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As governments struggle to find practical routes forward with positive outcomes for CO2 mitigation, attention is turning to dealing with other greenhouse gases, particularly methane. A number of methane emission initiatives are now underway or being planned, for example those within the Climate and Clean Air Coalition.

Methane seems like an obvious place to start. Anthropogenic emissions are about 250 million tonnes per annum. A tonne of methane emitted now has a short term (20 years) impact on atmospheric warming which is some 80 times greater than a tonne of CO2. This means that over the period of twenty years, the methane will add 80 times the amount of heat to the atmosphere as the carbon dioxide. But methane breaks down in the atmosphere quite quickly with a ‘half life’ of about seven years, so on a 100 year basis (with the methane effectively gone) the impact of a tonne of methane emitted now compared to a tonne of CO2 is much less. The factor falls to about 28, but even with a lower multiplier reducing methane still seems to be a worthwhile endeavour. While agricultural methane may require real lifestyle changes to bring down, e.g. less meat consumption, industrial methane emission management looks like something that can be done. Often mitigation may be a case of good housekeeping, such as monitoring and maintaining pipelines to minimize fugitive emissions.

While most articles about methane simply use the GWP (Global Warming Potential over 100 years) of 28 and present data and economics on that basis, a few dig deeper. Of note is the work of the Oxford-Martin School who present a number of policy papers on methane. In the more popular press, Burning Question author Duncan Clark has written about methane.

Both follow a similar line of reasoning. They note that methane and CO2, while both greenhouse gases, behave very differently with regards their impact on the actual goal of the UNFCCC, to limit eventual peak warming to 2°C or less. As noted, methane is a relatively short lived gas in the atmosphere, whereas CO2 is a long lived gas that accumulates in the atmosphere. This means there is another dimension to the issue, time. The point in time at which they are emitted relative to each other and the shape of any reduction pathway relative to the other is important. Duncan Clark describes this in the following way:

The difference between carbon dioxide and methane is a bit like the difference between burning coal and paper on a fire. Both generate plenty of heat but whereas the coal burns steadily for a long time and accumulates if you keep adding more, the paper gives an intense burst of warmth but one that quickly disappears once you stop adding it.

Peak warming is largely dictated by the cumulative amount of CO2 emitted over time. If a certain amount of methane is also emitted, the timing of that emission is what matters. Methane that is emitted today will immediately impact the rate of warming, but long before we reach peak warming (assuming CO2 emissions are eventually brought under control and warming actually peaks) the methane will have left the atmosphere and been converted to carbon dioxide, in which case it’s impact on peak warming is based only on the CO2 that remains from the methane. We may have accelerated warming in the short term but peak warming will remain largely unchanged. In this case, the warming potential of methane expressed in terms of its impact on peak temperature falls sharply and comes close to the stoichiometric conversion of methane to carbon dioxide, which is about 3, i.e. a tonne of methane when combusted or oxidised in the atmosphere gives rise to about three tonnes of carbon dioxide. Conversely, methane that is emitted much later, say when we are close to peak warming, will directly add to whatever level of temperature we happen to reach.

Does this mean that we shouldn’t bother about methane today? Unfortunately the answer is an ambiguous no. If we are confident that the world will quickly and decisively reduce CO2 emissions then of course we must also be reducing methane and other greenhouse gases as well. If we don’t, then we will still have a methane problem at the time peak CO2 induced warming occurs, in which case we will almost certainly overshoot our peak warming goal, i.e. 2°C with the additional warming from the other greenhouse gases. But if we don’t address the CO2 issue, then addressing the methane issue now doesn’t offer a lot of benefit for later on. Instead, the benefit that we do get is less short term warming as we will have removed the intense burst of warming that the methane is providing.

Of course, since we don’t know how well or otherwise the task of CO2 mitigation will proceed (despite the fact that the track record is pretty poor), we feel obliged to act on methane now in case the CO2 mitigation picks up.  At least we know that we will slow down the near term rate of warming by doing so.

Not surprisingly, it turns out that dealing with methane and atmospheric warming is just as complex as dealing with CO2. In the case of CO2, many are convinced that steps such as efficiency measures can curtail warming, when all they are probably doing is geographically or temporally shifting the same CO2 emissions such that the eventual accumulation in the atmosphere is unchanged. In the case of methane, treating it as if it were interchangeable with CO2 but with a convenient and high multiplier may make us feel that modest effort is delivering great benefit, when in fact little benefit is being delivered at all.

In both cases it is the science that we have to look at to decide on the appropriate strategy, not expediency and certainly not sentiment.

Revisiting Kaya

Today we see a huge focus on renewable energy and energy efficiency as solutions for reducing CO2 emissions and therefore addressing the climate issue. Yet, as I have discussed in other posts, such a strategy may not deliver the outcome people expect and might even add to the problem, particularly in the case of efficiency. I am not the only one who has said this and clearly the aforementioned strategy has been operating for some 20 years now with emissions only going one way, up.

Kaya Yoichi

A question that perhaps should be asked is “why have many arrived at this solution set?”. Focusing on efficiency and renewable energy as a solution to climate change possibly stems from the wide dissemination of the Kaya Identity, developed in 1993 by Japanese energy economist Yoichi Kaya (pictured above). He noted that:

 Kaya formula

 Or in other words:

Kaya formula (words)

Therefore, by extension over many years (where k = climate sensitivity): 

Climate Kaya formula (words)

In most analysis using the Kaya approach, the first two terms are bypassed. Population management is not a useful way to open a climate discussion, nor is any proposal to limit individual wealth or development (GDP per person). The discussion therefore rests on the back of the argument that because rising emissions are directly linked to the carbon intensity of energy (CO2/Energy) and the energy use per unit of GDP (Energy/GDP or efficiency) within the global economy, lowering these by improving energy efficiency and deploying renewable energy must be the solutions to opt for.

But the Kaya Identity is just describing the distribution of emissions throughout the economy, rather than the real economics of fossil fuel extraction and its consequent emissions. Starting with a simple mineral such as coal, it can be picked up off the ground and exchanged for money based on its energy content. The coal miner will continue to do this until the accessible resource is depleted or the amount of money offered for the coal is less than it costs to pick it up and deliver it for payment. In the case of the latter, the miner could just wait until the price rises again and continue deliveries. Alternatively, the miner could aim to become more efficient, lowering the cost of pickup and delivery and therefore continuing to operate. The fossil fuel industry has been doing this very successfully since its beginnings.

The impact on the climate is a function (f) of the total amount delivered from the resource, not how efficiently it is used, when it is used, how many wind turbines are also in use or how many people use it. This implies the following;

Climate formula (words)

This may also mean that the energy price has to get very low for the miner to stop producing the coal. Of course that is where renewable energy can play an important role, but the trend to date has been for energy system costs to rise as renewable energy is installed. A further complication arises in that once the mine is operating and all the equipment for extraction is in place, the energy price has to fall below the marginal operating cost to stop the operation. The miner may go bankrupt in the process as capital debt is not being serviced, but that still doesn’t necessarily stop the mine operating. It may just get sold off to someone who can run it and the lost capital written off.

This doesn’t have to be the end of the story though. A price on the resultant carbon emissions can tilt the balance by changing the equation;

Climate formula with carbon price (words)

When the carbon price is high enough to offset the profit from the resource extraction, then the process will stop, but not before. The miner would then need to invest in carbon capture and storage to negate the carbon costs and restart the extraction operation.

What this shows is that the carbon price is critical to the problem. Just building a climate strategy on the back of efficiency and renewable energy use may never deliver a reduction in emissions. Efficiency in particular may offer the unexpected incentive of making resource extraction cheaper, which in turn makes it all the more competitive.

 

The rational middle

My most recent post, “The other end of the spectrum”, which reported on a Tyndall Centre conference, is quite possibly my most read post ever and certainly the most commented on. The post was written following my attendance at the Radical Emissions Reduction Conference, where the word “radical” was, at least by some, interpreted as part of the invitation rather than part of the solution. The flood of blog comments (30+, where 3-5 is my norm) that followed was something of a surprise. What does this say about the state of the climate debate?

The reason for the post was to make the point that the people who frequent the two ends of the climate change discussion aren’t really helping. Rather, there is an apparent delight in throwing rocks at each other (the “sceptic / denier” rock and the “activist / loony socialist” rock to name two), with the group in the middle left to keep their heads down and make some attempt at crafting a solution to the CO2 issue that we have. But as if on cue, many of the 30+ commentators who took the time to read my post and offer their own thoughts, did so by launching a barrage of their own rocks. For the most part I wasn’t the target, rather it was the conference attendees whom I had written about.

Some readers were surprised that I was apparently surprised by the “activist” end of the climate discussion. In reality, it wasn’t the content that was a surprise as I have heard it all before, but I was caught off guard by the concentration of it at a Tyndall Centre meeting hosted by the Royal Society – both institutions that carry considerable weight and credibility here in the UK. Perhaps I had mistakenly put the Tyndall Centre, or at least this part of their work, in the same category of climate research groups that I have more regular exposure to, such as the MIT Joint Program in the USA.

Irrespective of how it came about, the exchange highlights the two ends of the climate discussion, with the rational middle struggling to be heard. The world either seems to have a catastrophe on its hands or the science is a hoax, which when translated to the similarly polarized mitigation discussion becomes a debate about temperature – i.e. we either have to be under 2°C or 4+°C and global downturn will surely follow. Of course 4 doesn’t follow 2 and in any case, neither may be the outcome. For example, the recent Shell Mountains scenario talks about a world in which emissions trend down from the 2030s, reaching near zero by 2100. In this scenario cumulative CO2 emissions from 1750-2100 are 1.25 trillion tonnes carbon, which although not a 2°C trajectory, clearly isn’t 4°C either. Yet this is a plausible view of the future, certainly requiring a strong hand in the application of CCS, but not needing a return to communal agrarian lifestyles as some were hinting at the Royal Society event. The latter notion, not surprisingly, brings a strong rebuke from the so called “deniers”.

Moving past a discussion that is seemingly focused on “hoax or catastrophe” and “<2°C or 4+°C” needs to happen quickly if there is going to be any reasonable attempt to mitigate and eventually contain anthropogenic CO2 emissions. So strong is the rhetoric from both sides that the rational middle has shifted much of its focus to clean and green (efficient use of a broader energy portfolio), which while useful in terms of better managing the global energy outlook, may not result in the necessary downturn in emissions. The Shell Oceans scenario posed this dilemma, where a world undergoing a rapid transition to solar PV (in particular) and implementing enhanced energy efficiency measures driven by higher energy prices, manages to exceed the cumulative emissions of the Mountains case, simply because of the much later arrival of CCS.

One manifestation of this end weighted spectrum of views is the very limited progress in dealing with rising CO2 in the atmosphere. Carbon pricing is struggling to gain widespread acceptance, CCS projects are few and far between and the UNFCCC process now has little to show for years of work. It may be interesting for the Tyndall Centre to hold a Radical Emissions Reduction conference, but if it acts as a catalyst for an even deeper division of views, then it really hasn’t helped anybody.

On that note, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Hopefully there is a bit more convergence in 2014.

“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.

Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map

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The world is not on track to meet the target agreed by governments to limit the long term rise in the average global temperature to 2 degrees Celsius (°C).

International Energy Agency, June 2013

The International Energy Agency (IEA) is well known for its annual World Energy Outlook, released towards the end of each year. In concert with the WEO come one or more special publications and this year is no exception. Just released is a new report which brings the IEA attention back squarely on the climate issue, Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map. The IEA have traditionally focused on the climate issue through their 450 ppm scenario. While they continue to do that this time, they are also going further with a more pragmatic model for thinking about emissions, that being the “trillion tonne” approach. I have discussed this at some length in previous posts.

The report looks deeply into the current state of climate affairs and as a result fires a warning shot across the bows of current national and UNFCCC efforts to chart a pathway in keeping with the global goal of limiting warming to 2 °C above pre-industrial levels. The IEA argue that we are on the edge of the 2 °C precipice and recommends a series of immediate steps to take to at least stop us falling in. With the catchy soundbite of ” 4 for 2° “, the IEA recommend four immediate steps in the period from now to 2020;

  1. Rapid improvements in energy efficiency, particularly for appliances, lighting, manufacturing machinery, road transport and within the built environment.
  2. Phasing out of older inefficient coal fired power stations and restricting less efficient new builds.
  3. Reductions in fugitive methane emissions in the oil and gas industry.
  4. Reductions in fossil fuel subsidies.

These will supposedly keep some hope of a 2°C outcome alive, although IEA makes it clear that much more has to be done in the 2020s and beyond. However, it didn’t go so far as to say that the 2° patient is dead, rather it is on life support.

I had some role in all this and you will find my name in the list of reviewers on page 4 of the report. I also attended a major workshop on the issue in March where I presented the findings of the Shell New Lens Scenarios and as a result advocated for the critical role that carbon capture and storage (CCS) must play in the solution set.

As a contributor, I have to say that I am a bit disappointed with the outcome of the report, although it is understandable how the IEA has arrived where it has. There just isn’t the political leadership available today to progress the things that really need to be done, so we fall back on things that sound about right and at least are broadly aligned with what is happening anyway. As a result, we end up with something of a lost opportunity and more worryingly support an existing political paradigm which doesn’t fully recognize the difficulty of the issue. By arguing that we can keep the door open to 2°C with no impact on GDP and by only doing things that are of immediate economic benefit, the report may even be setting up more problems for the future.

My concern starts with the focus on energy efficiency as the principal interim strategy for managing global emissions. Yes, improving energy efficiency is a good thing to do and cars and appliances should be built to minimize energy use, although always with a particular energy price trajectory in mind. But will this really reduce global emissions and more importantly will it make any difference by 2020?

My personal view on these questions is no. I don’t think actions to improve local energy efficiency can reduce global emissions, at least until global energy demand is saturated. Currently, there isn’t the faintest sign that we are even close to saturation point. There are still 1-2 billion people without any modern energy services and some 4 billion people looking to increase their energy use through the purchase of goods and services (e.g. mobility) to raise their standard of living. Maybe 1-1.5 billion people have reached demand saturation, but even they keep surprising us with new needs (e.g. Flickr now offers 1 TB of free storage for photographs). Improvements in efficiency in one location either results in a particular service becoming cheaper and typically more abundant or it just makes that same energy available to any of the 5 billion people mentioned above at a slightly lower price. Look at it the other way around, which oil wells, coal mines or gas production facilities are going to reduce output over the next seven years because the energy efficiency of air conditioners is further improved. The fossil fuel industry is very supply focused and with the exception of substantial short term blips (2008 financial crisis), just keeps producing. Over a longer timespan lower energy prices will change the investment portfolio and therefore eventual levels of production, but in the short term there is little chance of this happening. This is a central premise of the book I recently reviewedThe Burning Question.

Even exciting new technologies such as LED lighting may not actually reduce energy use, let alone emissions. Today, thanks to LEDs, it’s not just the inside of buildings where we see lights at night, but outside as well. Whole buildings now glow blue and red, lit with millions of LEDs that each use a fraction of the energy of their incandescent counterparts – or it would be a fraction if incandescent lights had even been used to illuminate cityscapes on the vast scale we see today. The sobering reality is that lighting efficiency has only ever resulted in more global use of lighting and more energy and more emissions, never less.

doha_skyline_560px

An analysis from Sandia National Laboratories in the USA looks at this phenomena and concludes;

The result of increases in luminous efficacy has been an increase in demand for energy used for lighting that nearly exactly offsets the efficiency gains—essentially a 100% rebound in energy use.

 I don’t think this is limited to just lighting. Similar effects have been observed in the transport sector. Even in the built environment, there is evidence that as efficiency measures improve home heating, average indoor temperatures rise rather than energy use simply falling.

The second recommendation focuses on older and less efficient coal fired power stations. In principle this is a good thing to do and at least starts to contribute to the emissions issue. This is actually happening in the USA and China today, but is it leading to lower emissions globally? In the USA national emissions are certainly falling as natural gas has helped push older coal fired power stations to close, but much of the coal that was being burnt is now being exported, to the extent that global emissions may not be falling. Similarly in China, older inefficient power stations are closing, but the same coal is going to newer plants where higher efficiency just means more electricity – not less emissions. I discussed the efficiency effect in power stations in an old posting, showing how under some scenarios increasing efficiency may lead to even higher emissions over the long term. For this recommendation to be truly effective, it needs to operate in tandem with a carbon price.

The third and fourth recommendations make good sense, although in both instances a number of efforts are already underway. In any case their contribution to the whole is much less than the first two. In the case of methane emissions, reductions now are really only of benefit if over the longer term CO2 emissions are also managed. If aggressive CO2 mitigation begins early, and is maintained until emissions are close to zero, comprehensive methane (and other Short Lived Climate Pollutants – SLCP) mitigation substantially reduces the long-term risk of exceeding 2˚C (even more for 1.5˚C). By contrast, if CO2 emissions continue to rise past 2050, the climate warming avoided by SLCP mitigation is quickly overshadowed by CO2-induced warming. Hence SLCP mitigation can complement aggressive CO2 mitigation, but it is neither equivalent to, nor a substitute for, near-term CO2 emission reductions (see Oxford Martin Policy Brief – The Science and Policy of Short Lived Climate Pollutants)

After many lengthy passages on the current bleak state of affairs with regards global emissions, the weak political response and the “4 for 2°C “ scenario, the report gets to a key finding for the post 2020 effort, that being the need for carbon capture and storage. Seventy seven pages into the document and it finally says;

In relative terms, the largest scale-up, post-2020, is needed for CCS, at seven times the level achieved in the 4-for-2 °C Scenario, or around 3 100 TWh in 2035, with installation in industrial facilities capturing close to 1.0 Gt CO2 in 2035.

Not surprisingly, I think this should have been much closer to page one (and I have heard from the London launch, which I wasn’t able to attend, that the IEA do a better job of promoting CCS in the presentation). As noted in the recently released Shell New lens Scenarios, CCS deployment is the key to resolving the climate issue over this century. We may use it on a very large scale as in Mountains or a more modest scale as in Oceans, but either way it has to come early and fast. For me this means that it needs to figure in the pre-2020 thinking, not with a view to massive deployment as it is just too late for that, but at least with a very focused drive on delivery of several large scale demonstration projects in the power sector. The IEA correctly note that there are none today (Page 77 – “there is no single commercial CCS application to date in the power sector or in energy-intensive industries”).

Of course large scale deployment of CCS from 2020 onwards will need a very robust policy framework (as noted in Box 2.4) and that will also take time to develop. Another key finding that didn’t make it to page one is instead at the bottom of page 79, where the IEA state that;

Framework development must begin as soon as possible to ensure that a lack of appropriate regulation does not slow deployment.

For those that just read the Executive Summary, the CCS story is rather lost. It does get a mention, but is vaguely linked to increased costs and protection of the corporate bottom line, particularly for coal companies. The real insight of its pivotal role in securing an outcome as close as possible to 2°C doesn’t appear.

So my own “ 2 for 2°C before 2020“ would be as follows;

  1. Demonstration of large-scale CCS in the power sector in key locations such as the EU, USA, China, Australia, South Africa and the Gulf States. Not all of these will be operational by 2020, but all should be well underway. At least one “very large scale” demonstration of CCS should also be underway (possibly at the large coal to liquids plants in South Africa).
  2. Development and adoption of a CCS deployment policy framework, with clear links coming from the international deal to be agreed in 2015 for implementation from 2020.

But that might take some political courage!

In recent months there has been a renewed look at the idea of a financial carbon bubble, or unburnable carbon reserves. Most recently, a report from The Carbon Tracker with a forward by Lord Stern of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change (London School of Economics), argued that serious risks are accumulating for investors in high carbon assets, such as coal mining companies and the oil and gas industry.

The idea of the “carbon bubble” is based on a concept that I have discussed many times in this blog: that there is a finite limit to the “atmospheric space” for CO2 while still ensuring that warming does not rise above 2 °C. That limit is about one trillion tonnes of carbon.

Towards the trillionth tonne

The issue of the bubble arises because the combined proven oil, gas and coal reserves currently on the books of fossil fuel companies (and governments in the case of NOCs) will produce far more than this amount of CO2 when consumed. This implies that in a world where the 2 °C limit is imposed and achieved, most of the future value generation of the companies involved will never be realized and therefore investors in them today are looking at a financial bubble that may well burst in front them. According to my analysis and the global reserves data in the BP Statistical Review of World Energy, we get to about 1.6 trillion tonnes of carbon as shown below. This equates to the use of total current fossil energy reserves of about 900 billion tonnes of carbon equivalent (the balance comes from the use of cement and land use change).

 Towards two trillion tonnes

 The report clearly sets out the global carbon budget, the reserves outlook, the current capital flow being consumed to expand those reserves and comes to the additional conclusion that this part of the global energy system will also waste trillions in capex over the coming decade as it develops more reserves that could also become unburnable. The report authors argue that even the massive application of carbon capture and storage will do little to help the situation.

There is really nothing to argue about in terms of the CO2 math itself. It is certainly the case that current proven reserves will take us well past 2 °C if completely consumed and the CO2 emitted. But now comes the reality check!

What is missing in the report is any discussion about the dynamics of the global energy system, the need to meet energy demand and of course the rapid growth we are seeing in that demand. To bring all this math into the equation it is probably best to turn to the new Shell Energy Scenarios, released about two months ago. I discussed these at some length a few weeks back.

In the context of this discussion, the initial focus should probably be on the Oceans scenario in that it sees the very rapid introduction of solar energy, with eventual large scale displacement of fossil fuels in the second half of the century. Global energy demand rises from 535 EJ in 2010 to 777 EJ in 2030 and 1056 EJ in 2060. Although solar (mainly PV) is the largest single energy source by that time, total carbon consumed through fossil fuel use amounts to 800 billion tonnes carbon by the end of the century, just a bit less than current proven reserves (900 billion tonnes as indicated above). The large consumption of fossil fuel is required simply to meet energy needs as renewable energy attempts to catch up with overall demand (which it won’t do until sometime in the 22nd century). This change is purely through the market and social dynamics present in the Oceans scenario, which sees strong growth, improved energy efficiency driven by higher prices and solar eventually dominating. CCS comes in later in the century, removing about 100 billion tonnes of carbon.

NLS Cumulative Emissions

By contrast, Mountains is a fossil fuel scenario, but with heavy reliance on CCS from about 2030. Total fossil fuel use is over a trillion tonnes of carbon equivalent, which exceeds current proven reserves. However, CCS removes some 300 billion tonnes of carbon, giving an overall accumulation of 1.25 trillion tonnes by 2100 (current accumulation plus fossil use to 2100 plus land use change and cement). This is still above the trillion tonne limit, but is the overall lower emissions outlook.

The key lesson from the scenarios in this regard is that both a rapid growth in renewable energy and the early use of CCS are required to manage emissions throughout this century. The paradox is that these exist in different scenarios with entirely different underlying economic and social drivers. It’s quite hard to have both – a world that likes fossil fuel readily gives permission to CCS going forward, but doesn’t really see huge segments of the nergy market taken by renewable energy. Nuclear is strong though. Conversely, the distributed energy solar world of Oceans doesn’t want to hear about CCS and therefore leaves it until physical climate pressures (e.g. extreme weather events) force action.

The reality check for the “carbon bubble” proponents is that global energy demands still need to be met and that there are limits to the growth rate of fossil energy substitutes, even as climate goals come under pressure.

 

After a day in Brussels listening to European MEPs, it is clear that the Parliament vote next week on the Commission proposal to backload the auctioning timeline in Phase III of the European Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), is going to be very close. This is a policy proposal that was born out of the call by many participants in the EU ETS, as well as the European Parliament, to address the chronic allowance surplus and therefore begin to steer the CO2 price into a more useful range in terms of real action and investment. A positive vote on the proposal would also be the start of a more structured reform of the policy package designed to reduce emissions across the EU over the coming decades.

But in the frantic days left before the vote, clarity and reason are struggling to be heard over the clamour of opposition, so here are the top ten reasons why an MEP should vote to support the “backloading” amendment next week:

1. Market Confidence

The current CO2 price in the ETS is just a few euros. Even the assumption that there will be a robust price by 2030 (enough for deploying CCS in 2030s for example), but discounted back to now, should result in a higher price than the one we have. That means the market is discounting the ETS itself, in other words questioning its very existence in 2030. Nobody will invest given such an outlook. A positive vote for backloading will signal that the Parliament is prepared to act on the ETS and begin to restore confidence for energy investment decisions.

2. Low carbon Investment

Apart from its annual compliance function, which the ETS is delivering, its purpose is to provide an investment price signal. This in turn steers long term investment in the covered sector, providing support and justification for lower emission investment opportunities. The near zero price signal being seen today means the EU has returned to “business as usual” energy investment, which is even resulting in a resurgence of coal based power generation projects. This will just put upward pressure on EU emissions in the 2020s. 

3. Jobs

Rewind to 2008 and the €25-30 CO2 price, which in combination with the NER300 saw some 20+ CCS projects being considered. The construction of the world’s first CCS network was a real possibility. Today, with the exception of the UK where the necessary investment signal has been created in a national level “carbon policy bubble“, these projects have been shelved. So too have the jobs that would have been created had they gone ahead.

4. Credibility

Investment depends as much on long term credibility of the policy structure as the policy itself. Business investment will not proceed unless there is a belief that the supporting policy framework is robust and long lasting and therefore able to deliver the necessary return on that investment.

5. Leadership

While there is an issue with the EU over leading on actual emissions reduction, this isn’t the case with leadership on policy development to reduce emissions. Today, many states, provinces and countries have implemented or are in the process of implementing an ETS on the back of the initial success in the EU. They are now watching developments here closely as the EU debates the future of the system. A decision to reject the backloading proposal will potentially undermine the implementation of emissions trading globally (see 10 below).

6. Support

There is a noisy opposition to this proposal, as there was opposition in 2003 to even having an ETS and again in 2008 to building a full policy framework for managing emissions over the longer term. But many companies, institutions, business associations and individuals see the clear merit of a functioning market based approach for reducing emissions and strongly support the proposal. The voice of some European business associations on this issue is not necessarily the consolidated view of business in Europe. 

7. Europe

The ETS was designed to build on the strength of a single EU market and deliver through the synergy that it offers. A weak ETS is leading to fragmentation of this goal as national policies are developed to fill the gaps. Just look at what the UK government is having to do to shore up investment cases which would otherwise be supported by the ETS. This only means a less effective and ultimately more expensive route to the same goal. 

8. Growth

This is all about investment in the EU energy system. Without investment guided by credible policy and clear market price signals, growth stalls.

9. Environment

The carbon price delivered by the ETS is the only mechanism in place to drive the development and deployment of carbon capture and storage. Without this one critical technology, the climate issue simply doesn’t get resolved. The demand for, abundance of and low cost of extraction of fossil fuels may well be unassailable this century, so atmospheric CO2 will continue to rise. 

. . . and most importantly at #10 (well it’s actually #1)

10. Economy and competitiveness

An emissions trading system can deliver the lowest cost emission reduction pathway for the economy, but to do this it needs to be left to do the heavy lifting. The very low price of CO2 in the EU today is not a sign of low cost abatement, but quite the opposite. Abatement is being driven by other policies, with the cost to the economy probably much higher than necessary. The ETS needs to be restored as the principle driver of change in the EU energy system. This will lower energy costs in the EU, which in turns helps competitiveness.

Supporting backloading now won’t deliver all this in one go, but it will get the wheels of change in motion and importantly, signal an intent on the part of the Parliament to correct the energy and climate policy framework and make the EU ETS central to the overall delivery of current and future emission reduction goals.

Electric cars becoming a reality?

Shortly before Christmas a colleague of mine photographed a busy electric charging point in Utrecht, the Netherlands. Hooked up to the charging point are a Chevy Volt (Opel Ampera in the EU) and a Fisker Karma. Many such charging poles have appeared in London in recent years but I have yet to see anything approaching a “real car” actually using them. On the rare occasion that a charging pole is being used the vehicle is typically the “golf buggy” style electric car, such as the G-Wiz. But if this picture is any indication of a trend, something is certainly happening in the Netherlands.

I did find some data on electric car uptake in the Netherlands on another blog site. As of September, there were some 5000 registered vehicles. But the originator of that data now shows nearly 7000 vehicles by the end of November. This is a growth rate of about 10% per month!!

The Global Status of CCS

The Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute has just released its 2012 report on the current status of CCS around the world. The headline is that CCS is clearly up and running and CO2 is being sequestered. Around the world, eight large-scale CCS projects are storing about 23 million tonnes of CO2 each year. With a further eight projects currently under construction (including two in the electricity generation sector), that figure will increase to over 36 million tonnes of CO2 a year by 2015. This is approximately 70 per cent of the IEA’s target for mitigation activities by CCS by 2015.

The flip side of this is that the rate of deployment is far below anything that remotely passes for a 2°C trajectory. The report finds that in order to maintain the path to the 2°C target, the number of operational projects must increase to around 130 by 2020, from the 16 currently in operation or under construction. Such an outcome looks very unlikely as only 51 of the 59 remaining projects captured in the Global CCS Institute’s annual project survey plan to be operational by 2020, and inevitably some of these will not proceed.

I have discussed CCS many times in the past. Given the continued abundance of fossil resources, their ease of use for both mobile and stationary energy generation, combined with the fact that they continue to be very cost competitive as new extraction technologies are introduced, it is therefore highly likely that we continue to make use of them. But as the report notes, we need to limit the increase in the stock of CO2 in the atmosphere to 1000 Gt this century (giving a 50 per cent chance of limiting global temperature rise to 2°C) which in turn requires energy-related CO2 emissions to fall to zero by 2075. The only way to square this circle will be large scale deployment of CCS.

One of the surprising aspects of the report is the review of where CCS is actually happening. Conventional wisdom says the EU then North America and that is certainly true for many of the more advanced projects, but close behind is China which has a number of projects in the identification stage of development. In fact the report finds that more than half of all newly-identified projects are located there. Using CO2 for Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) is being investigated as a revenue option in all the projects.

  • Daqing Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage Project (Identify stage) – a super-critical coal-fired power plant that would capture around 1 Mtpa of CO2 through oxyfuel combustion, developed by the China Datang Group in partnership with Alstom.
  • Dongying Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage Project (Identify stage) – a new build coal-fired power generation plant with a planned capture capacity of 1 Mtpa of CO2, also developed by the China Datang Group.
  • Shanxi International Energy Group CCUS Project (Identify stage) – a new, super-critical coal-fired power plant with oxyfuel combustion being developed in partnership with Air Products, with a capture capacity of more than 2 Mtpa of CO2.
  • Jilin Oil Field EOR Project (Phase 2) (Identify stage) – EOR operations at the Jilin oil field, where around 200,000 tpa of CO2 from a natural gas processing plant are currently being injected, are scheduled to be expanded to more than 800,000 tpa from 2015.
  • Shen Hua Ningxia Coal to Liquid Plant Project (Identify stage) – a new build coal-to-liquids (CTL) facility developed that would capture around 2 Mtpa of CO2.

Perhaps the most disappointing news comes from Europe, where the value of the main CCS capital support mechanism has been reduced to a fraction of its anticipated amount following the collapse of the EU carbon market to some €8 per tonne of CO2. The EC policy objective of having up to 12 commercial-scale demonstration plants operating in Europe by 2015 is no longer achievable, with 4–5 projects operating in the next 5–6 years being a more realistic scenario. I commented on this back in June.

As well as giving a comprehensive breakdown of all the current projects, the report does the same for policy development, support mechanisms, storage potential and the progress in the technology itself. If you want to know more about CCS then this is truly a “one stop shop”.

The report download page with laptop, iPad and Kindle versions can be found here. Alternatively, you can go directly to the PDF version here.

Very recently I participated in the launch of a new report on the state of the EU Emissions Trading System. The event took place in the House of Commons and featured Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Davey. The report was compiled by UK NGO Sandbag, an organization which focuses on carbon pricing and the role of market based systems in delivering such a price.

 

 The report highlights in stark terms the problems facing the ETS today and calls for even more drastic measures than those currently under consideration by the European Commission.

Sandbag argue:

There remains a serious disconnect between the crisis facing the ETS and the solutions tabled to rescue it. The scheme was intended to deliver a significant shortage of allowances against business-as-usual emissions and thereby oblige ETS installations to pollute less. But the debate has focussed on the surplus allowances sitting above the revised emissions projections rather than restoring the levels of scarcity originally envisaged.

Even those stakeholders who have argued for a return to the intended levels of scarcity have been handicapped by a dearth of analysis and consistently invoked inadequate quantities to achieve their stated aim.

The business-as-usual emissions baseline against which both the EU climate target and the ETS caps were set are totally obsolete. Expectations of Europe’s GDP growth out to 2020 are down by a third since the climate package was agreed. This has left the ETS caps with 2.2 billion tonnes less demand than was anticipated.

We recommend this 2.2Gt in European Union Allowances be removed to restore the original scarcity envisaged for the ETS cap. This will also help restore domestic effort proportional with the level of expected offshore abatement in the offsetting provisions.

We identify a further 900 million excess allowances in the scheme against the original emissions forecasts, resulting from industrial overallocation. A full correction to the cap would require withdrawing 3.1Gt of allowances from the scheme.

 They use the chart below to illustrate the issue.

 

This report is a worthwhile contribution to the current debate over the ETS, but it doesn’t really pinpoint the other lurking issue in the EU. Much of the surplus that has built up in the system can be attributed to the Renewable Energy Directive, which forces a certain renewable energy build rate to meet a 2020 goal. Climate Strategies recently published a report which argued that up to 0.9 billion tonnes of emissions will be removed from the power sector by 2020 as a result. They point out that although the recession has further fueled the issue, the surplus problem would likely have appeared anyway, albeit somewhat later. A further contributing factor would be the impact of the proposed Energy Efficiency Directive (up to another 0.9 billion tonnes). While it may be laudable that these reductions have taken (or will take) place, what is not clear is the cost of doing so. It almost certainly isn’t the lowest cost pathway for the economy.

Carbon price driven reductions are entirely cost transparent and we can know simply by looking at the carbon price over time what it has cost society to reach a certain emissions reduction goal. But today the CO2 market is effectively at zero (in my view the €7 price does not reflect any current abatement opportunity, rather it is simply the price that the market is putting on allowances on the understanding that some emitters are buying them and sitting on them for much longer term), which means we have no idea about the cost of reaching the 2020 reduction target. That cost is now hidden in the capital investment required to develop renewable energy, but of course reappears buried in the overall cost of our electricity in the years to come.