Thursday, June 13, 2013

Earth is Projected to Warm 10 degrees Fahrenheit this Century

from IEA presentation
On Monday the International Energy Agency (IEA) released a series of recommendation for measures that might curtail the rapid growth that has occurred in carbon dioxide emission from fuel combustion that has taken place in the past few decades despite treaties, meetings and conferences. Global greenhouse gas emissions are increasing rapidly and, in May 2013, carbon-dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere exceeded 400 parts per million for the first time in several hundred millennia.

The IEA has tracked world energy use since its creation in response to the oil embargo of the 1970’s. Energy use for electricity, industry and transportation accounts for around two-thirds of greenhouse-gas emissions, as more than 80% of global energy is based on fossil fuels.

According to the IEA, policies that are now being pursued by developed nations, are predicted (by the accepted group of climate models) to produce a long-term average temperature increase between 3.6 °C and 5.3 °C (6.5-10 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial conditions), with most of the increase occurring during this century. Unfortunately, until the planet is in severe stress, it is unlikely that a concerted effort by all the nations will even be considered. Until then, the richer nations will dally with reducing their carbon footprint while the emerging nations and China race to build wealth with only limited regard for the environment.

Though mankind has blown through the tipping point in CO2 emissions that was just a decade ago referred to as the point of no return, the IEA is making policy recommendations that might hold the global temperature increase to 2 to 4°C by cutting global CO2 emissions growth so that it does not exceed 38.75 billion metric tonnes from fossil fuels in 2020. The recommendations are:
  • Installing energy efficiency measures in buildings, and requiring increased efficiency in industry and transportation. 
  • Preventing the construction of and limiting use of the least-efficient and dirtiest coal-fired power plants. In addition to increasing the share of power generation from renewable sources (including nuclear) and from natural gas. 
  • Reducing methane released from the processing and distribution of oil and gas by replacing aging infrastructure and improving technology implementation. 
  • Finally phasing-out fossil fuel consumption subsidies to reduce consumption and support efficiency efforts. 

While trying as a first priority to reduce the generation of CO2 from fuel, they are also trying to expand the generation and availability of electricity to poorer nations as another policy program. The IEA and World Bank estimate that there are more than 1.2 billion people who still live without access to electricity and are working to increase electricity availability to the poorest nations on earth which also have the fastest growing populations. This is about 17% of the world’s population living in poverty.

The program to cut world CO2 emissions and the program to expand electricity availability to poorer nations appear to be in conflict, though I suppose that there are policy wonks dreaming that the poorest nations will electrify using only renewable sources of electricity or that the rest of the world will cut their CO2 emissions enough to reduce the overall CO2 trajectory with increasing portions of the earth have available electricity. Without electricity there can be little economic development. Electricity powers critical health equipment to improve the health and survival of the population. Electric lighting supports evening and indoor activities and commerce. Electricity used in classroom to support use of information technology. Electricity powers factories and businesses. Reliable, food, water, sewage and electricity are the necessary infrastructure for an advanced nation.

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