Change Can Be Halted,
By Michael McCarthy
05 May 2007
Global warming is solvable, United
Nations climate change experts said yesterday, in a landmark judgement
running counter to increasing pessimism about the most serious threat
facing the world.
The greenhouse gases, such
as carbon dioxide, whose emissions growth is causing the atmosphere
to warm, can be brought under control, said the economists of the UN's
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - but only if governments
Existing and emergent technologies,
ranging from renewable energy and nuclear power to carbon capture and
storage, will be adequate to make the reductions in emissions essential
if the world is to avoid catastrophic rises in global temperature, they
asserted in a new study. And this can be done at comparatively low cost
- provided the right incentives are put in place.
The key incentive, they stressed,
is a mechanism no one had heard of 20 years ago - the price of carbon,
as determined by markets such as that of the European Union's Emissions
Trading Scheme. If it is high enough, moving to a low-carbon economy
will be a cost-effective measure around the world, and thus likely to
happen much faster.
The economists' verdict,
issued yesterday in Bangkok, Thailand, comes in the final part of the
IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report, or AR4. The first two parts, issued
in February and April, dealt with the science of climate change and
Both painted dire pictures
of what is likely to happen if emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse
gases continue unabated - world temperatures soaring by up to 6C over
the coming century, with potentially catastrophic effects for mankind.
These forecasts have contributed to a growing feeling of pessimism among
senior scientists and politicians involved with climate change.
The continuing refusal of
the Bush administration to get to grips with the issue, the realisation
that the developing countries will produce emissions at gigantic levels,
and the recognition that climate change is proceeding faster than expected,
are leading some observers to take a dark view of the future.
Yet by contrast, the third
part of the IPCC's 2007 assessment, which deals with controlling climate
change and emissions (in the jargon, "mitigation") is more
"This report shows we
can save the climate - but only if governments act," said Roger
Higman, campaigns co-ordinator at Friends of the Earth. "The technologies
needed ... are already available. The costs of action are far lower
than the price we'll pay if we continue to pollute."
The report focuses on the
feasibility of making the enormous cuts in emissions necessary to stabilise
greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level where the
temperature rise would be halted, and says, it can be done.
It claims renewable energy,
which provides 18 per cent of the world's electricity, could provide
35 per cent by 2030, and nuclear power, on a 16 per cent share, could
provide 18 per cent by the same date. However, it notes of nuclear:
"Safety, weapons proliferation and waste remain as constraints".
It proposes that biofuels
could play a significant part in reducing transport emissions, and the
biggest gains might come from energy efficiency. Exotic fixes, such
as putting objects in space to shield us from sunlight, are dismissed
On the fashionable idea of
carbon offsetting - paying a firm to plant trees to compensate for the
CO2 emitted on your plane journey - the report does not utter a word.
What it does insist on is the necessity of having a high price for carbon,
to make the introduction of low-carbon alternatives for energy generation
and transport cost effective around the world.
The price is, in effect,
the cost, in a market such as that formed by the EU Emissions Trading
Scheme, of a "carbon credit", a notional tonne of carbon that
companies will need to buy when they want to emit more CO2 than their
government will allow.
The more governments squeeze
companies' CO2 allowances, the higher the price is likely to go, so
in effect the price level is in the hands of governments. When the second
period of the EU trading scheme begins in 2008, it is thought that carbon
will trade at about $25 a tonne.
The core of the report is
the calculation of how much CO2 can be cost-effectively reduced at a
given level for the price. If the price were at $20 a tonne by 2030,
the report says, emissions could be cost-effectively cut back by up
to 17 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases per year. If it were to rise
to nearly $100 a tonne by the same date, the cut could be as much as
31 billion tonnes, which would be the 50 per cent reduction the world
needs to avoid disaster.
The price of doing all this
varies with the rate of the world's economic growth, but it reckons
it could be done for less than 1 per cent of global GDP, a figure similar
to that given by the British economist Sir Nicholas Stern in his report
What the report recommends
The report acknowledges that
changes in lifestyle "can contribute to climate change mitigation
across all sectors".
* ENERGY SUPPLY
Renewable energy: "Can
have a 30-35 per cent share of the total electricity supply in 2030
at carbon prices of up to £50 per tonne."
Nuclear power: "Can
have an 18 per cent share of the total electricity supply in 2030 at
carbon prices of up to £50 per tonne - but safety, weapons proliferation
and waste remain as constraints. "Carbon capture and storage: "CCS
in underground geological formations has the potential to make an important
contribution to mitigation by 2030."
* ROAD TRANSPORT
Biofuels are projected to
grow to 3 per cent of total transport energy demand in 2030. "This
could increase to about 5-10 per cent depending on future oil and carbon
prices, improvements in vehicle efficiency and the success of technologies
to utilise cellulose biomass."
The report says: "Medium-term
mitigation potential for CO2 emissions can come from improved fuel efficiency.
However, such improvements are expected to only partially offset the
growth of emissions."
* ENERGY EFFICIENCY
The report is enthusiastic.
"Energy efficiency options for new and existing buildings could
reduce CO2 emissions," it says.
There are too many plants
with high emissions, the report says. "Full use of available mitigation
options is not being made."
* FARMING AND FORESTRY
Careful farming can help
maintain the carbon stored in the soil, and also keep down emissions
of other greenhouse gases.
* HIGH-TECH FIXES
such as ocean fertilisation to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, or blocking
sunlight by bringing material into the upper atmosphere, remain unproven,"
the report says.
* LONG-TERM MITIGATION
Stablisation of greenhouse
gas concentrations at a range of levels can be achieved, the report
says, and this can be done "by deployment of ... technologies that
are currently available and those that are expected." But it adds:
"This assumes that appropriate and effective incentives are in
© 2007 Independent News and Media Limited
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