] to be abandoned, then attention will have to turn to “clean coal” technologies, and to emissions capture and storage.

In the absence of serious commitments to substantially reduce carbon emissions, climate scientists now believe that it will be impossible to hold back some of the effects of climate change. Glaciers will melt, sea levels will rise, and problems with drought and harvests will increase.

[1] In June 2014, EPA proposed guidelines for existing power plants that would reduce emissions 30% below 2005 levels by 2030.

[2] Coral Davenport, “With Compromises, a Global Accord to Fight Climate Change Is in Sight,” NYT, 10 December 2014; William Mauldin, “Coal Clouds Talks on Climate,” WSJ, 13-14 December 2014.

[3] “A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.”—attributed to Sam Goldwyn.

[4] HA! Is joke.

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