Archive for June, 2008

The New Global Growth Path

June 16th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.


A very important new paper is forthcoming in the journal Climatic Change which has been published first online. The paper is:

P. Sheehan, 2008. The new global growth path: implications for climate change analysis and policy, Climatic Change (in press).

The paper argues that:

In recent years the world has moved to a new path of rapid global growth, largely driven by the developing countries, which is energy intensive and heavily reliant on the use of coal—global coal use will rise by nearly 60% over the decade to 2010. It is likely that, without changes to the policies in place in 2006, global CO2 emissions from fuel combustion would nearly double their 2000 level by 2020 and would continue to rise beyond 2030. Neither the SRES marker scenarios nor the reference cases assembled in recent studies using integrated assessment models capture this abrupt shift to rapid growth
based on fossil fuels, centred in key Asian countries.

This conclusion strongly supports the analysis that we presented in Nature (PDF)not long ago, in which we argued that the mitigation challenge was potentially underestimated in the so-called IPCC SRES (and pre- and post- SRES) scenarios due to overly aggressive assumptions about future trends in the decarbonization of the global economy. Such overly optimistic assumptions are endemic in the literature, found in the Stern Review, and IEA and CCSP assessments, among others.

Sheehan comes to similar conclusions:

To the extent that NGP is a reasonable projection of global trends on current policies out to 2030, it follows that all of the SRES marker scenarios seriously understate unchanged policy emissions over that time, and do so because they do not capture the extent of the expansion in energy use and emissions that is currently taking place in Asia. Nor, as a consequence, do they capture the rapid growth in coal use that is also occurring. . .

The SRES scenarios were a substantial intellectual achievement, and have stood the test of time for almost a decade. But the central feature of global economic trends in the early decades of the twenty-first century—the new growth path shaped by the sustained emergence of China and India, in the context of an open, knowledge-based world economy—could not be foreseen in the 1990s, and is not covered by these scenarios. Many of the SRES scenarios are no longer individually plausible, and as a whole the marker scenarios can no longer be said to ‘describe the most important uncertainties’. As a result, and especially given the emissions intensity of the new growth path, there is an urgent need for new approaches.

Unfortunately, a major obstacle to discussing (much less achieving) new approaches are the very public intellectual and political commitments that have been advanced, based on the earlier assumptions. Unwinding these commitments — as we have seen — will take some doing.

PS. See also the NYTs Andy Revkin and Elisabeth Rosenthal on China’s growing emissions here. As yet, the dots remain to be connected between such trends unfolding before our eyes and their incongruity with assumptions in energy policy assessments. But reality and policy assessments can diverge only for so long.

Why Costly Carbon is a House of Cards

June 12th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

How can the world achieve economic growth while at the same time decarbonizing the global economy?

This question is important because there is apt to be little public or political support for mitigation policies that increase the costs of energy in ways that are felt in reduced growth. Consider this description of reactions around the world to the recent increasing costs of fuel:


Who Do National Science Academies Speak For?

June 10th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.


Today the national science academies of the G8+5 issued a statement on climate change (PDF) advocating a greater pace of action on adaptation and mitigation in response to climate change. We have discussed advocacy by science academies here on various occasions, and in this post I’d like to highlight two issues endorsed by the Academies that are still being debated among scientists and advocates, and ask, who do the academies speak for?

1. Clean coal. Carbon capture and storage is a contested technology, for example, by various environmental groups. However, the national science academies endorse its development and use.

Technologies should be developed and deployed for carbon capture, storage and sequestration (CCS), particularly for emissions from coal which will continue to be a primary energy source for the next 50 years for power and other industrial processes. G8+5 economies can take the lead globally to further develop CCS technologies. This will involve governments and industry working collaboratively to develop the financial and regulatory conditions needed to move CCS forward and international coordination in the development of demonstration plants.

2. Geoengineering research. Similarly, geoengineering research (as a separate issue from actual geoengineering) is a contested issue, for instance the recent Conference of Parties to the UN Convention on Biodiversity proposed a moratorium (receiving broad international support) on certain geoengineering experiments.. The national science academies endorse geoengineering without such reservations.

There is also an opportunity to promote research on approaches which may contribute towards maintaining a stable climate (including so-called geoengineering technologies and reforestation), which would complement our greenhouse gas reduction strategies.

Separate from the merit of the policy recommendations advanced by the academies (and for the record I support both CCS and geoengineering research) is the question of who the national science academies speak for and the basis for their endorsement of particular actions.

Do they represent the scientific community within their countries? Their members? Their executive bodies and leadership?

What of public concerns and those among members of the scientific community about CCS and geoengineering?

If the science academies claim to represent a special interest, then whose interest? If they claim to represent common interests, then on what basis is their advocacy to be viewed as legitimate (e.g., is democratic, consensual, authoritative, elite, etc.)?

An Order of Magnitude in Cost Estimates: Automatic Decarbonization in the IEA Baseline

June 9th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Last week I mentioned the conclusions of the IEA Energy Technologies Perspectives report. I have had a chance to look at the full report in some depth, with an eye to the assumptions in the report for the spontaneous decarbonization of the global economy.


Silke Beck on The Honest Broker, auf Deutsche

June 6th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

If you read German, then you might be interested in this review (PDF) of The Honest Broker by Silke Beck, of the UFZ Helmholz Research Center in Leipzig, appearing in the May, 2008 issue of Theorie und Praxis. She concludes:

Um das Kind nicht mit dem Bade auszuschütten, das Buch stellt sicherlich einen wichtigen Input in die Diskussion um Politikberatung dar und bietet einen übersichtlichen und gut strukturierten Leitfaden für Wissenschaftler, um sich im unübersichtlichen Terrain der Politik zu orientieren. Es demonstriert nachdrücklich, dass die bis dato noch dominante Idee des “Schwimmens ohne nass zu werden” illusorisch ist und weist gleichzeitig überzeugende Alternativen aus. Zu wünschen wäre, dass das Werk von Pielke als ein Beitrag dazu wahrgenommen würde, diese Diskussion auch
in der Praxis zu eröffnen, das lineare Modell zu hinterfragen, und dadurch dem ehrenhaften Vermittler mehr Gehör zu verschaffen.

Or in English, go ahead and buy the book, es ist sehr gut! ;-)

IEA on Reducing The Trajectory of Global Emissions

June 6th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

The International Energy Administration released its Energy Technology Perspectives report today, with a view on the prospects of returning global emissions to present values by 2050 and also more aggressively cutting them by half in 2050.

The report has several interesting conclusions:

1. Its cost estimates for stabilizing emissions at current amounts have doubled over the past 2 years to $50 per ton of carbon dioxide.

2. Its estimates for halving emissions from today’s levels are $200 to $500 per ton of carbon dioxide.

By contrast, the Stern Review’s 2006 estimate of the average cost of a similar reduction in emissions to 2050 was $25 per ton of carbon dioxide (see Figure 9.5 here in PDF), with an uncertainty range that topped out at about $100 per ton. The IPCC AR4 scenarios led to costs ranging up to $200 per ton of carbon dioxide (consistent with a 550 ppm stabilization trajectory by 2050, as seen in figure TS.9 in this PDF). (Note: I am unclear as to how the report handles the baseline issue that we raised in our recent Nature paper, but if they handled it properly, the differences in cost estimates from Stern/IPCC may simply reflect a more transparent accounting.)

What to take from this? Estimates of the economic costs of mitigation are highly unstable and speculative. Consider that the Stern Review considered no costs of oil above $80/barrel. However, the trend in cost estimates is up, due to the higher costs of energy and infrastructure. Efforts to map out the costs of mitigation to 2050 (or 2030 for that matter) are little more than guesses, leaving plenty of room to find a pleasing result.

3. The IEA report sees no path to stabilizing or halving emissions without a massive investment in both nuclear power and carbon capture and storage (for coal and gas). These are both politically controversial and will generate resistance among some groups, perhaps limiting their future prospects. To the extent that this happens other avenues for emissions reductions will need to be found to meet these ambitious goals.

4. Here is what the IEA sees as necessary each year:

The average year-by-year investments between 2010 and 2050 needed to achieve a virtual decarbonisation of the power sector include, amongst others, 55 fossil-fuelled power plants with CCS, 32 nuclear plants, 17,500 large wind turbines, and 215 million square metres of solar panels. [Reducing 2050 emissions to half of today's] also requires widespread adoption of near-zero emission buildings and, on one set of assumptions, [by 2050] deployment of nearly a billion electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

5. Finally, while the report says that the technologies to stabilize emissions at current values by 2050 are, in principle, available, it observes that they are not for reductions below this level, and thus calls for:

A massive increase of energy technology Research, Development and Demonstration (RD&D) is needed in the coming 15 years, in the order of USD 10-100 billion per year.

In short, the IEA report should serve as a reminder that the challenge of mitigation is significant and costly. Consequently,the politics of adopting mitigation policies will continue to be difficult (to put it mildly). Efforts to couch mitigation policies as low cost (in the short term) or of immediate benefit will likely fail, because presently this simply is not true. Strategies that will have greater prospects for success will those that align the short term costs with short term benefits, by broadening the focus of mitigation policies beyond a narrow focus on long-term climate change, or, by capitalizing on technological advances that do in fact lead to demonstrable short-term benefits by reducing the costs experienced by consumers and voters.

Until this lesson is learned, climate policy will continue in its current form.

Good Intelligence

June 5th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Chapter 7 of The Honest Broker talks about the role of intelligence in the decision to go to war in Iraq. Today, the Senate Intelligence Committee released two reports (PDF, PDF) documenting how the Bush Administration misled policy makers and the public by politicizing government intelligence. Here is what Senator Jay Rockefeller had to say in a press release:

“Before taking the country to war, this Administration owed it to the American people to give them a 100 percent accurate picture of the threat we faced. Unfortunately, our Committee has concluded that the Administration made significant claims that were not supported by the intelligence,” Rockefeller said. “In making the case for war, the Administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent. As a result, the American people were led to believe that the threat from Iraq was much greater than actually existed.”

“It is my belief that the Bush Administration was fixated on Iraq, and used the 9/11 attacks by al Qa’ida as justification for overthrowing Saddam Hussein. To accomplish this, top Administration officials made repeated statements that falsely linked Iraq and al Qa’ida as a single threat and insinuated that Iraq played a role in 9/11. Sadly, the Bush Administration led the nation into war under false pretenses.

“There is no question we all relied on flawed intelligence. But, there is a fundamental difference between relying on incorrect intelligence and deliberately painting a picture to the American people that you know is not fully accurate.

“These reports represent the final chapter in our oversight of prewar intelligence. They complete the story of mistakes and failures – both by the Intelligence Community and the Administration – in the lead up to the war. Fundamentally, these reports are about transparency and holding our government accountable, and making sure these mistakes never happen again.”

I explain in The Honest Broker there is an important difference between serving as an issue advocate and serving as an honest broker. In this situation, the distinction was lost. The Administration had every right to make whatever case to the public that it wanted to make.

However, as the second report linked about argues, it warped the process of intelligence gathering in order to generate (suppress) information that supported (did not support) its desired outcomes. This represented a pathological politicization of the intelligence community and limited the scope of options available for debate among the public and policy makers.

Protecting the function of honest brokering among relevant experts is hard to do.

A Few Bits on Cap and Trade

June 4th, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

The U.S. Senate is debating a cap and trade bill this week and next. Anyone wanting a look at the debate can find it on CSPAN-2.

Meantime here are a few minor related items:

I reviewed Earth: The Sequel by Fred Krupp and Miriam Horn of the Environmental Defense Fund. Unfortunately, the book adds little to understanding of or debate on cap and trade. My review can be found at Nature Reports: Climate Change here.

Monday’s Denver Post has a column by David Harsanyi (opposing the cap and trade bill) in which he quotes from an analysis I did of the effectiveness of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the Kyoto Protocol for reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Unfortunately he confuses my analysis of the effect of the CDM with an assessment of the entire Protocol. For that analysis he would have wanted to look at a 1998 paper by Tom Wigley, and make a few adjustments based on actual participation and performance of Kyoto. The amount of delay in emissions from all of Kyoto would be measured in months not days.

Idealism vs. Political Realities

June 3rd, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

David Cox writes in the Guardian on climate change: “It’s surely time for a change of tack. Or should we just wring our hands?”

A further excerpt:

Perhaps, it’s time to get real. Climate change activists should come to appreciate what religious reformers, communist revolutionaries and other utopian visionaries have learned before them. You can’t change human behaviour in the interests of the supposed greater good.

Nonetheless, warming hasn’t gone away, even if its character is less clear-cut than has been suggested by those urging us to make obeisance to it. What should we do about it?

The answer is surely to switch our efforts away from trying to change human behaviour towards other approaches to the problem. The most obvious is technological research into methods of alleviating warming. Up until now, mentioning this route has been considered a sinful attempt to divert attention from the hairshirt remedies on which the prophets of doom have insisted. Perhaps partly as a result, such research is proving surprisingly skimpy.

He raises a good point, which I’d characterize as, if efforts to put a meaningful price on carbon fail, what is plan B?

Air Capture in The Guardian

June 3rd, 2008

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Saturday’s Guardian has a story about a potentially important breakthrough in air capture technology:

It has long been the holy grail for those who believe that technology can save us from catastrophic climate change: a device that can “suck” carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air, reducing the warming effect of the billions of tonnes of greenhouse gas produced each year.

Now a group of US scientists say they have made a breakthrough towards creating such a machine. Led by Klaus Lackner, a physicist at Columbia University in New York, they plan to build and demonstrate a prototype within two years that could economically capture a tonne of CO2 a day from the air, about the same per passenger as a flight from London to New York.

The prototype so-called scrubber will be small enough to fit inside a shipping container. Lackner estimates it will initially cost around £100,000 to build, but the carbon cost of making each device would be “small potatoes” compared with the amount each would capture, he said.

The scientists stress their invention is not a magic bullet to solve climate change. It would take millions of the devices to soak up the world’s carbon emissions, and the CO2 trapped would still need to be disposed of. But the team says the technology may be the best way to avert dangerous temperature rises, as fossil fuel use is predicted to increase sharply in coming decades despite international efforts. Climate experts at a monitoring station in Hawaii this month reported CO2 levels in the atmosphere have reached a record 387 parts per million (ppm) – 40% higher than before the industrial revolution.

The quest for a machine that could reverse the trend by “scrubbing” carbon from the air is seen as one of the greatest challenges in climate science. Richard Branson has promised $25m (£12.6m) to anyone who succeeds.

Lackner told the Guardian: “I wouldn’t write across the front page that the problem is solved, but this will help. We are in a hurry to deal with climate change and will be very hard pressed to stop the train before we get to 450ppm [CO2 in the atmosphere]. This can help stop the train.”

My recent paper on the economics and politics of air capture is going to be obsolete before I even get the reviews back!! (Anyone wanting a copy of the paper as submitted just send me an email: