Sunday, November 15, 2015

CO2 Reduction: Political Reality Will Trump Ideology


There has been a considerable amount of hand-wringing about reducing human CO2 emissions ASAP in order to save the planet from global warming.  But the United Nations admits a meaningful reduction of human caused CO2 will not happen.

Why not?

Because political reality trumps ideology. National political establishments need to increase the consumption of energy in order to support economic growth. If they do not, they risk political suicide. As shown in the following graph, the biggest offenders are located in the Asia Pacific region. In order to expand their economic base, nations like China and India need to consume copious quantities of coal, oil and natural gas.  National governments within the Eurasia, Middle East, Africa, South America, and Central America are also forced by economic and political reality to increase fossil fuel consumption.

Let’s examine the results of two alternative scenarios. Without any reduction effort, projected global human caused CO2 emissions would increase rapidly through 2035. (Note 1) Although there is only a gradual increase within the Europe, Eurasia, and North American regions, and a slightly faster growth within the Middle East, South America, Central America and African regions, these modest increases are offset by a rapid increase of CO2 emissions within the nations of the Asia Pacific region. By 2035, human caused CO2 emissions would increase by ~ 28 percent.


Forest and peat fires, along with the growing consumption of fossil fuels, are environmental reality. Never-the-less, we will make progress toward our transition to a less intensive production of CO2.  It appears the increase of human caused CO2 production will taper off by 2030 because the transitional economic growth of most emerging nations will have been completed by then, and we are developing alternative fuels and electric power systems.

High on the list of current activity is nuclear and hydro power generation.

Nuclear energy is used to generate around 11% of the world's electricity. Today there are some 438 nuclear power reactors operating in 31 countries with a combined capacity of over 380 GWe. Over 65 power reactors are currently being constructed in 14 countries, 165 nuclear power reactors are in the planning stages, and over 324 more are proposed (World Nuclear Association). Activity is particularly high in the Asia pacific region where nuclear power will frequently displace coal fired generation capacity. China has 29 reactors, is building 22, and has plans for 179 additional units. China aims to more than double its nuclear capacity by 2020. India has 21 reactors, is building 6, and has plans for 57 units. Additional activity can be found in Pakistan, Japan, S. Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam.

Hydro power is used to generate 16 percent of the world’s electricity, and hydro power generation capacity is expected to increase by ~ 3 percent per year for the next 25 years. Hydro power can be found in 150 nations and is a foundational component of power generation in both India and China. Hydro power provided roughly 15 percent of India’s electricity and 17 percent of China’s electricity in 2014. Both nations are exploring additional hydro power projects.

Because of environmental activism, the United States does not have a meaningful nuclear or hydro power generation construction program. This is a key reason the American commitment to reduce its CO2 production by 26 percent by 2025 (versus 2005 levels) is unlikely to happen. Given current technology and political constraints, this goal is more likely to be reached by 2035.

Both Western Europe and Japan will increase their reliance on nuclear power. However, migration into Western Europe will force an increase of fossil fuel consumption.

All these factors have been included in our assessment of human caused CO2 production. In this scenario we have avoided the anticipation of new technologies in order to describe a reasonable scenario using current power generation systems and the anticipated growth of fossil fuel consumption. Even so, our projected outcome is more optimistic than the IPCC’s estimates of future CO2 emissions.


It is of course, politically correct to express concern over global warming and the nasty result of human caused CO2 emissions. Hence, the European Union and the United States have made reduction commitments they cannot possibly meet. China has been more pragmatic (and honest), saying only it will attempt to cap its emissions by 2030. India cannot make any meaningful commitment until after 2030. Taken together, these “commitments” will (theoretically) lead to the more realistic view of what can be accomplished is shown in the following graph. The trends shown in this scenario have been plotted to 2035.

Assuming China does meet its commitment, and emissions growth in the other nations of the Asia Pacific region taper off by 2030, then total human caused CO2 would begin to subside by 2030. In this calculation we have projected the European Union and the United States do make an effort to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels (and make a change in the mix of which fuels are consumed) and are able to make a modest emissions reduction. However, for the nations of Africa, the Middle East, South America, and Central America – it is business as usual. Total annual human caused CO2 emissions will increase by 6 percent from 2015 to 2035. In comparison with doing nothing, our reduction efforts have decreased annual human caused CO2 by 8,072 million tonnes of CO2.

The projected outcome of all these factors is illustrated by the following chart which shows the percentage of global human caused CO2 emissions for each region at peak emissions in 2030.

Assuming the USA is able to reach its 26 percent reduction goal by 2035 (not 2025 as proposed), and all other nations behave as projected, then the United States it will produce just 11 percent of human caused CO2 emissions in 2035.

But what would we actually accomplish?

The following chart compares the “Do Nothing” case with our reduction projection. If all goes as planned, CO2 emissions will increase from ~37 Gt in 2015 to 40 GT in 2030, and then decrease slightly to 39.3 Gt in 2035. Compared with 2015, our reduction scenario would result in a 10.7 percent reduction by 2030 and a 17.1 percent reduction by 2035. 

Unfortunately for all of us, it is highly unlikely these reductions will happen. The World Resources Institute reports 1,200 coal plants in are being planned in 59 countries. About 66 percent of these are in the Asia Pacific region. It is likely at least a thousand more will be under construction by 2025.

As peat, plant and forest fire activity has shown, there is no effective control over environmental damage in most of the nations within the Asia Pacific region. The development of coal and natural gas fired power generation is certain to continue. On the other hand, it is unlikely the rapid increase of economic development we have seen in the past will be sustained throughout our forecast period, and we can be encouraged forward planning in China and India appears to favor increased nuclear and hydro power generation. Taken together, these factors suggest it is likely CO2 emissions will begin to taper off by 2030 as shown above.

The European Union is unlikely to meet its reduction goals because by 2030 because European politics will be dominated by economic considerations. One can make the same statement about the United States, Canada and Mexico. Consequently, the North American region is highly unlikely to meet its stated goals because to do so would dump this region into a never ending depression. Most of nations within the other regions (Eurasia, Africa, South America, Central America, and the Middle East) will be under the political control of dictatorships or socialist governments with their own internal political agendas. These nations will continue to scramble for more energy resources.

Political reality, including the never ending hunt for political power and economic wealth, will always be more important than environmental ideology.

Conclusion: the realities of economic growth, as well as the quest for political power (and money), guarantee political expediency will always be more important than CO2 reduction.

Never-the-less, our projections are possible   - even if not probable.

Note 1: The “no reduction effort” and “projected” scenarios in this article do not match the ones used by the IPCC because they are based on a slightly different set of CO2 emission assumptions.

No comments: