Dispensing with Nonsense on New CO2 Rules

June 6, 2014


(Reuters) – China said on Tuesday it will set an absolute cap on its CO2 emissions from 2016 just a day after the United States announced new targets for its power sector, signalling a potential breakthrough in tough U.N. climate talks.

Progress in global climate negotiations has often been held back by a deep split between rich and poor nations, led by the United States and China, respectively, over who should step up their game to reduce emissions. But the fact that the two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases made unprecedented announcements on climate within 24 hours of each other sparked optimism among observers hoping to see the decades-old deadlock broken. The steps come ahead of a global meet on climate change starting on Wednesday in Germany.

China, the world’s biggest emitter, will set a total cap on its CO2 emissions when its next five-year plan comes into force in 2016, He Jiankun, chairman of China’s Advisory Committee on Climate Change, told a conference in Beijing.

Carbon emissions in the coal-reliant economy are likely to continue to grow until 2030, but setting an absolute cap instead of pegging them to the level of economic growth means they will be more tightly regulated and not spiral out of control.

“The Chinese announcement marks potentially the most important turning point in the global scene on climate change for a decade,” said Michael Grubb, a professor of international energy and climate policy at University College London.

Paul Krugman:

That leaves China, and there have been many cynical declarations over the past few days to the effect that China will just go ahead and burn any coal that we don’t. And we certainly don’t want to count on Chinese altruism.

But we don’t have to. China is enormously dependent on access to advanced-country markets — a lot of the coal it burns can be attributed, directly or indirectly, to its export business — and it knows that it would put this access at risk if it refused to play any role in protecting the planet.

More specifically, if and when wealthy countries take serious action to limit greenhouse gas emissions, they’re very likely to start imposing “carbon tariffs” on goods imported from countries that aren’t taking similar action. Such tariffs should be legal under existing trade rules — the World Trade Organization would probably declare that carbon limits are effectively a tax on consumers, which can be levied on imports as well as domestic production. Furthermore, trade rules give special consideration to environmental protection. So China would find itself with strong incentives to start limiting emissions.

The new carbon policy, then, is supposed to be the beginning, not the end, a domino that, once pushed over, should start a chain reaction that leads, finally, to global steps to limit climate change. Do we know that it will work? Of course not. But it’s vital that we try.

Business Green:

Doubling green energy to meet 36 per cent of global energy demand by 2030 would save the world $740bn a year in costs associated with fossil fuel pollution, according to new research.

The report launched by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) says such a goal is not only possible and affordable but will also keep the world on track to limit global temperature increase to 2ºC above pre-industrial levels by 2100.

Reaching 36 per cent of global energy consumption with renewables would reduce the global demand for oil and gas by around 15 per cent and coal by 26 per cent, the Remap 2030 report finds. It adds that doing so would not only create a net gain of nearly one million jobs by 2030, but also cut energy-related pollution and adverse health effects, as well as increasing energy security for countries dependent on energy imports.

“Our data shows that renewable energy can help avert catastrophic climate change and save the world money, if all costs are considered,” said Adnan Z Amin, director-general of IRENA, at the launch of the report in New York. “The transition is affordable based on existing technologies, and that the benefits go well beyond the positive climate impact.”

However, the report notes the world is unlikely to reach this goal unlessgovernments act now to “step up” their efforts by planning realistic but ambitious transition pathways; creating enabling business environments; managing knowledge of technology options and their deployment; ensuring smooth integration of renewables into the existing infrastructure; and unleashing innovation.

Jonathan Chait critiques the US Chamber of Commerce’ response to new Co2 rules – in New York Magazine:

The Chamber study employs a couple easily spotted gimmicks. It assumes demand for electricity, which has grown 0.7 percent a year since 2000, and which the U.S. Energy Information Administration projects to grow at 0.9 percent a year through 2040, will grow at a 1.4 percent annual rate. That assumption would make any reduction all the more expensive to achieve.

Second, it measures a far more ambitious plan than the administration is likely to propose. The administration has said it plans to hit the target it agreed to in the 2009 Copenhagen talks: a 17 percent reduction in greenhouse gasses from the 2005 level. This is a doable target. So instead the Chamber measures a much stricter target: a 42 percent reduction by 2030.

It is true that the administration has endorsed this other long-term goal as well. But the plan due to come out Monday is almost certainly not going to attempt to achieve it. The focus is on 2020 levels, which are the basis for the next round of international climate negotiations. The Chamber explains this decision with mock judiciousness: “The 42% emissions reduction figure was chosen because, to date, it remains the only publicly announced Administration GHG reduction goal for 2030.” That’s true! But to measure a plan that’s designed to meet 2020 targets, you don’t need to look at 2030 targets at all.

The reason the study uses this trick becomes clear when you look at how its projected costs break down. The costs through 2020, represented by the bar on the left, are really low. It’s only in the years after 2020 — when the study starts adding up costs for much stricter limits than Obama is actually going to propose — that the numbers start to pile up:

The longer-term measure is not just harder to achieve, it’s harder to measure. Higher standards drive better technological changes from the private sector. Attempting to measure the cost of meeting higher standards two decades down the road with only currently available technology is guesswork. “A model today can only accommodate technology available today, not technology that is just around the corner,” says Dallas Burtraw, an economist at RFF, “Hence I feel forecasts that run a decade out are useful, but decreasingly so beyond that point.”

Even so, while the study uses lots of impressive adjectives to describe the size of the cost it predicts, the numbers are pretty meager. It predicts the regulations will increase electricity costs by $17 billion a year. Scared? Keep in mind electricity costs about $350 billion a year, which would mean the Chamber is predicting a one-time hike in electricity bills on the order of 5 percent a year. For the average American, that’s about $100 a year in his electric bill.

Even the Chamber’s unrealistically dire number is still low enough that most people would barely notice it. (For perspective, a poll found that the average American would spend $162 a year for cleaner energy.) Adele Morris, a Brookings Institute climate economist, told me, “If they were going to make up numbers, I’d assume they’d have made up bigger ones.”



33 Responses to “Dispensing with Nonsense on New CO2 Rules”

  1. Arcus (comment-page-1/#comment-59660) continues trying to re-define the world to fit his fantasy:

    The fact that renewables are a mix of base load and peaking plants is overlooked by renewable detractors.

    Translation:  denied by realists.  Geothermal is the only “renewable” (which actually depletes over decades) base-load technology.  Hydro is dispatchable but usually reserved for swing generation and peaking.  Wind and PV are “none of the above”, not dispatchable or even reliable.

    base load plants are not dispatchable, that is, they cannot vary quickly to respond to demand.

    PJM defines dispatchable generation as this:

    Generation available physically or contractually to respond to changes in system demand or to respond to transmission security constraints.

    In other words, base load plants are still dispatchable.  Wind and PV are not.  Since neither are dispatchable, they are not “peaking” generation either.

    Consequently, for the most part, base load does not exceed 20% of peak demand

    For the last week, BPA’s minimum and peak load have been about 5000 MW and 7000 MW respectively.  The minimum is about 70% of peak, not 20%.

    If you base your concept of what is possible on delusional hand-waving instead of solid facts, you court disaster.  I fear that a great many people believe the nonsense put forth by the likes of Arcus, and back the policies they push.  That can only cause grief.

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