MAC: Mines and Communities

Are we all going to climate hell in a handcart?

Published by MAC on 2013-01-07
Source: PlanetArk

A new study shows that attempts to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, from the year 2020, will be far more costly than taking urgent steps to do so now.

If the measures - dependent on a realistic pricing of carbon emissions - are delayed until 2030, then the goal won't be reached at all.

And some scientists believe it's already unattainable...

Cost of combating climate change surges as world delays - study

Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent


3 January 2013

OSLO - An agreement by almost 200 nations to curb rising greenhouse gas emissions from 2020 will be far more costly than taking action now to tackle climate change, according to research published yesterday.

Quick measures to cut emissions would give a far better chance of keeping global warming within an agreed UN limit of 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times to avert more floods, heatwaves, droughts and rising sea levels.

"If you delay action by 10, 20 years you significantly reduce the chances of meeting the 2 degree target," said Dr Keywan Riahi, one of the authors of the report at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria.

"It was generally known that costs increase when you delay action. It was not clear how quickly they change," he told Reuters of the findings in the science journal Nature based on 500 computer-generated scenarios.

It said the timing of cuts in greenhouse gases was more important than other uncertainties - about things like how the climate system works, future energy demand, carbon prices or new energy technologies.

The study indicated that an immediate global price of US$30 (S$36.62) a tonne on emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas, would give a roughly 60 per cent chance of limiting warming to below 2C.

Wait until 2020 and the carbon price would have to be around US$100 (S$122.08) a tonne to retain that 60 per cent chance, Dr Riahi told Reuters of the study made with other experts in Switzerland, New Zealand, Australia and Germany.

And a delay of action until 2030 might put the 2C limit - which some of the more pessimistic scientists say is already unattainable - completely out of reach, whatever the carbon price.

"The window for effective action on climate change is closing quickly," wrote Dr Steve Hatfield-Dodds of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia in a separate commentary in Nature.

Governments agreed to the 2C limit in 2010, viewing it as a threshold to avert dangerous climate change. Temperatures have already risen by 0.8 degree C since wide use of fossil fuels began 200 years ago.

After the failure of a 2009 summit in Copenhagen to agree a worldwide accord, almost 200 nations have given themselves until 2015 to work out a global deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions that will enter into force in 2020.

Amid an economic slowdown, many countries at the last UN meeting on climate change in Qatar last month expressed reluctance to make quick shifts away from fossil fuels towards cleaner energies such as wind or solar power.

Each US citizen, for instance, emits about 20 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. There is no global price on carbon, only regional markets - in a European Union trading system, for instance, where industrial emitters must pay of they exceed their CO2 quotas, 2013 prices are about 6.7 euros (S$10.78) a tonne.

The report also showed that greener policies, such as more efficient public transport or better-insulated buildings, would raise the chances of meeting the 2C goal.

And fighting climate change would be easier with certain new technologies, such as capturing and burying carbon emissions from power plants and factories. In some scenarios, the 2C goal could not be met unless carbon capture was adopted.

EU still subsidising coal industry despite climate change

by Stephen Tindale

Public Service Europe

26 December 2012

Climate change is killing nearly 400,000 people worldwide each year and it is already costing the global economy €930bn annually - warns think-tank

The European Investment Bank is greener than it used to be. It now lends half its annual energy pot to energy efficiency and renewables. But it is still lending to coal projects. This is inconsistent with European Union climate policies and must stop now. Some leading politicians, such as British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne are arguing that, given the continuing economic crisis, we cannot afford to 'go green' at the moment. This is a serious mistake. Climate change is not only an environmental problem; it is already causing death and want.

A recent report on vulnerability to the effects of climate change found that climate change is killing nearly 400,000 people worldwide each year. And it is already costing the global economy €930bn each year. The EU's 2011 Energy Roadmap, a document laying out the union's aspirations that were backed by all member-states bar Poland, proposes the need for an 80 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050.

New coal-fired power stations would make it impossible to meet this target, since they emit high levels of carbon dioxide - the main greenhouse gas. Taking account of the full life-cycle - including construction and decommissioning - coal plants emit around twice the amount of carbon dioxide per unit of electricity generated as gas plants do, eight times as much nuclear plants and 32 times as much as wind farms.

Since 2007, the EIB has lent a total of €1.88bn to three coal projects in Slovenia, three in Poland, two in Germany and one each in Romania, Italy and Greece. It is true that the EIB does take climate change into account when making investment decisions, to some extent. Its rule is that the new plant has to replace an existing coal or lignite plant and lead to a decrease of at least 20 per cent in emissions, compared to the old plant. It also has to be 'carbon capture ready', so that if carbon capture and storage proves to be effective at scale and affordable, it can be retrofitted to the plant. But that remains a very big 'if', and the EU's failure so far to award any money to a CCS demonstration does not bode well for rapid progress.

In practice, the requirement that a plant be carbon capture ready means little more than ensuring that a patch of land suitable for a CCS plant is left free near the new power station. Carbon emissions, like all forms of pollution, have externalities. The EU has a scheme to force the producers of the pollution to pay - the Emissions Trading System. But the price under this system is languishing below €8 per tonne. This is far too low to have any impact on investment decisions. To its credit, the EIB uses instead what it calls an 'economic price of carbon'. This is a calculation of the full costs to society of dealing with each tonne of carbon emitted, and is currently set at €30 per tonne. This will increase €1 every year from now on.

However, this does not prevent the EIB from lending to coal projects without CCS. So the economic price sounds a good policy instrument, but does not actually stop the EIB from lending to projects that they think will be financially profitable. This lending amounts to a massive subsidy to coal, which undermines the renewables target. The EIB currently takes decisions on energy projects based on the guidelines in its 2006 energy policy document. But it is consulting on a new approach, which it aims to adopt next year.

The science and understanding of climate change have moved on considerably since 2006, and the situation is much more urgent. A minimum of 2 degrees of warming now looks all but inevitable - driven largely by the burning of coal. The top priority for the EIB's new policy must be to stop lending to all coal and lignite plants unless they have CCS. Without this change, the EIB will continue to undermine the EU's climate policies.

Stephen Tindale is an associate fellow at the Centre for European Reform think-tank, which first published this article: Time to stop the EIB's carbon subsidies

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