Part the First: finding out why all this hot air, and if there’s really a there there for the 4000-plus delegates at the COP-9 conference. His conclusion:
Extrapolating the surface temperatures yields an increase of 1.7 degrees centigrade by 2100. Wentz’ trend would result in a 1.5 degree centigrade increase and Christy’s would be 0.74 degrees—all at the bottom of the range of increases identified by the IPCC. “We might see a degree of warming over the next century. None of those temperature increases is going to cause much of a catastrophe,” says Christy. Even the alarmist report from the German Advisory Council on Global Change concluded that the world can tolerate a rise of up to 2 degrees centigrade over pre-industrial levels.
So perhaps the delegates in Milan can just relax. Since they most likely won’t, I’ll be sending daily dispatches about the goings on in Milan. Ciao.
Part the Second: hydrogen mines and how much of the avoidance of climate disaster is supposed to come from “the hydrogen economy” and dynamic technological change. But the kicker in this story is that producing hydrogen requires the use of electricity, which if generated using fossil fuels kinda defeats the purpose of the hydrogen, right? This presents the hydrogen environmentalists with a dilemma — want hydrogen? Need nuclear.
But can solar power and wind power supply the energy needed to make hydrogen fuel? Not likely says, Jesse Ausubel, director of the Human Environment program at Rockefeller University. Ausubel does see one way to the carbon-free hydrogen economy—nuclear power.
“Nuclear energy’s special potential is as an abundant source of electricity for electrolysis and high-temperature heat for water splitting while the cities sleep,” writes Ausubel. “Nuclear plants could nightly make hydrogen on the scale needed to meet the demand of billions of consumers. Windmills and other solar technologies cannot power modern people by the billions. Reactors that produce hydrogen could be situated far from population concentrations and pipe their main product to consumers.” In other words, nuclear power plants will become the “hydrogen mines” of the future.
But the way forward to the carbon-free nuclear/hydrogen future is hampered by the Kyoto Protocol, which excludes nuclear power as a “clean” source of energy despite the fact that it produces no greenhouse gases.
Part the Third: will we all need personal carbon permits? I’ve jokingly asked my students this for years! This article is a superb analysis of the possible transaction costs imposed under a global carbon cap-and-trade scheme:
The core of the idea is to set an appropriate level to which greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere will be allowed to rise and then allocate globally the right to emit carbon on a per capita basis. The UNFCCC commits signatories, including the United States, to the “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” “Dangerous” has never been defined, but the proponents of contraction and convergence suggest that levels of greenhouse gases be stabilized at 450 parts per million (ppm) to 550 ppm. In order stop at those levels it is estimated that global carbon emissions will have to be cut by between 40 and 60 percent—the contraction part of the scheme.
Part the Fourth: constructing the byzantine structure that is international climate policy, and further evidence of the contradictions inherent in the structure.
COP9 delegates built a new flying buttress by finalizing some of the very complicated requirements for how to account for “carbon sinks.” A carbon sink is anything that absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which essentially means forests. The idea here is that rich countries that emit more greenhouse gases than they are allowed under the Kyoto Protocol can get offsetting credit by paying for carbon sequestering forest projects either at home or abroad.
One might think that encouraging the expansion of forests would be applauded by environmental activists, but that’s not so in this case. First, they are very wary of sinks, and point out that forests are only temporary repositories of carbon since they eventually die. For example, Friends of the Earth International (FOEI) issued a press release urging “Northern countries to focus on curbing greenhouse gas emissions at home and on promoting renewable energy and energy efficiency” instead of funding forest projects in poor countries. The FOEI also objected to the fact that the COP9 delegates did not oppose counting plantation forests or the planting of genetically modified trees.
At the end of the day, one must keep in mind that all of this hard bargaining and meticulous nitpicking over regulatory arcana is taking place against the background fact that the Kyoto Protocol has still not come into force six years after it was negotiated. It may turn out that Persanyi’s Kyoto Protocol cathedral is being erected on foundations of sand.