The first is a policy and review paper on climate change written by Katherine Wells, entitled “Recent Climate Change Science, Global Targets and the Global Climate Emergency“.
Katherine, a lawyer, is a former Chair of the South Australian Premier’s main environmental advisory board, the Premier’s Round Table on Sustainability, and a former National Vice-President of the Australian Conservation Foundation. She is currently a Climate Change Consultant in Adelaide. Her 19- page overview struck me as one of the more succinct, thoughtful and readable updates of the recent science of climate change — written in a manner suitable for an intelligent lay audience — that I have read. I thoroughly recommend that you download and read it. Here is the summary:
Climate change impacts are occurring faster and with more severity than predicted only several years ago. At the same time, the world’s emissions are increasing at rates greater than predicted, and the alarming rates of emissions reductions required to avoid dangerous levels of climate change are becoming more apparent. The time-frames within which we can take effective action are shrinking rapidly, and now appear to be so tight as to require that we take world-wide emergency action, or prepare to face catastrophic levels of climate change.
This paper considers:
• some key findings of recent climate science
• some key climate indicators, and how they have been tracking recently
• whether a rise in the average global temperature of 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels is an appropriate threshold for ‘dangerous’ climate change
• what targets for atmospheric CO2e concentrations (ie, atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases) are necessary to limit the temperature rise to 2 degrees, and (alternatively) to stabilise the temperature at less than 1 degree above pre-industrial levels
• what targets for global emissions reductions, and other actions, are necessary to achieve these atmospheric CO2e concentrations targets, and
• the way in which time-lines in the climate change arena are shrinking:
– the impacts of climate change are getting worse more rapidly than predicted
– key climate indicators are providing great cause for concern
– the magnitude of the emissions reduction task is becoming more apparent
Key questions for consideration are set out at the end of each section of the paper. In summary, they are:
1. Is a rise in the average global surface temperature of 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels the appropriate threshold for ‘dangerous’ climate change? If not, what would a more appropriate threshold be?
2. Is a target for atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations of 450 ppm CO2e appropriate, or should the world be aiming for a more stringent target? If so, what should this be?
3. Are global emissions reduction targets which are consistent with achieving atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations of 450 ppm CO2e appropriate, or should the world be aiming for more stringent global emissions reduction targets? If so, what should these be?
4. Achieving the more stringent targets for atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations is likely to require not just deep emissions cuts, but action in other areas, such as, from later in this century, negative emissions. Should we expand the current policy debate to encompass and address these issues?
5. Given the shrinking time-frames indicated by the latest scientific analysis in this area, is it reasonable to characterise the current climate situation as a climate emergency? If not, why not, and when would it be reasonable to characterise the climate situation as an emergency?
6. If it is a climate emergency, what should we do differently to address it?
The second is a short opinion piece by Steve Kirsch, published on the Huffington Post, entitled “Cash for Coal Anyone?”. It’s a great idea, and we need out-of-the-box thinking like this. Oh, and if anyone is wondering, the renewable numbers Steve quotes were sourced by me and come from the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2009.
Since the “Cash for Clunkers” program was so successful in stimulating demand for new autos, why not use the same concept to stimulate the demand for new clean power plants to replace our dirty coal plants?
How about a “Cash for Coal” program? The government will pay you for the residual economic value of your coal plant and offer to finance the construction of a new, carbon-free base load power replacement plant of equal or greater capacity provided the cost of the plant is under $2,000 per kW of average capacity (not nameplate capacity). Nuclear power (such as the CANDU reactor) has recently been installed in China for less than this, so the numbers are reasonable. Of course, any clean power technology would qualify so long as the price target is met; I’m just using nuclear here as an example.
We are installing clean power in the world at nearly 100 times slower than we need to avert a climate crisis (350ppm being the new goal which we’ve already exceeded). Cap and trade isn’t going to get us there fast enough. In fact, some influential thinkers, such as James Hansen, will tell you that that Waxman-Markey will actually slow down the rate we install new clean power.
To give you some idea of how far behind we are, consider that in 2008, for technosolar, peak capacity for solar was 13.5 GW and wind was 122 GW. The amount of wave power and hot dry rock geothermal is trivial (small scale demonstration only). Volcanic vent geothermal is 10.5 GW. Based on average capacity factors of 0.15 for solar, 0.25 for wind and 0.75 for geyser-derived geothermal, that represents a total average ‘renewable energy’ power (excluding biomass) of 40 GW, globally, in 2008.
We need about a GW of new clean power each day for the next 25 years to avert disaster. So in our entire history, we’re 40 days into it. Let’s say we installed all that power in the last 4 years to be aggressive. So that’s 10GW /year or about 36 times slower than we should be.
But a “Cash for Coal” option could get us there at a rate of our choosing. If it doesn’t work fast enough, all Congress has to do is raise the incentive price until it does.
What could be simpler?
If we are serious about saving the planet and achieving 350ppm, this may be the most economical way to accelerate the rate of retiring coal plants.
If we cannot virtually eliminate the CO2 emissions from coal plants (either by replacing them or capturing all their CO2 emissions), then it is IMPOSSIBLE to hit 350ppm or even 450ppm no matter what else we do. The planet is lost.
If we develop new technologies to suck massive amounts of CO2 from the air and sequester it and then require all power plant operators to be carbon neutral, that would work too. In the absence of a proven technology to do this economically, at large scale for all coal plants, and without risk of accidental release, the Cash for Coal option may be our cheapest solution since it doesn’t generate the CO2 in the first place and ultimately is more cost effective.