The International Energy Agency’s "Cookbook" For Paris :
A "Last Chance" That Only Continues Forty Years of Failure
By Nicholas C. Arguimbau
03 December, 2015
Chennai is under flood waters for the last few days. It is the worst flood in a century. Photo Credit: Indian Red Cross Society
"We have to leave oil before oil leaves us."
Fatih Birol. CEO and former Chief Economist, International Energy Agency. http://bigthink.com/experts/fatihbirol
The world is committed (sorta) to preventing more than two degrees of global warming, going beyond half of which is already potentially dangerous and uncontrollable, leading to extremes of heat and drought, drowning of many of the world’s greatest cities, destroying Asia's major water supplies, extinction of a high percentage of the world’s species, destruction of the Amazon, etc.. "Sorta" committed? Well, it’s a half-hearted commitment, literally. The International Energy Agency is ostensibly asking the nations to make commitments in Paris sufficient to reduce the probability that we exceed 2 degrees, to one half. It’s like playing Russian Roulette with steel bullets in three of the gun’s six chambers, and rubber bullets in the other three. Make you feel comfortable? Me neither.
Some time in the last couple of years while we weren’t paying attention, the powers that be changed the goal from a 66% chance of staying under 2 degrees to a 50% chance. They don’t talk about it very much but that’s the equivalent of raising the target atmospheric emissions goal from 450 ppm to 500 ppm, IPCC "Climate Change 3014Synthesis Report" Table SPM 1, which is the equivalent of raising the "emissions budget," (the CO2 emissions we can allow ourselves before we have to stop) by 390.5 gigatonnes of CO2 or 106.5 gt of carbon. "Comparing CO2 emissions to CO2 levels," https://www.skepticalscience.com/print.php?r=45. So without being aware of it we just let IEA (International Energy Agency) reduce the probability that our grandchildren will live on a habitable planet from 2/3 to 1/2 so as simultaneously to give the fossil fuel industry something like $30 trillion. EIA ( US Energy Information Agency) "Today in Energy" https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/prices.cfm Easy come, easy go.
IEA has a "cookbook" for getting from Paris to the goal of "safely" playing Russian Roulette with the Earth. WEO (World Energy Outlook) 2015 Special Report Energy and Climate Change This writer is going to give you a cursory look at the Cookbook and show you why it can never get us to the goal and will have to be rewritten within a year or so if we are serious. The people going to Paris likely aren’t thinking that way.
And two degrees is more than twice what is really acceptable to prevent dangerous global warming. Regarding the present warming, "only" 0.8 degrees C, see Holdren, (now President Obama’s eerily silent science advisor), "Meeting the Climate-change challenge," http://www.climateemergencyinstitute.com/uploads/holdren_challenge_full.pdf
OK. Under the present rules of the game, a 50% chance of staying below twice the present unsafe level, is "winning." So how hard are the players going to strive to "win"? Interesting question. Remember the major NGOs (nongovernmental organizations), the tough guys here, from whom the governments will be seeking guidance as to the MOST they should have to do, are pretty thoroughly co-opted and almost always call a compromise with what’s out there, a "victory." There’s the Sierra Club, which recently accepted a $26 million gift from the largest of the natural gas "frackers." There’s the Environmental Defense Fund, known for its industry "parttnerships" which has been given $60 million by Julian Robertson , one of "a rarefied group of millionaires and billionaires acting as kingmakers in the GOP contest," http://bigthink.com/age-of-engagement/environmental-defense-fund-mega-donor-is-biggest-individual-contributor-to-romney-super-pac. There’s The Nature Conservancy, which these days seems to prefer the more neutral name TNC, happily profiting from its own logging operations, which has received close to $10 million from British Petroleum, and Conservation International, which has received $2million from BP "BP, Greenpeace & the Big Oil Jackpot" http://nofrakkingconsensus.com/2010/06/04/bp-greenpeace-the-big-oil-jackpot/ http://www.nature.org/http://change.nature.org/?src=l13 There’s the World Wildlife Fund which has been funded for decades by the oil industry although it has been easing itself out of that in recent years...... There's the Natural Resources Defense Council, which seemingly trades endorsement of Democratic envronmental policy for employment in Democratic administrations. All of these publicly assert that they are staunchly opposed to AGW (anthropogenic global warming) and this writer has held memberships in almost all of them in the decades when they were known as the toughest environmental groups in the world.
And another thing to remember is that if warming is held to 2 degrees the fossil fuel industry stands to lose $28 trillion gross revenue.. Kepler-Cheuvreux "Stranded assets, fossilised revenues, USD28trn of fossil-fuel revenues at risk in a 450-ppm world." (April 2014) That is, the writer supposes, why we've already substituted a 500-ppm world without the Cookbook saying so. Know anyone who’d give up $28 trillion without a fight? That’s a measure of what they can afford to throw around to prevent the 2-degree goal from being met. And don’t think "people" who could get hurt are making the decisions; more than likely it is sociopathic middle managers, immune from hurt, who handle the $28 trillion for corporate "persons" without feelings,- it’s 400 times the wealth of the wealtiest actual human being in the world and four times the net worth of all the world’s "actual human being" billionaires combined Wikipedia "The World’s Billionoaires 2015" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_World%27s_Billionaires_2015. So if you happen across a gaggle of billionaires at lunch who are talking about global warming and their helplessness to do anything about it, they might be right. It’s hard to argue with that sort of money when they say as they’ve been saying for a century or so "Well if you’re committed, fudge the numbers a little; we won’t tell and you’ll even believe them yourself." So let’s take a quick look at how the numbers are being fudged and remember the public and the press and even most of the billionaires aren’t too sophisticated about numbers..
So here we are about to converge on Paris for COP21 (Conference of the Parties Number 21) the latest in 40 years of meetings. We have nothing concrete to show for all of these meeting but regress. The levels of atmospheric CO2 go up every year and faster than the year before.Scripps Institution of Oceanography, The Keeling Curve, https://scripps.ucsd.edu/programs/keelingcurve.
So why do we expect anything better from COP21 with the same old crowd converging on Paris and International Energy Agency’s Cookbook leading the way? The Cookbook has a pleading tone calling on the nations more for "ambition" in coming years than for results. But why might we hope for something better? (1) Because the heat of the hell of our own making is getting tangible and (2) the fossil fuel industry is crumbling faster than the Earth itself. More on that later.
Where the Cookbook first goes wrong is in giving up on accomplishing much in coming decades about global warming as a whole but instead focusing on emissions from the "energy sector." The Cookbook assumes a "budget" for the "energy sector" of 980 gigatonnes (twice the budget allowed us only two years ago)while leaving the forestry and industrial sectors unregulated..assigning a "budget" to the forestry and industrial sectors apparently equal to their presently projeced emissions up to 2100 (Did I forget to mention that apparently no one is trying to protect the Earth from a post-2100 inferno? Your grandchildren won’t think much of that idea either.)- in other words, allowing those sectors to be unrestricted in their emissions and hoping they do not increase from current projections. Its estimate of the unrestricted emissions is one third of the total. It includes for example the roughly 20% consisting of meat-eating and all the emissions from cars and cement kilns and steel refineries and the plants that make the electronic toys. Leaving all of these emissions unrestricted and hoping they won’t grow faster than anticipated is like adding another bullet or two to the Russian Roulette six-shooter isn’t it? And omitting the manufacturing sector is part of a bigger problem - allowing supply and demand to go unchecked except by "the market." (Undoubtedly this is why the Cookbook calls for "peak energy sector emissions" to occur in 2000, with the total unmentioned.)
The fundamental weakness of IEA planing generally and the Cookbook particularly is a rejection wholesale of all emission-reduction strategies unless they are "GDP neutral." That strategy is based upon the assumption that no nation will adopt emission-reduction methods that will risk its GDP. The most important class of GDP-reducing strategies is those for consumption reduction. "GDP neutralCO2 emissions reductions" has been to date very close to an oxyhmoron because the GDP has been in virtual lockstep with CO2 emissions for at least40 years. That is, "GDP neitral" has as a factual matter historically meant "CO2 emissions neutral." Figure 1.12 WEO Special Report Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map 2013. If that is accepted as a given, then we lose. Period. It is however increasingly wrong because the fossil fuel industry is inexorably going down. A clear example is the US "shale revolution." Maintenance of shale oil and shale gas production has been at a serious loss from the beginning. The fact is that shale oil and shale gas cannot pay the cost of their production, which has been maintained not through product sales but through subsidies and large-scale ill-fated investments. "That Much Petroleum Is That Much Bullshit. China Won the Oil War, and the Shale Oil Revolution is About to Shrivel Up"http://www.countercurrents.org/arguimbau150614.htm, "2015: Is It The Year Marcellus Shale Gas Peaked And Then Began Falling As Fast As It Rose?" May 21, 2015 www.countercurrents.org/arguimbau210515.htm. Fossil fuels are rapidly becoming a drain on the world economy. Shale oil and shale gas are only an example. The world is facing a choice between meaningful global warming control and being dragged down into an economic abyss with the currently-drowning fossil fuel industry. See eg Phillips, Big Oil has Big Problems, Bloomberg 2014 http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/articles/2014-01-31/big-oil-earnings-reports-reveal-big-production-problems. See also "Cutting greenhouse gas emissions won't slow global economic growth — report," UK Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/sep/26/oecd-heinrich-boll-international-energy-association-greenhouse-emissions-global-gdp. In choosing as "GDP neutral," policies that are really "fossil-fuel-industry-neutral, "but may in fact be GDP negative, IEA and the nations that would follow it are creating themselves an unanswerable problem where the answers are multiple and obvious.
Largely as a result, to date there has never been a serious attempt while global warming has been looming to slow the pace of development of greenhouse-gas-emitting facilities or to slow the increase in demand for their products - a blatant but silently accepted policy omission Nothing to limit the supply. Nothing to limit the demand. Nothing? Hard to believe isn’t it? But look at the record. Limiting supply means closing mines. It means stopping oil and gas exploration. It means limiting the numbers of new power plants. It means limiting the numbers of new oil refineries. That’s not happening or even being discussed in the Cookbook. And limiting demand means cutting population growth as a climate policy. It means driving less. It means lowering thermostats. It means stopping purchases of plastic electronic toys from China that take immense amounts of coal for their production and immense amounts of oil for their transport. It means installing insulation. It means smaller houses and office buildings. It means cutting animal products from our diets. The Cookbook rejects all of these things because they might hurt the fossil fuel industry, misidentified as the GDP, and people's "lifestyles," both of which are explicitly sacrosanct.
People (and the Cookbook) often confuse efficiency and development of non-fossil altrenatives as fossil fuel demand reduction. They are not. Replace your gas guzzler with an efficient engine and you’ve done Mama Nature a favor. Drive the new car more miles and you haven’t. Turn the gas guzzler in for an electric car and you’ve done Mama Earth a favor Give the gas guzzler to your son or daughter to use the saved gasoline and you haven’t So much for efficiency and alternative energy without simultaneously-imposed limits on fossil fuel supply and/or demand.
One of the Cookbook’s great hopes and the great hope of the Obama Administration and the Natural Resources Defense Council is that we can build more efficient coal-fired power plants. A plausible idea, but once upon a time The British Empire got worried about really being dependent upon coal, and hired a consultant to say whether efficiency could make the supply last longer. His name was Jevons and he said no, because if the coal is used more efficiently you’ll just end up making more of whatever you can get from the coal or using the coal for something else. . That’s called the Jevons Principle. It’s pretty much as true as it was a century ago and at very least you have to account for less than 100% and perhaps none of the emissions saved, when you build "efficient" gizmos, ending up in reduced total emissions. All the Cookbook has to say about this is to casually remark that there are differences of opinion as to the equivalence of efficiency and demand reduction, and then dismiss the subject. Whoops!
Not to mention the fact that both efficiency and alternatives have inherent dependence upon use of fossil fuels for accomplishment of their objectives You increase the efficiency of a furnace or internal-combustion engine or whatever by eliminating waste heat but once you have done that you are stuck That means efficiency measures are able to reduce fossil use by some limited percentage, virtually always less than 50%. Suppose you can cut the emissions from I-Phone use 50% through more efficient manufacturing or 60% through decreased supply and demand? If you care about global warming, you choose the latter or both but never the former alone. The Cookbook (and every "Big Green" ngo) always call for the former alone and pretend that the latter is not a possibility. Yet you can’t get to a "decarbonized" world with efficiency measures. Trying to do it violates basic laws of physics. The same is true of solar and wind alternative energy To have an energy supply that works evenly 24/7 you have to have fossil or some other variable energy supply to fill in the gaps, namely when the sun isn’t shining, about 75% of the time, or the wind isn’t blowing. So solar and wind cannot readily replace more than about 30% of a base of fossil energy Solar is going in that direction surprisingly fast but then its increase relative to fossil pretty much has to stop.
What to do? Replace fossil with nuclear (YECCHH! That’s not very high on the human wish-list these days, but it is right up at the top under a realistic view of the Cookbook.) Or invent something. The invention in the efficiency arena is "CCS" carbon collection and storage. You grab the emissions as they come out of the source and bury them sompelace as compressed gas or a carbonate mineral. Right now it is a fantasy. Try doing that with a diesel truck! And the cookbook indicates that if it ever becomes technically feasible, its cost will still be comparable to the cost of the original plant to which it is attached.
The invention in the solar arena is the inexpensive and minimally resource-consumptive battery. Presently that’s a fantasy also. So presently if we want to use photovoltaics we’re stuck with using 75% fossil fuel energy (or nuclear power in unheard-of quantities at unheard-of prices). Carbon-free energy on anything like the world’s current scale is a fantasy which may turn to reality but not very likely or quickly enough So with present technology, efficiency and solar will proceed rapidly to make progress, creating an illusion of success, but then will stall well before meeting the zero-carbon goal
If the technical miracles occur they will take time and we have little idea how much time The only responsible course under the circumstances is to reduce fossil consumption and production the maximum amount possible until the miracles occur The Cookbook dismisses this out-of-hand, saying it will only delve into solutions that "preserve lifestyles." and are GDP neutral. But lifestyles got us here in the first place. Whatever you do, don’t give up your inalienable right to your SUV. Didn’t President Bush get laughed at when he said this? The idea that a meaningful attempt at reaching the 2-degree goal can exclude consumption-and-production reduction has to be abandoned by both the governments and the NGOs It may adversely affect GDP but if we don’t bite the bullet it will shoot us dead.
Let’s talk about something else - financial lock-ins. What do I mean? When you build something big, regardless of where the capital comes from the economy loses out if what you build is unable to live out its expected life doing what it was built for. If the locked in CO2 emissions in the world exceed the maximum CO2 budget for meeting 2 degrees it rapidly becomes virtually impossible to meet the budget. IEA World Energy Outlook (WEO) 2011 predicted the date of that event will be 2017. Six years away to a politician is about when Hell freeezes over, but now it's reallyh close. At this point we may have a little more time but very little. What IEA Chief Economist (now CEO) Fatih Birol had to say about this was:
"The door is closing. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/energy. I am very worried – if we don't change direction now on how we use energy, we will end up beyond what scientists tell us is the minimum [for safety]. The door will be closed forever." UK Guardian November 9, 2011 http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/nov/09/fossil-fuel-infrastructure-climate-change.
The "changed direction" clearly has to include a halt to construction of new CO2-producing manufacturing facilities and fuel-production facilities adding to lock-in already in excess of the budget. If the Cookbook is adopted without a moratorium on new plant construction added soon, a lethal game of chicken will likely commence. Industry will go on building new fossil-fuel producing and consuming plants far beyond the needs of the budget and say to the regulatory world "We dare you to shut us down." This is a built-in Cookbook scenario for perhaps 20 years down the line when the budget runs low and the CO2-spewing plants we build today are still going strong.. We need to deal with it by 2017 if not, as Birol says, "to close the door forever."
So where are we? If the Cookbook is adopted in full in Paris it will fail to assure even a 50% probability of staying within 2 degrees because
(1) The Cookbook purports to aim for 450 ppm as its maximum-emissions goal but through the reduction of the probabilityh of meeting 2 degrees from 2/3 to 1/2 it has in fact increased its target atmospheric CO2 concentration from 450 ppm to 500 ppm.
(2) The Cookbock calls for emissions reductions only for the "energy sector" which it estimates to be two thirds of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.
(3) It categorically rejects strategies that are not "GDP neutral" even though the GDP and fossil fuel emissions have been in lockstep for at least forty years.
(4) It contains ZERO limits on supply and ZERO limits on demand for fossil fuels.
(5) It relies upon efficiency measures and non-carbon alternative fuels without actual reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
(6) It depends upon exorbitantly expensive and as-yet-uninvented CO2 collection and storage (CCS) technology without giving us the time to develop it from fantasy to reality.
(7) It depends upon development of presently non-existent .mass storage batteries to stretch solar and wind beyond the times when the sun is shnining and the wind is blowing
(8) It fails to use controls on supply and demand to allow the time necessary for invention of the now-fantasy CCS and battery technology.
(9) It ignores the locked-in emissions that will "close the door forever" on meaningful emissions controls.
Perhaps it comes as no surprise that Fatih Birol who has proudly signed all of IEA’s major policy documents in the past has failed to sign this one.
If the Cookbook is adopted in full there will be initial progress through adoption of efficiency measures and implementation of "clean energy" technology at first but things will stall as we hit against all the above shortcomings. We are headed for condemnation of ourselves and all of Mama Nature’s creatures to a hot hell of our own creation It is insane. It is obscene. It is immoral. Of course the attendees could feel the heat, recognize that the fossil fuel industry is losing its hegemony, throw away the IEA Cookbook and start over but who will tell them they must?
This writer is doing a little on a personal level notwithstanding Naomi Klein’s declaration that we can and apparently should do nothing at all until the revolution comes. I believe the fossil fuel industry endorses her position because (1) The carbon budget will long be exhausted before the revolution comes and (2) the revolution will never come unless its adherents have put aside the capitalists’greed and sociopathy and replaced them with Henry Thoreau’s ethics and moderation. The writer’s colleagues say he is "religious" or "unscientific" or "immorally trying to look better than other people." They are likely right. How can we ever understand our quirks? In any event the author has no car, keeps his thermostat at 50, purchases no silly plastic electronics from China, maintains a vegetarian diet that should be vegan etc. but a long way from zero carbon. It’s easy to be conscientious if your are poor :-); may the limits to growth make us all very poor very soon. If 7 billion people did the same they could look their grandchildren in the eyes and say"We tried to make things OK for you." Without grandchildren the writer tries to say the same to his blameless neighboring chickadees. Maybe the fossil industry would go broke if we stopped buying their products. Maybe the corrupted and co-opted governments and ngos would advocate real emissions reductions if more of the public were practicing real emissions reductions. He hopes others will do likewise.
The writer is a retired environmental and death-penalty-defense lawyer with degrees from Harvard (physics) and UCLA (law), now returned to the home of his ancestors in Western Massachusetts. He regularly writes on issues related to global warming and energy on the Internet.