Saturday, 29 August 2009

Control Coal to Mitigate Climate Change?

Top CO2 emitting countries have a large proportion of world coal reserves

Coal consumption is the key practical issue to be addressed in tackling the problems of climate change. Unsurprisingly trends in CO2 emissions bear a strong relation to coal consumption. Compare 'Coal Consumption of Top 15 CO2 emitters' (Figure 8.1) in this post with that showing the CO2 emission trends in the previous post.

Figure 8.1 Coal Consumption of Top 15 CO2 Emitters (click image to enlarge)

Coal is the major source of anthropogenic CO2 and a significant source of other environmental pollutants, but coal is the most abundant fossil fuel that provides an intense energy source and is relatively cheap.

Many economies have significant dependence on coal in their primary energy mix and its use provides electrical power and supports industry. To transform coal dependent economies, even if the will to do so existed, would take great efforts.

The coal reserves of the Top 5 CO2 emitters are shown in Figure 8.2. Apart from Japan these countries have large coal reserves, amounting to nearly 70% of the world total.

Figure 8.2 Coal Reserves of Top 5 CO2 Emitting Countries

An apparently reasonable strategy for combating climate change would be to phase out the use of coal worldwide or to reduce its use drastically. Technically and scientifically this would be a practical solution for CO2 mitigation but politically it would pose extreme challenges. (Issues to be considered in a future post)

Considering their substantial coal reserves, could the high CO2 emitting countries be persuaded of the wisdom of leaving their coal in the ground?

Claims about 'clean coal' technologies disguise the fact that the only clean coal technology is a coal technology in which all CO2 is captured and sequestered. As yet, although elements of the technology have been used in other sectors, the crucial Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technologies are still being developed and pilot tested.

A flexible CCS technology that could retrofitted to a wide range of existing power plants would be the ideal, but that seems an unlikely prospect in the short to medium term.

Can we control coal use to mitigate climate change? Have we the wisdom to leave it in the ground or only to use it when the CCS technology has been developed?

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

CO2 Emissions- theTop Fifteen Countries

CO2 emissions, and emissions growth rates are both important

In 2008 the fifteen top CO2 emitting countries together accounted for around three quarters of global CO2 emissions. These countries merit special attention during the COP15 climate change negotiations as their cooperation is important to achieving a successful outcome.

The trends in CO2 emissions between 1990 and 2008 for the fifteen major emitting countries are shown in Figure7.1 using data compiled by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency.

Figure 7.1 CO2 EmissionsTrends 1990-2008 - Top 15 countries (click image to enlarge)

These data illustrate the massive contributions to global CO2 emissions made by the USA and China, and that since the beginning of the new millennium, China has raced ahead of the USA to become the world's largest CO2 emitter.

The group of countries with the next highest levels of emissions (~0.5 -1.7 thousand million tonnes CO2 per year) is now a mixture of developed and developing countries a distinction which, in relation to GHG emissions, is becoming outmoded since CO2 emissions from developing countries now exceed those of developed countries.

In terms of climate change impact both the absolute values of CO2 emissions and emissions growth rates merit consideration.

In relation to the amount of CO2 emitted, a small percentage reduction from a 'large emitter' represents many millions of tonnes of CO2 per year which are not added to the environmental burden.

The same percentage reduction from a country with moderate to low emissions represents a much smaller quantity of 'CO2 not emitted'. Nevertheless, when summed over many countries, these smaller reductions are also valuable.

However for climate change negotiators, focusing their efforts on persuading countries with large CO2 emissions to reduce them would have more impact as a strategy to achieve mitigation of global warming then distributing their efforts more widely.

In Figure7.1 the steep rise in CO2 emissions from China and also India are evident, and although emissions are high the USA, they do not show comparable growth rates. Despite the inadequacies of the Kyoto agreement, the emissions trends of most developed countries in the top fifteen are not increasing as steeply as those of developing countries.

Figure7.2 CO2 Emissions 1990 and 2008 - Top Five Countries

The rate of growth of CO2 emissions in China and India is staggering, the former more than doubling between 1990 and 2008 and the latter increasing by ~140% (Figure 2). In climate change negotiations, persuading countries with the highest rate of CO2 emissions growth to moderate such growth is vital.

Continuing business as usual in countries with both high and growing CO2 emissions could overwhelm collective emissions reductions made by even those countries with moderate emissions.

Focus on the fifteen

Trying to broker a universal agreement in which all countries preferences are taken into account is the ideal, but it is a complex and time consuming process. Reaching an agreement to mitigate CO2 emissions is urgent so one which can satisfy all countries may not be possible in the timescale needed.

It may be that climate change negotiators would have more immediate impact by focusing on the Top Fifteen emitters of CO2. By persuading those countries with large CO2 emissions to agree to reduce them, and those with the highest CO2 emissions growth to moderate their emissions growth, a solution might be found.

* Footnote
Data are taken from a collation by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL). In this post only CO2, not other GHG and LULUCF, is considered .The PBL data includes CO2 from cement manufacture.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

India, Coal and Global Warming - A Postscript

Indian Prime Minister's Speech

The Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh yesterday addressed a conference of the State Ministers of Environment and Forests. He spoke about climate change and the need to adopt an environment-friendly growth strategy.

'Our growth strategy can be and should be innovative and different' he said. 'For this India needs access to new technologies that developed countries already have' but 'We must also make our own investments in new environment-friendly technologies'

Recently sceptical comments have been emanating from various Indian ministries about India's development path and climate change strategy; this speech may be seen as reiterating the importance of the Indian Climate Change Action Plan (NAPCC).

See below

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

India, Coal and Global Warming

India's rhetoric in Bonn is at odds with its Climate Change Plan

In 2008 India was the world's fourth largest emitter of carbon dioxide and looks determined to follow a path leading to higher CO2 emissions by substantially increasing the use of coal to meet the growing demand for power and industrialization.

The choices made by India, and the help given by developed nations to support progress towards lower emissions path, are critical to combating global warming.

India's UNFCCC submissions, and recent pronouncements at the August UNFCCC meeting in Bonn by Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh that India will not accept emissions targets, must be interpreted as India presenting emissions mitigation as a problem solely for developed countries to solve.

To justify its own 'no emissions targets' position, India cites historical rights to the atmosphere as it propounds Indian economic growth first, maybe targets later.

At the same time India is berating developed countries for their failure to reach their Kyoto GHG mitigation targets, and is asking that they provide finance for adaptation, waive I.P.R. on technologies and that they reduce their emissions by "more than 25-40 percent by 2020"

AFP reports that Ramesh has suggested that developed countries give 0.5-1.0 % of their GDP annually to enable developing countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

However India's combative rhetoric is likely to be counter-productive since equity would be best served by a collaborative ethos within which developed countries willingly supported developing countries along low carbon development paths with both finance and new technologies.

Those developing countries seeking to place blame on developed countries might pause to consider that the latter were unaware of their impact on climate at the time that they were industrializing. If developing countries recklessly seek to follow high GHG emissions paths under the prevailing global conditions, they do not do so in ignorance. Global warming science is now unequivocal and all countries will be affected.

Since it is clear that India understands the significance of the accumulation of atmospheric CO2, the language used in Bonn is disingenuous, and contrasts with that used by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in introducing India's 2008 Climate Change Action Plan (NAPCC). The plan is focused on sustainable development and has many positive features.

"Achieving national growth objectives through a qualitative change in direction that enhances ecological sustainability, leading to further mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions" is the second of seven guiding principles laid down in the NAPCC

But actions speak louder then words. At the same time as climate negotiators were in Bonn, Reuters and the Times of India reported (11August 09) that the Indian government was taking steps to promote private investment via competitive bidding for new coal mines to supply industries like steel and cement and to increase the supply of coal to the power sector.

India has 7.1% of world reserves of coal, in particular 54,000 million tonnes of anthracite and bituminous coal which is comparable with those of China, whose larger reserves include more lower grade coal and lignite. Demand for coal, already high in India, is currently partly satisfied by imports and India has secured funding for more coal fired power stations. It was also reported that Coal India intended in the future to acquire interests in coal mines overseas in Indonesia and South Africa and other countries.

This surely signals that India's has already made up its mind to expand use of coal very significantly in future with consequent impact on CO2 emissions.

India's position may appear totally disconnected from the reality that global warming is driven by CO2 emissions. Recent actions and rhetoric are difficult to reconcile with the India's 2008 Climate Change Action Plan. But, while the pressures due to the aspirations of a massive population are understood, and to use coal to meet these aspirations might seem the obvious path, it is extremely shortsighted.

Coal fired plant has a life of forty years at least and once in place a change to more sustainable infrastructure will be challenging. The window of opportunity to take a low carbon development path is now.

In Summary

India's rhetoric in Bonn is at odds with its Climate Change Plan published last year. Indian leaders are aware of the opportunities offered by a sustainable technology path, and that evolution towards non-coal-based distributed energy systems would offer better long term prospects for their citizens than a centralised coal based economy.

However in practice, it seems, they choose not to opt for sustainability and look set to increase their use of coal.

An intransigent stance on emissions targets is a tragedy, not just for the Indian people but for the entire world.

For developed nations to be willing to fund clean technology and adaptation measures, India's proposals need to be consistent and lead to a more sustainable future.

A new, more constructive dialogue is needed.


Thursday, 13 August 2009

The Road to Copenhagen - A Parable

Two brothers stand in their blazing home

Each accuses the other of starting the fire

Each insists that the other should be the first to take action to put out the flames

Each adds fuel to the flames

The house burns to the ground

The brothers are homeless

The brothers are named 'Developing' and 'Developed'.


With goodwill and cooperation this need not happen.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Climate Change - The Impracticality of a 'Global 2 Degree C' Target

Global temperature rise is a bad starting point for negotiating climate change targets

The EU, the G8, and many other countries consider that limiting global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius is an attractive goal for climate change mitigation policy to avoid 'dangerous climate change'. If taken as the international basis for setting climate change mitigation targets the use of a global temperature rise limit is likely to pose difficulties for climate change negotiators.

Two degrees Celsius ('2C') is a fine headline target for politicians to sign up to, and a useful slogan for the public, however its translation into practical targets for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction and into desirable levels of CO2 in the atmosphere is more problematic, and there are also those who consider '2C' too high a value.

A global climate change target needs to provide a practical framework for national GHG mitigation targets and actions. Reducing CO2 emissions is certainly the key step to take in combating the effects of climate change, notwithstanding the fact that other GHG emissions - methane, nitrous oxide etc also need to be reduced.

In Copenhagen the international agreement that is most urgently needed is one that sets clear and unambiguous targets for drastically reducing CO2 emissions, since they comprise the largest proportion of GHG.

The task faced by world leaders and politicians - that of translating the scientific information about climate change into politically acceptable and practical national targets - is already difficult and there is a desperate need to put policy in place speedily.

So why use temperature rise as an overall global target as the EU and G8 have done? Framing negotiations in terms of '2C' surely serves only to increase the complexity of the task.

Politically expressed as 'limiting average global temperature rise at sea level to two degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial levels' a limit to global temperature rise seems a straightforward goal. However, temperature rise as a key indicator focuses on the end result - global warming, not on the GHG emissions that cause it. Global temperature limit is an indicator that is distanced from the practical issues of quantified GHG emissions limitation.

Using a global '2C' target as the starting point for international climate change negotiations could leave open a chain of opportunities for varied interpretations of meaning and inhibit progress towards practical targets.

Targets, if framed in the context of 'global average temperature rise' would need to be mapped to the causes of global temperature rise because, in international negotiations, all parties would need to agree a common interpretation of what a global '2C' target means and how it would relate in practical terms to potential mitigation actions.

Do we really want negotiators to dissipate good will in Copenhagen arguing about possible interpretations of the meaning of '2C global average temperature change' when what is needed is to negotiate quantifiable mitigation targets that can be evolved into practical policy?

Temperature rise relates to atmospheric GHG change by means of best estimates and likely ranges not with certainty*. Such uncertainties would need to be incorporated in any translation from 'global temperature rise' into national targets for practical actions to mitigate human induced warming. Undertaking such a translation process raises the spectre of endless political wrangling over nuances related to temperature rise, rather than negotiation of the tonnage emissions targets that are the heart of the matter.

It is however possible to quantify directly, by country, the millions of tonnes of fossil fuels burnt each year and hence each country's contribution to global warming in terms of CO2 emissions.

In summary

It is more practical to set targets in terms of CO2 emissions, which are the cause global warming, and which connect directly to national fossil fuel energy consumption, rather than work through to reach national targets from '2C' temperature rise.

Targets closely related to the causes of warming can be defined in terms of CO2 (or CO2e) emissions, CO2 concentrations or indeed tonnes of carbon in fossil fuels burnt. Use of these quantities provides a more direct starting point for negotiating climate change mitigation targets than global temperature limits. If required emissions based targets could then be related back, through models, to temperature rise to check that they are consistent with the desired temperature limit.

While global temperature rise appears in the headlines, and the need to mitigate the unprecedented rise in global temperatures is urgent, framing negotiations around '2C' temperature rise is likely to impede progression to a new international agreement and using emissions based targets would provide a clearer route for negotiations.


*Anthropogenic GHG emissions are the cause of the recent rapid global temperature rise but their relationship with temperature rise is not a simple one. The underlying science linking global temperature rise to GHG concentrations is couched in terms of probability not certainty. The climate system is complex and highly variable due to both natural processes and to human induced changes, and is not now in thermal equilibrium. In addition to the known causes of the global warming (anthropogenic GHG), the earth's energy balance is also influenced by uncertainties in, for example, the thermal storage of oceans, changes in albedo as ice sheets disintegrate, the release of methane as permafrost melts, and these effects may be subject to time lags.