As 40,000 of the climate concerned descend on Paris for COP 21 (Government budget: 187 million Euros), the debate continues on what we can do to keep temperature rises under 2C. To the extent that we can do anything about it, it will largely depend on reducing emissions. How much? By whom?
Emissions are hard to measure–China just discovered it was burning about 17% more coal than it thought. That impacts their CO2 emissions, but it’s hard to say by how much. Nobody has updated their statistics for the past few years to account for this, so people are arriving in Paris with wrong numbers in their spreadsheets.
Worse, the calculations of what we should do are based on assumptions about sensitivity that are seemingly outdated. If sensitivity is lower than the estimated 3C, then two things happen: first, it will be easier to stay at 2C total temperature rise and second, each unit of CO2 emissions is worth less.
All this is explored at length at Judith Curry’s blog here. What I would like to focus on is how much easier it would be to focus on our fuel portfolio and to match it to projected increases in energy consumption. This leaves out other human contributions to climate change, such as deforestation and cement production, but it has the twin benefits of being a good proxy and already the subject of much measuring.
Given that we know energy consumption will increase dramatically during this century, configuring our portfolio of available fuels to minimize impacts on the environment (not just CO2 emissions, but conventional pollution as well) would result in much firmer plans that are easier to evaluate in terms of success.
For the U.S. it could be quite simple. The U.S. has long held out the goal of 30% electricity generation from renewables. It is transitioning from coal to natural gas for the bulk of its electricity generation. It is dipping its toes into the nuclear pool once again. It really wouldn’t be too difficult for the EPA to come up with a plan and a timeline to get U.S. to a fairly clean fuel portfolio that would meet energy needs and reduce emissions. If they use (almost) zero coal for electricity and build about 30 new nuclear power plants, continue subsidies for solar and wind at current levels and maybe build a few more dams so that California can give its newcomers something to drink and get hydroelectricity from them as well, they’re pretty much done. CAFE regulations, a little waste to energy, some CHP and a boost to ground source heat pumps in the northern parts of the country will tidy up the loose ends.
This could be done at a country level quite rapidly and efficiently. As opposed to focusing on CO2 emissions, energy provision is metered and charged for–we know how, when and why most energy is consumed.We know where we’re starting from and we know where we want to end up.
Measuring the aether is fraught. It’s good for playing political games but not for getting the results we want.
And we do want results, don’t we?