Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Global Waffling

The wilful doublethink about responses to global warming continues unabated. This Reuters article reports on the meeting of environment ministers in Montreal from November 28 to December 9 to discuss post-2012 plans for tackling climate change.

The article points out that the same old issues will persist--how to get the US and Australia to commit to emissions targets, and how to bring big developing economies like India and China on board.

As an example of the opposition to the whole damn circus, there's a quote from a rabidly anti-Kyoto think tank:

"... "To reduce carbon emissions you have to reduce consumption, and that can only be done by raising prices," Margo Thorning, head of the International Council for Capital Formation, said in an interview in London.

"It is wrong to put a country on an economic starvation diet. A good outcome in Montreal would be a decision to end Kyoto," she said, echoing the White House line that the answer lay in areas like new technology, clean coal, nuclear energy and carbon capture and sequestration...."

To its credit, Reuters does point out that the ICCF is "the European arm of the car and oil industry-funded American Council for Capital Formation". But it misses the blatant contradiction in the their statements. The point of "new technology, clean coal, nuclear energy and carbon capture and sequestration" is that they help reduce carbon emissions. So it is just not true to say that "to reduce carbon emissions you have to reduce consumption".

The real disagreement is not about technological vs. Luddite, "starvation diet" approaches, but between those who are prepared to accept targets and those who are not. So, here's a devils advocate position: It may be that the most promising technologies won't cut in for a few years, and Kyoto targets will be missed, but within a few more years we will see reductions far beyond those envisaged by Kyoto, leading to real, measurable checks on global warming .

In which case the dialogue ought to be about the kind of targets that are set, and how progress is measured, rather than whether to throw out targets completely.

However, Tony Blair is now talking about voluntary targets as being the only way to get the US and others in the room. If so, so be it, but this seems rather like throwing up the hands and saying "Ok lads, everyone do their best".

Whatever happens, it is probable is that as economies transition to using different technologies and releasing less carbon, there will be some losers, including some with a significant stake in the current system. The quicker this happens, the more stands to be lost (and gained, by those entrepreneurs who are ahead of the game) . So you do not have to look far for the vested interests with an incentive to slow the whole process down by spreading disinformation. You just have to be aware that that's what is going on.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You're right to point out that aome energry producers have a vested interest in maintaining the enrgy status quo.

One or two carbon low-or-neutral energy generation technologies do not need to be waited for, they are not experimental. Nuclear fission, clearly, is capable of producing large amounts of carbon neutral energy. Also, some are now saying that carbon capture and sequestration is no longer an experimental technology. Coal plants in the US are, as we speak, capturing carbon and piping it north to be sequestered under Canadian oil fields. The process has a cost in that carbon-capture furnaces produce less net energy than conventional ones. The advantage is that the carbon is piped into oil fields, a technique that is expected to extend the profit-life of oil fields by decades, and the carbon prodcers are getting paid for that service.

Some consumer expenditure, motivated by governments through regulation or taxation, will be required to make techniques like this cost effective in general. However, we are clearly not talking about a 20% less carbon == 20% less consumtion formula.

Clearly, the title of your post was meant to encourage your readers to waffle-waffle-waffle.