Archive for November, 2013

A final contribution from Warsaw

As most will have seen from various media reports, delegates to COP 19 in Warsaw continued negotiating the outcome until late Saturday night. The key sticking points were “loss and damage” and the shape of national actions that would ultimately form the foundation of the 2015 deal (for implementation post 2020).

The agreement from the Doha COP (3/CP.18) to create a mechanism for “loss and damage” related to climate change was delivered on, but probably fell far short of what many developing country negotiators were hoping for. Those at the extreme of this may have been interpreting it as a formula to assess the climate component of national reparations from a given event or weather trend and then bill emitters accordingly, but this is not how the problem was addressed by the negotiators in Warsaw. Rather, the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage establishes an advisory and information sharing body with an executive committee that must report annually to SBSTA and SBI and make recommendations. At least for now, this issue has been kicked into the long grass, but it will return in 2016 when it is subject to review at COP 22.

As noted, the second major sticking point was over the nature of national mitigation actions post 2020. The agreed text seeks to have these tabled in the next 18 months, i.e. by Q1 2015. Specifically the text says:

To invite all  Parties to initiate or intensify domestic preparations for their intended  nationally determined contributions,  without prejudice to the  legal nature of the contributions, in the context  of adopting a  protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties towards achieving the objective of the Convention as set out in its Article 2 and to communicate them well in advance of the twenty-first session of the Conference of the Parties (by the first quarter of 2015 by those  Parties ready to do so) in a  manner that facilitates  the clarity, transparency and understanding of the intended contributions, without prejudice to the legal nature of the contributions;

Reaffirming the mandate agreed in Durban which aims to see all countries treating mitigation similarly, the negotiators landed on the wording “prepare contributions”, rather than some countries being asked for specific reduction targets or commitments and others for appropriate (to their development status) actions. The latter would have been a retreat back towards the strict developed / developing country division of the Kyoto Protocol, so this wording is a positive development in that sense.

But the compromise word of “contribution” has its own issues and is not the same as “commitments”. The two words have very different meanings;

Commitment: the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc., or, an engagement or obligation that restricts freedom of action. 

Contribution: a gift or payment to a common fund or collection (e.g. the part played by a person or thing in bringing about a result or helping something to advance).

What the world has settled on is essentially a voluntary role for nations as this is the essence of a contribution, rather than the obligation that arises from a commitment. Perhaps we all knew this, but it is now becoming clear that nobody has any particular requirement to do anything with regards mitigation. It is certainly looking unlikely that this choice of wording is preparing nations for what is necessary if they are indeed going to achieve the objective of the Convention as set out in Article 2:

. . . . stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.

While there is certain to be a long argument at some point about the exact level of stabilization that is necessary, the above statement nevertheless requires that anthropogenic emissions are eventually reduced to about zero (or at least net zero), in that without such a reduction stabilization is not really possible. It is also likely to be the case that this needs to happen during this century so as to avoid an excessive global temperature excursion and therefore dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system (the official line here is of course 2°C, which implies net zero emissions rather sooner than the end of this century, but still in the second half).

A further aspect of the intended global agreement is that while it currently lacks any structure, it will seemingly require contributions now that eventually deliver on the needs of the Convention (although the 2015 outcome will probably only cover the period 2020-2030).  In theory and if negotiators followed this line of argument, it would give nations only one variable left to play with in determining said contributions, that being the date at which they intend to reach net zero emissions. Statements of this magnitude hardly fall into the category of voluntary efforts, rather they become national obligations that may well restrict freedom of action in the future, at least at a national level. That sounds very much like a commitment.

It could therefore be argued that the frantic last hours of a long COP that started out with very low expectations have delivered a challenging legal paradox. Of course it will be unraveled by a focus on the word “towards”, in that it implies a 2015 agreement that doesn’t require a statement of zero emissions now, but at least a pathway that eventually gets there. But this is meant to be a global agreement for the long term, not another interim step towards real action. Whether or not the 2015 agreement embraces a concept such as “net zero emissions” remains to be seen, but if it does then it is hard to see that “contributions” will be a robust approach to getting there. If it doesn’t embrace the concept then it won’t be the global agreement the world actually needs, which means that “contributions” will probably do for now but stabilization of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will continue to remain elusive.

Selling CCS at a climate conference

As COP 19 rolls on in Warsaw, both delegates and observers that I have talked to are seeing little agreement, despite the sometimes upbeat assessment coming from the UNFCCC. It may well be late on Friday or even Saturday before something appears from this COP.

Meanwhile the side event and external (to the formal COP) conference programmes continue. It is through these processes that participants can meet and discuss various aspects related to climate change. This being a meeting about climate change, it might be expected that attendees would be interested in hearing about carbon capture and storage (CCS), but it turns out this is a hard sell here. The problem seems to start at the COP venue itself, where the meeting room banners feature various approaches to energy and environmental management. CCS doesn’t get a mention.

 COP Banners

All I could find were Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy Sources, Air Protection and Water & Wastewater Management.

This theme continues in many presentations, speeches, dinner conversations and panel discussions. While CCS does of course feature when organizations such as GCCSI hold events, at more general climate solution events it struggles to hold its own. Rather the focus is solidly on energy efficiency and renewables. Neither of these are anything close to sufficient solutions to the climate problem as it stands today, yet you could sometimes come to the conclusion that this is what the COP is actually about.

Energy efficiency has transformed global industry since the first day of the industrial revolution. Everything we do is possible through a combination of technology innovation and energy efficiency, from power stations to vehicles to mobile phones. The result of this has been tremendous growth, but with it has come a continuous rise in greenhouse gas emissions, particularly CO2. We use more goods and services, buy more stuff and travel further than at any point in human history and there is no apparent let up in this trend as it continues to pervade the entire global economy. But now energy efficiency is being sold as a mechanism for reducing emissions, throwing into reverse a trend that has been with us for over 200 years and fundamentally challenging economic building blocks such as Jevons Paradox. A parade of people representing business organizations, environmental NGOs and multilateral institutions will wax lyrical about energy efficiency. In one presentation an airline industry spokesperson talked about the tremendous improvements in efficiency the industry was making, through engine design, light weighting, route optimization and arrival and departure planning. There is no doubt that this is happening, but it is also bringing cheaper air travel to millions of people and of course forcing up emissions for the industry as a whole. There is no sign of this trend reversing itself. Adding a carbon price to the energy mix is the way to change this trend and still make energy efficiency improvements. 

The renewable energy story is told in a similar way. While there is also no doubt that the application of renewable energy is bringing benefits to many countries, offering distributed energy, providing off-grid electricity and supplementing the global energy supply in a tangible way, the global average CO2 intensity of energy has remained stubbornly the same since the 1980s when it dropped on a relative scale (1990 = 100) from 107 in 1971 to 100 in 1987 (Source: IEA). It was still at 100 in 2011. This is not to say it will never change, but simply advocating for renewable energy is very unlikely to take us to net zero emissions before the end of this century. The fossil fuel base on which the economy rests is also growing as demand for energy grows. As recent IEA World Energy Outlooks have repeatedly shown, much of this new demand is being met with coal. The only way to manage emissions from coal is the application of CCS, yet this seemingly falls on deaf ears here in Warsaw.

When CCS does get a mention, it is increasingly phrased as CCUS, with the “U” standing for “use”. In her one upbeat mention of CCS that I have heard, UNFCCC Executive Secretary also referred to it as CCUS. In another forum, one participant even talked about “commoditizing” CO2 to find a range of new uses. The problem is that CO2 really can’t be used for much of anything, with one modest (compared to the scale of global emissions) but important exception. The largest use today is for enhanced oil recovery where the USA has a mature and growing industry. It was originally built on the back of natural CO2 extracted from the sub-surface, but the industry now pays enough for CO2 that it can provide support to carbon capture at power plants and other facilities (usually with some capital funding from the likes of DOE).  This has helped the US establish a CCS demonstration programme of sorts.

There are other minor industrial gas uses (soft drinks), some scope for vegetable greenhouses such as the Shell project in the Netherlands (which provides refinery CO2 to Rotterdam greenhouses for enhanced growing, rather than have them produce it by burnaing natural gas) and a technology that quickly absorbs CO2 in certain minerals to make a new material for building, but all of these are tiny. The problem is that CO2 is the result of combustion and energy release and therefore any chemistry that turns it into something useful again requires lots of energy – nature does this and uses sunlight. Even if such a step were possible, this wouldn’t change the CO2 balance in the atmosphere, just as any bio process doesn’t change the overall balance in the atmosphere. Only sequestration, either natural or anthropogenic, changes that balance.

“Show me the money” or CO2 mitigation at COP 19 ??

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After the first week of the Warsaw COP, an observer could be excused for wondering what exactly the thousands of delegates meeting here were actually discussing. The closest the assembled negotiators, NGOs, business people and UN staff came to seriously talking about CO2 mitigation was when Japan announced its new 2020 target, an increase of 3% in emissions vs. 1990 (but positioned as a decrease of 3.8% vs. 2005 emissions). The change in target by Japan is a consequence of their decision to stop all use of nuclear power following the Fukushima disaster.

Curiously, the Japanese announcement was criticized by China, with their climate negotiator Su Wei saying: “I have no way of describing my dismay” about the revised target. The European Union also expressed disappointment and said it expected all nations to stick to promised cuts as part of efforts to halt global warming. Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC told Reuters that, “It is regrettable.” Somewhat predictably, she forecast that Japan’s planned investments in energy efficiency and renewable power would prove that the target could be toughened.

The Japanese decision sent one other major ripple through the football stadium holding the COP, that being the realization that national pledges are wide open to correction and change as circumstances dictate. Given that “pledge and review” is the likely foundation of the global deal that negotiators are aiming for in 2015, the Japanese move brings into question if such an approach has any legitimacy at all. Had the original Japanese target been underpinned by carbon market instruments with the robustness that we expect of financial markets, they might have felt compelled to buy the difference, which would have at least financed equivalent compensating mitigation actions in other parts of the world (although that being said, Canada took no such action when it failed to meet its goals under the Kyoto Protocol, it just rescinded its ratification instead).

But Japan and CO2 was a momentary distraction from the real discussion, money. This has appeared in a variety of forms and is endemic within the process. There is endless questioning about the $100 billion pledge made in Copenhagen;

In the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation, developed countries commit to a goal of mobilizing jointly USD 100 billion dollars a year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries.

. . . with the most often repeated phrase from many countries being akin to “Show me the money”. Of course, the intention of the Copenhagen Accord was never to have $100 billion per annum deposited in the Green Climate Fund by Annex 1 countries, but to develop approaches which would see at least $100 billion per annum in mitigation and adaptation investment flow to developing countries, leveraged by instruments such as the Green Climate Fund. Unfortunately this interpretation of the pledge is largely ignored.

show-me-the-money-38mm 

Money also rears its head in the Loss and Damage discussion where agreement was reached in the dying hours of the Doha COP to agree a mechanism for this in Warsaw. The horrors appearing across the media of the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines has of course focused minds on this discussion. In their various opportunities to speak in the plenary sessions, many nations called for the Loss and Damage issue to be rapidly progressed in Warsaw. 

Even within the discussions on technology transfer there is a renewed call from some nations for the opening up of patents (money) on a variety of “climate friendly” technologies.

The other half of any COP is the side event programme and here CO2 mitigation didn’t get much of an airing either. There were many side events on financing and adaptation and those on energy primarily focused on energy efficiency and renewables, neither of which offer a direct path to measurable and sustained CO2 mitigation. By contrast, the few side events on carbon capture and storage were rather sparsely attended.

The rather sparsely attended but content rich GCCSI event on CCS developments.

The rather sparsely attended but content rich GCCSI event on CCS developments.

 Even the “Green Climate” exhibition in the Palace of Culture was principally focused on energy efficiency in buildings, solar PV and waste management. However, Shell at least kept the CCS flag waving with its novel CCS lift / elevator (something of a virtual ride to 2 kms below the surface where CO2 could be safely stored).

The Shell CCS “lift” in the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw.

The Shell CCS “lift” in the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw.

So to week 2 of the Warsaw COP, which will likely end in the usual rush to a declaration of some description at the end, although in the very last hours of Week 1 on Saturday night the collected negotiators came away with nothing agreed on FVA and NMM.

What to make of COP 19?

The flight from London to Warsaw this week gave me a chance to flick through the latest World Energy Outlook from the IEA (I couldn’t use the word “read” here as that would barely be possible on a flight to Melbourne, let alone Warsaw) and read a number of articles in the principle introductory publication to COP 19 (Climate Change – The New Economy), which amazingly enough was available in the BA Lounge at Heathrow.

 Climate Change - The New Economy

Further to these publications, UNEP released their 2013 Gap Report on Wednesday afternoon at a side event in the football stadium where the COP is being held (it doubles as a convention centre).

The COP publication contains a series of articles from various stakeholders, all extolling the virtues of one particular technology over another as a means of delivering the needed emission reductions over the coming decades (e.g. efficient lighting!!). But on opening the publication there is a two page advertisement for a much more efficient and clean coal bed methane to liquids process  under the heading “You will be amazed what we can do with coal”, followed by a two page spread from WWF titled “Help Save the Fridge”, with an expansive picture of pack ice in Spitsbergen. This rather sets the scene for the tensions that may well run right through this particular conference.

The document then continues with messages from the Polish Minister for the Environment (the COP President) and Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC. Ms. Figueres’ article outlines with great exuberance how climate change represents “the mother of all opportunities” and goes on to note that more than 30 countries have climate legislation and 100 countries have renewable energy regulations. Of course she needs to be optimistic, how else could anyone face up to the reality of increasing global coal use and the task of delivering a deal that needs to bring global emissions to somewhere near zero later this century.

The contrast between these realities is highlighted by the UNEP Gap Report and the IEA World Energy Outlook. The Gap Report clearly recognizes that current national actions will not put us on a trajectory that looks anything like 2°C, but it then outlines a wide range of actions that UNEP claim could potentially be taken to reverse this trend. Although the Gap Report notes that timing is now very tight, it nevertheless goes on to outline reduction potentials across all the major emitting sectors (including agriculture) that add up to 17 GtCO2e per annum (middle of the range) below “business as usual” in just six years. This would take us well below current emissions and reverse a trend, almost overnight, that has been a reality for over 200 years.

 Bridge the GAP

 

The IEA also present a 450 ppm scenario, as they always have, but perhaps a more realistic scenario is their New Policies case. This scenario assumes the continuation of existing policies and measures (like the ETS in Australia !!!) as well as cautious implementation of policies that have been announced by governments but are yet to come into effect (e.g. the ETS in Korea). Given the pace of energy policy change over the last decade and the time it takes to debate, agree and implement new policies, this is probably a much fairer assessment of what is to come. Under this scenario, CO2 emissions in the energy sector rise from 31 GT in 2011, to 34.5 GT in 2020. This is quite a modest increase of just 1.2% p.a. which may well have been (almost) realized between 2011 and 2012 (see previous post), but that depends entirely on whose data is used. However, it isn’t the reduction that UNEP is saying is still possible.

This isn’t exactly news, but despite the wealth of optimistic publications and climate-speak here in Warsaw, the 2°C pathway remains out of reach. Perhaps the two page spread in the front of the COP publication was inserted as a sobering but much needed reminder of how the energy system is actually developing. Until delegates and observers come to terms with this and plan for it rather than attempt to swim upstream against the deluge, it is hard to see real progress being made. There continues to be a lot of criticism of the fact that Poland is holding this conference while at the same time continuing to run its economy on coal, but hopefully this actually helps ground the process in the difficult reality that is the current global energy system.

Perhaps the BBC and others are having a fit of pre-COP optimism, but two recent stories would lead the reader / listener to the view that the world is at last turning the corner on emissions.

This started with BBC coverage of a report from the Netherlands Environment Agency which provided an assessment of global emissions for 2012, one of the most up to date reviews of global greenhouse gas emissions. While the report showed actual global emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use and limestone calcination (cement) reaching a new record of 34.5 billion tonnes in 2012, it noted that the increase in  emissions in that year slowed down to 1.4% (corrected due to the leap year), which was less than half the average annual increase of 2.9% over the last decade. The BBC argued that this development signals a shift towards less fossil-fuel-intensive activities, more use of renewable energy and increased energy saving.

 Global CO2 Emissions

Not to pour cold water on this, but the recent publication by BP of their Statistical Review of World Energy didn’t show such a marked change, although the rate of increase was certainly down. The chart below shows how the rate of increase (according to BP) has changed over the years, but it’s hard to argue that we have broken out of the long term range.

CO2 Emissions year on year change

The BBC followed this with a BBC World report, including an interview with David Kennedy, CEO of the UK Committee on Climate Change, where they argued that the world is turning a corner in terms of climate cooperation, clean energy deployment and ultimately emissions. The evidence for this was rather scant, but included a look at a very sophisticated heat capture system in Norway which exchanges heat from waste domestic water in Oslo. They also presented a chart which showed the world decarbonisation trend, i.e. CO2 per GDP, and drew solace from the fact that the Chinese decarbonisation rate was increasing (note that CO2 per GDP requires estimates of both global CO2 emissions and global GDP and that these numbers can vary from source to source). The BBC did note that the world “has much more to do”, but that there is finally cause for optimism.

The reality check on all this comes from PWC, with their new report Busting the Carbon Budget. They also focus on decarbonisation rates, but looking forward rather than back (where, unlike the BBC, they had no cause to celebrate at all). PWC note that if the world maintains the current decarbonisation rate of about 0.7% per annum, the global carbon budget for a 2°C pathway (IPCC RCP2.6 scenario) will be depleted by 2034, just 20 years away. Meeting RCP 2.6 now requires a decarbonisation rate of 6% per annum. Meeting the budget for the less ambitious RCP 4.5 scenario requires rates of 3% and even “meeting” the RCP 8.5 (4°C) scenario budget still requires decarbonisation rates which are double current practice.

The PWC report delves into national data as well and notes that Australia, the USA and Indonesia are the only three countries that have recently come close to the needed decarbonisation rates but that not one country has managed to sustain such a rate for five years. PWC finds that energy efficiency is the bright spot in that almost all of the change in carbon intensity can be attributed to efficiency improvements. For me, this is a cause for concern, in that intensity improvements are therefore masking that lack of progress on real energy mix decarbonisation. Efficiency will drive GDP, which in turn can give the appearance of decarbonisation when in fact there isn’t any. PWC note that CO2 per unit of energy consumed has remained at approximately the same level for five years.

The PWC review of mitigation highlights a number of home truths;

  1. The shale gas revolution in the USA is causing US coal to shift to other parts of the world (which highlights the need for more widespread adoption of carbon pricing).
  2. Biofuels consumption is largely confined to the Americas.
  3. There is a slow rise in renewable energy but reliance on fossil fuels is effectively unchanged.
  4. Nuclear is losing ground following Fukushima.
  5. There has been negligible progress in the deployment of CCS technology.

PWC conclude with the statement “Crucial is the collective will to act.” According to the BBC and the UK CCC we may be turning the corner in the regard, but let’s wait until COP 19 in Warsaw next week to see how that one develops.

It is widely known that Poland gets much of its energy from coal (it is even a net exporter). Many countries do, so it is hardly alone in this regard. In my last post I illustrated the increasing global dependence on coal through a recent tender issued by two states in India for a total of 8 GW of coal. At the recent Chatham House Climate Conference, one speaker noted that current Asian coal projects will add some 250 GW of capacity by the end of this decade. These facts highlight the challenge that we face in trying to manage global emissions.

In light of the above, what should we then make of the Warsaw Communique released recently by the World Coal Association and the Polish government. Of course Warsaw is the location of the COP 19 Climate Change Conference and the Polish government will preside over the event. For many environmental NGOs and others the Communique was a step too far, with “outrage” emanating from some green groups.

On the surface, there is a contradiction between coal use and managing global emissions. After all, coal is the most carbon intense fossil fuel and its global use has risen sharply in recent years along with a corresponding rise in emissions. If it were not for this significant increase in coal use, renewable energy would actually be making inroads into the global energy mix and taking some measureable market share. In reality, it isn’t. But the Communique argues that increasing the efficiency of coal combustion can go a long way towards addressing its increased use. The text also makes some reference to carbon capture and storage and clean coal, but its focus is solidly on efficiency.

Like it or not, coal use is going to continue, but arguing for increased efficiency as an approach to managing its emissions is where the criticism should be leveled, not at the idea that coal use is potentially compatible with a very low emission future.

Increasing the efficiency of coal use is really where the whole issue of rapidly increasing global emissions started, so it is very unlikely to be the place where it stops. It was William Stanley Jevons who noted that coal use increased as efficiency improved. Jevons Paradox is the proposition that technological progress that increases the efficiency with which a resource is used tends to increase (rather than decrease) the rate of consumption of that resource. In 1865 Jevons observed that technological improvements that increased the efficiency of coal use led to increased consumption of coal in a wide range of industries. He argued that, contrary to common intuition, technological improvements could not be relied upon to reduce fuel consumption. There are more modern versions of this analysis, one of which I wrote about in a post last year.

While individual coal plants may well become more efficient as a result of a global efficiency initiative, total coal use and therefore the total accumulation of emissions over time will likely rise. This then pushes us faster towards some fixed amount of atmospheric warming (as this is directly related to cumulative emissions over time).

So the Warsaw Communique is barking up the wrong tree, even as it opens up the valid discussion about growing global coal use in the face of a desire to see emissions fall. The focus of the Communique should have been Carbon Capture and Storage, not efficiency. CCS is the bridge technology between a world that will use more coal but also wants to reduce emissions. There are more than enough people already barking up the efficiency tree, but precious few trying to hold a real conversation about CCS.

A Communique that focused on CCS would have been a real achievement and a welcome addition to the COP. Unfortunately the Communique that did emerge may turn out to be an “own goal”.