Is China leading the way on climate mitigation?

At the Conversation is an article on China’s lead in renewable energy.
China wants to dominate the world’s green energy markets – here’s why is by University of Sheffield academic Chris G Pope. The article starts:-

If there is to be an effective response to climate change, it will probably emanate from China. The geopolitical motivations are clear. Renewable energy is increasingly inevitable, and those that dominate the markets in these new technologies will likely have the most influence over the development patterns of the future. As other major powers find themselves in climate denial or atrophy, China may well boost its power and status by becoming the global energy leader of tomorrow.

The effective response ought to be put into the global context. At the end of October UNEP produced its Emissions Gap Report 2017, just in time for the COP23 meeting in Bonn. The key figure on the aimed for constraint of warming to 1.5°C to 2°C from pre-industrial levels – an “effective polcy response” – is E5.2, reproduced below.

An “effective response” by any one country is at least reducing it’s emissions substantially by 2030 compared with now at the start of 2018. To be a world leader in response to climate change requires reducing emissions in the next 12 years by more than the required global average of 20-30%.

Climate Action Tracker – which, unlike myself strongly promotes climate mitigation – rates China’s overall policies as Highly Insufficient in terms of limiting warming to 1.5°C to 2°C. The reason is that they forecast on the basis of current policies emissions will increase in China in the next few years, instead of rapidly decreasing.

So why has Chris Pope got China’s policy so radically wrong? After all, I accept the following statement.

Today, five of the world’s six top solar-module manufacturers, five of the largest wind turbine manufacturers, and six of the ten major car manufacturers committed to electrification are all Chinese-owned. Meanwhile, China is dominant in the lithium sector – think: batteries, electric vehicles and so on – and a global leader in smart grid investment and other renewable energy technologies.

Reducing net emissions means not just have lots of wind turbines, hydro schemes, solar farms and electric cars. It means those renewable forms of energy replacing CO2 energy sources. The problem is that renewables are adding to total energy production, along with fossil fuels. The principal source of China’s energy for electricity and heating is coal. The Global Coal Plant Tracker at endcoal.org has some useful statistics. In terms of coal-fired power stations, China now has 922 GW of coal-fired power stations operating (47% of the global total) with a further 153 GW “Announced + Pre-permit + Permitted” (28%) and 147 GW under construction (56%). Further, from 2006 to mid-2017, China’s Newly Operating Coal Plants had a capacity of 667 GW, fully 70% of the global total. Endcoal.org estimates that coal-fired power stations account for 72% of global GHG emissions from the energy sector, with the energy-sector contributing to 41% of global GHG emissions. With China’s coal-fired power stations accounting for 47% of the global total, assuming similar capacity utilization, China’s coal-fired power stations account for 13-14% of global GHG emissions or 7 GtCO2e of around 52 GtCO2e. It does not stop there. Many homes in China use coal for domestic heating; there is a massive coal-to-liquids program (which may not be currently operating due to the low oil price); manufacturers (such as metal refiners) burn it direct; and recently there are reports of producing gas from coal. So why would China pursue a massive renewables program?

Possible reasons for the Chinese “pro-climate” policies

First, is for strategic energy reasons. I believe that China does not want to be dependent on world oil price fluctuations, which could harm economic growth. China, therefore, builds massive hydro schemes, despite it there being damaging to the environment and sometimes displacing hundreds of thousands of people. China also pursues coal-to-liquids programs, alongside promoting solar and wind farms. Although duplicating effort, it means that if oil prices suffer another hike, China is more immune from the impact than

Second, is an over-riding policy of a fast increase in perceived living standards. For over 20 years China managed average growth rates of up to 10% per annum, increasing average incomes by up to eight times, and moving hundreds of millions of people out of grinding poverty. Now economic growth is slowing (to still fast rates by Western standards) the raising of perceived living standards is being achieved by other means. One such method is to reduce the particulate pollution, particularly in the cities. The recent heavy-handed banning of coal burning in cities (with people freezing this winter) is one example. Another, is the push for electric cars, with the electricity mostly coming from distant coal-fired power stations. In terms of reducing CO2 emissions, electric cars do not make sense, but they do make sense in densely-populated areas with an emerging middle class wanting independent means of travel.

Third, is the push to dominate areas of manufacturing. With many countries pursuing hopeless renewables policies, the market for wind turbines and solar panels is set to increase. The “rare earths” required for the wind turbine magnets, such as neodymium, are produced in large quantities in China, such as in highly polluted Baotou. With lithium (required for batteries), China might only be currently world’s third largest producer – and some way behind Australia and Chile – but its reserves are the world’s second largest and sufficient on their own to supply current global demand for decades. With raw material supplies and low, secure energy costs from coal, along with still relatively low labour costs, China is well-placed to dominate these higher added-value manufacturing areas.

Concluding Comments

The wider evidence shows that an effective response to climate change is not emanating from China. The current energy policies are dominated, and will continue to be dominated, by coal. This will far out-weigh any apparent reductions in emissions from the manufacturing of renewables. Rather, the growth of renewables should be viewed in the context of promoting the continued rapid and secure increase in living standards for the Chinese people, whether in per capita income, or in standards of the local environment.

Kevin Marshall

 

CO2 Emissions from Energy production forecast to be rising beyond 2040 despite COP21 Paris Agreement

Last week the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) published their INTERNATIONAL ENERGY OUTLOOK 2016. The Daily Caller (and the GWPF) highlighted the EIA’s summary energy energy production. This shows that the despite the predicted strong growth in nuclear power and implausibly high growth in renewables, usage of fossil fuels are also predicted to rise, as shown in their headline graphic below.

For policy purposes, the important aspect is the translation into CO2 emissions. In the final Chapter 9. Energy-related CO2 Emissions figure 9.3 shows the equivalent CO2 Emissions in billions of tonnes of CO2. I have reproduced the graphic as a stacked bar chart.

Data reproduced as a stacked bar chart.

In 2010 these CO2 emissions are just under two-thirds of total global greenhouse gas emissions. The question is how does this fit into the policy requirements to avoid 2°C from the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report? The International Energy Authority summarized the requirements very succicently in World Energy Outlook 2015 Special Report page 18

The long lifetime of greenhouse gases means that it is the cumulative build-up in the atmosphere that matters most. In its latest report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimated that to preserve a 50% chance of limiting global warming to 2 °C, the world can support a maximum carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions “budget” of 3 000 gigatonnes (Gt) (the mid-point in a range of 2 900 Gt to 3 200 Gt) (IPCC, 2014), of which an estimated 1 970 Gt had already been emitted before 2014. Accounting for CO2 emissions from industrial processes and land use, land-use change and forestry over the rest of the 21st century leaves the energy sector with a carbon budget of 980 Gt (the midpoint in a range of 880 Gt to 1 180 Gt) from the start of 2014 onwards.

From the forecast above, cumulative CO2 emissions from 2014 with reach 980 Gt in 2038. Yet in 2040, there is no sign of peak emissions.

Further corroboration comes from the UNFCCC. In preparation for the COP21 from all the country policy proposals they produced a snappily titled Synthesis report on the aggregate effect of intended nationally determined contributions. The UNFCCC have updated the graphics since. Figure 2 of 27 Apr 2016 shows the total GHG emissions, which were about 17 Gt higher than the CO2 emissions from energy emissions in 2010.

The graphic clearly shows that the INDCs – many with very vague and non-verifiable targets – will make very little difference to the non-policy emissions path. Yet even this small impact is contingent on those submissions being implemented in full, which is unlikely in many countries. The 2°C target requires global emissions to peak in 2016 and then head downwards. There are no additional policies even being tabled to achieve this, except possibly by some noisy, but inconsequential, activist groups. Returning to the EIA’s report, figure 9.4 splits the CO2 emissions between the OECD and non-OECD countries.

The OECD countries represent nearly all countries who propose to reduce their CO2 emissions on the baseline 1990 level, but their emissions are forecast by the EIA still to be 19% higher in 2040. However, the increase is small compared to the non-OECD countries – who mostly are either proposing to constrain emissions growth or have no emissions policy proposals – with emissions forecast to treble in fifty years. As a result the global forecast is for CO2 emissions to double. Even if all the OECD countries completely eliminate CO2 emissions by 2040, global emissions will still be a third higher than in 1990. As the rapid economic growth in the former Third World reduces global income inequalities, it is also reducing the inequalities in fossil fuel consumption in energy production. This will continue beyond 2040 when the OECD with a sixth of the world population will still produce a third of global CO2 emissions.

Unless the major emerging economies peak their emissions in the next few years, then reduce the emissions rapidly thereafter, the emissions target allegedly representing 2°C or less of global warming by 2100 will not be met. But for countries like India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Nigeria, and Ethiopia to do so, with the consequent impact on economic growth, is morally indefensible.

Kevin Marshall

 

The Climate Policy Issue Crystallized

There is a huge amount of nonsense made about how the rich industrialized countries need to cut carbon emissions to save the world from catastrophic global warming. Just about every climate activist group is gearing up to Paris 2015 where at last they feel that world agreement will be reach on restraining the growth of greenhouse gas emissions. Barak Obama will be pushing for a monumental deal in the dying days of his Presidency. There is a graphic that points out, whatever agreement is signed attempts to cut global emissions will be a monumental failure. It comes from the blandly named “Trends in global CO2 emissions: 2013 report” from the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. In the interactive presentation, there is a comparison between the industrialised countries in 1990 and 2012.


In over two decades the emissions of the industrialised countries have fallen slightly, almost entirely due to the large falls in emission in the ex-Warsaw Pact countries consequent on the collapse in the energy-inefficient communist system. In the countries formerly known as the “First World” the emissions have stayed roughly the same. It is the developing countries that account for more than 100% of the emissions increase since 1990. Two-thirds of the entire increase is accounted for by China where in less than a generation emissions quadrupled. Yet still China has half the emissions per capita of United States, Australia or Canada. It emissions growth will slow and stop in the next couple of decades, not because population will peak, or because of any agreement to stop emissions growth. China’s emissions will peak, like with other developed countries, as heavy industry shifts abroad and the country becomes more energy efficient. In the next 30-40 years India is likely to contribute more towards global emissions growth than China. But the “remaining developing countries” is the real elephant in the room. It includes 1050 million people in Africa (excluding South Africa); 185m in South America (excluding Brazil); 182m in Pakistan; 167m in Bangladesh, 98m in Philippines and 90m in Vietnam. The is over 2000 million people, or 30% of the global population that do not currently register on the global emissions scale, but by mid-century could have emissions equivalent to half of the 1990 global emissions. To the end of the century most of the global population increase will be in these countries. As half the countries of the world are in this group any attempt to undermine their potential economic growth through capping emissions would derail any chance of a global agreement.

Hattip Michel of trustyetverify

Kevin Marshall