Burying the Future

By Peter Montague of Rachel’s Democracy & Health News

G8The "Group of Eight" (G8) nations met for 3 days in Hokkaido, Japan last week and hammered out a new energy strategy for the planet. The G8 are the world's 8 richest nations: Canada, England, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, and the U.S.

The official G8 declaration did not mention it, but Japan's Prime Minister announced at a press conference that,

"We, the G8, arrived at a common view which is to seek to adopt as a global target the goal of at least a 50% reduction of global emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) by 2050."

Despite the weak language ("arrived at a view to seek to adopt as a global target..."), it appears that the G8 made some sort of commitment to reduce greenhouse gases to 50% of 2005 emission levels by 2050.

The 50% reduction below 2005 levels is spelled out quite clearly in Figure 2 of a document prepared for the G8 summit by the International Energy Agency (IEA) called "IEA Work for the G8: 2008 Messages."

So here's the deal:

In 2005, global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions were roughly 28 billion metric tonnes (one tonne = 2200 pounds). CO2 is the main greenhouse gas thought to be causing global warming. If "business as usual" continues, this 28 billion tonnes per year will rise to 62 billion tonnes per year by 2050, growing 1.8% per year for the next 45 years. The total emitted during the 45 years would be nearly 2 trillion tonnes of CO2. Total CO2 emissions during the 20th century were about 1 trillion tonnes of CO2, so the "business as usual" scenario represents a huge increase in CO2 emissions compared to the 20th century.[1] Yes, it will be getting hot in here, if we don't change our ways.

As the IEA put it, "Concerted global action is urgently needed to address today's daunting energy challenges. Without such action... the threat of climate change will become a devastating reality."

So to avert to the "devastating reality" of climate change the G8 agreed to cut global CO2 emissions back to 14 billion tonnes per year by the year 2050, half of where global emissions were in 2005. They hope this will stabilize CO2 concentration in the atmosphere at 450 parts per million and prevent the earth's surface temperature from rising more than 2 to 3 degrees C. (3.6 to 5.4 degrees F.) this century.

Let's leave aside the question of whether a 50% cut below 2005 levels will be adequate. Suffice it to say that there are eminent climate scientists who think we need to stabilize C02 in the atmosphere at 350 ppm or even 325 ppm. CO2 in the atmosphere is presently at 385 ppm and rising about 2 ppm per year. To get back to 350 or 325 ppm would require far steeper cuts than 50% by 2050.

How does the G8 expect to reach its 2050 goal of 50% below 2005? The IEA says...

** Renewables will provide 21% of the needed cut.

** Power generation efficiencies and fuel switching (unspecified) will provide 7% of the needed cut.[2]

** End use fuel switching (unspecified) will provide 11% of the needed cut.

** End use electrcity efficiency will provide another 12% and end use fuel efficiency will provide 24% of the needed cut.

** The world must also build 960 to 1280 nuclear power plants between 2010 and 2050, each with a capacity of 1000 megawatts (MW). This will provide 6% of the needed cut.

** The world must also build 1200 to 1400 new coal-fired power plants, each with a capacity of 500 MW, and bury their CO2 in the ground, hoping it will stay there forever. This will provide 9% of the needed cut.

** The world must also build 40 to 800 gas-fired power plants, each with a capacity of 500 MW, and bury their CO2 in the ground, hoping it will stay there forever. This will provide 10% of the needed cut.

In other words, 25% of the needed cuts will come from building nuclear power plants (with their threat of spreading nuclear weaponry, and their attendant long-lived radioactive wastes) and from burning coal and burying liquified, pressurized CO2 in the ground. The IEA did not say so, but these hazardous wastes will have to be passed along to the next generation, perhaps with a note that begins, "Sorry to have to tell you this, but we're handing you a couple of problems that you and your grandchildren will not be able to ignore...."


[1] For source of data, see footnote 3 in Rachel's #945.

[2] IEA says it plans to publish more details in a document called "Towards a Sustainable Energy Future -- IEA Programme of Work on Climate Change, Clean Energy and Sustainable Development" to be made available at www.iea.org, but we can't find it there as of today (July 10, 2008).

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  • Posted on July 15, 2008. Listed in:

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