Mitigating CO2 Emissions: A Busted Flush?

  • Date: 24/02/15
  • Michael Kelly, Climate Etc

One graph I caught up with this week has convinced me that climate change mitigation by supressing carbon dioxide emissions is a busted flush that history will look back on with great ridicule, even if the worst of the climate alarmist predictions come to pass.

Even a water-tight, globally binding and comprehensive treaty in Paris later this year will not change the situation. BP’s most recent analysis [link] of a 20 year forward look for the world’s energy needs also includes the hard data for that last 25 years that the world has been debating carbon dioxide emissions and climate change. Several things leap out from this analysis:

(i) It shows an approximate 40% growth of energy usage over the last 20 years when climate mitigation has been a matter of public debate, and predicts a further 40% growth over the next 20 years on a business as usual basis. To the extent that half of China, much of SE Asia and a growing number of Africans have emerged from grinding poverty over that period, I regard that as a good thing. I am not in any way condoning human profligacy in resource and energy consumption elsewhere.

(ii) The sum total of all the renewable energy does not make serious inroads to this. Indeed Roger Pielke has a graph from last year’s BP data showing that the ratio of non-carbon energy to carbon energy in the world economy has been fixed at 12-13% for the last 25 years, indicating that the carbon energy usage is growing at quite precisely seven times the rate of non-carbon energy to maintain the ratio. [link]

(iii) Note that the contributions of renewables are nugatory, so far and going forward.

(iv) Note the size of the blip represented by the international financial crisis in 2008-9: we would need to multiply the downturn in energy usage by a factor of more than ten to get even onto a linear track for an 80% decarbonisation of the global economy from 1990 to 2050. If we think of the human misery of that crisis multiplied ten, it is a very unlikely call. Who will vote for that?

Two other factors have to be factored in. I have often pointed out that most proposals for carbon dioxide emission reductions that would make a measurable reduction to perceived adverse future climate (and I return to this rather hollow proposition below) comprehensively fail the engineering reality test (see link andlink). Last week I heard a distinguished international environmental lawyer and former Prime Minister of New Zealand describe the tortuous nature of the international negotiations on a climate treaty, and that was the last nail in the coffin of climate mitigation in my book [link]. I do not disagree with his stress that New Zealand to do its bit, but only provided it is kept in perspective in terms of consequential pain inflicted on the New Zealand economy and the well-being of its citizens: for each of the last ten years, the carbon dioxide emissions of China have increased by the total amount of New Zealand’s emissions every seven weeks!

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