COP24 Katowice – Real Issue

COP24 Katowice is danger of being strangled by non-central issues. The real issue for this international conference on climate change is understanding CO2 and the reduction in emissions required for effective action.

COP23 – Attempted Sidetrack

An attempt was made to sidetrack COP23 (2017) by asserting that CO2 emissions would increase in that year by 2%, with the strong implication that the stall in CO2 emissions since 2014 had come to an end. Yet it does not appear that the “stall in emissions” has really come to an end. Instead, cuts in emissions are continuing around the world. Despite disappointing results in a few places, there does not appear to be a good reason to abandon the hope that the commitments made at COP21 will eventually result in significant and continuous cuts in CO2 emissions.

GDP vs CO2 Emissions
Demonstrating the “Stall”

COP24 – Potential Side Issues

When we are discussing climate change as a result of global warming, the real issue must always be CO2 emissions. Unless CO2 emissions are eventually cut to around a net zero level, global average temperatures will continue to rise and the disruptions that are currently occurring in a number of regions throughout the world will continue to happen.

Some are worried that a significant rise in ocean levels is inevitable, since the upwards march of atmospheric CO2 is inexorable. While a number of islands and low-lying regions have reason to fear a significant rise in ocean levels, it is currently quite unlikely that the doomsday scenarios being put forward in scholarly journals have any basis in a realistic forecast of future CO2 levels. The reason for this is that CO2 emissions have now stalled and should be forecast to be cut, not to continuously increase.

However, the looming side-issue for COP24 is the subject of the fund agreed at COP21 to provide money to mitigate the effect of climate change. The decision to set up this fund was a mistake and it has already been shown to be ineffective and misconceived.

No matter how much money is provided to this “mitigation fund” and no matter how well the money is spent, it will not stop global warming or the climate change effects. The main aim of COP24 should be capping global warming by reducing CO2 emissions. A desirable end target is to cap atmospheric CO2 at 450 ppm. It is currently around 410 ppm. This should be the real issue at COP24.

Energy-Related Emissions – Actuals

When the actual figures for total CO2 emissions come out we will know the truth about 2017, but it is true that energy-related emissions did grow by 1.4% in 2017.

While the USA continued the downwards march of its CO2 emissions, most of the increases in 2017 can be attributed to China (up 1.7%), European Union (up 1.5%) and the Developing Asia (up 3.1%). Developing Asia (i.e. excluding China) can be excused for its increase in CO2, since this region is well below the world average CO2 emissions per person. On the other hand, China and the European Union have a case to answer for their increases in CO2 emissions in 2017. In China’s case, seasonal factors could have played a role if some emissions “moved” from December 2016 to January 2017, (as movements in atmospheric CO2 readings seem to indicate). Germany’s partial loss of faith in nuclear and the dysfunctional EU ETS scheme could also have played a role. Since Europe has claimed for many years a leading role in the climate change debate, this more recent increase in CO2 emissions in the EU is very disappointing.

COP24 – Immediate CO2 Emissions target

COP21 Paris required nations to set their own targets for CO2 emission reductions. Leaving to one side China’s effective non-participation in any realistic way in the “commitment” process, it was an effective way to proceed, since non-binding commitments are likely to be more ambitious than binding commitments.

One can summarize the proposal cuts as representing a goal of an overall cut of about 1% of the level of 2015 emissions from 2016 onwards. If this were achieved, it would mean a cut of 356,000 tonnes of CO2 per year until around 2025.

Given the range of global disparity in CO2 emissions, a cut of about 356,000 tonnes of CO2 per year is probably as much as can be realistically achieved in this period, at least until new ways of cutting CO2 emissions are fully implemented or even new ones invented. This could then be a CO2 emission reduction target for COP24, out to 2025.

Using this number as a base, one could expect atmospheric levels of CO2 (at Mauna Loa) to increase by 2.35 ppm per year in 2018 (standard deviation 0.41 ppm), yet for each month since June 2018 they have been increasing at a (rolling) annual rate of around 2.0 ppm per year. While there is reasonable skepticism about the usefulness of this statistic in a short-term context  (see the article “Real-time verification of CO2 emissions”), at least it is on the side of a reduction, not on the side of an increase.

Given that increases in atmospheric CO2 from previous years’ ocean warming (measured by the Oceanic Nino Index) should now have worked their way through the system, we can be hopeful that some significant, previously ignored, potential cuts in emissions have occurred. Some possibilities stand out: 1) China well-publicized cuts in coal consumption and the move to use higher quality coal; 2) A cut in India’s inefficient use of fuel for cooking and other purposes due to an increase in electrification of that nation.

COP24 – Future CO2 Emission target

Even higher rates of CO2 emission reductions are possible in the medium term. At present, the most fruitful lines of future development, not fully factored into the current targets, are:

  1. Increasing penetration of pumped-hydro as a way of dealing with the problem of unpredictable supply of electricity from wind-farms, without bringing in its train the “CO2 cost” of using peak electricity gas-powered generators.
  2. Increasing the community’s confidence in the long-term safety of nuclear-powered electricity generation, possibly by new technology currently under evaluation, leading to a higher level of take-up of nuclear energy.
  3. Eventual replacement of all petrol and diesel-powered passenger vehicles with electric vehicles.

If these all came to fruition, along with others not yet considered, a doubling of the annual expected CO2 emission reductions to one million tonnes of CO2 per year is not beyond practical delivery. This could be target set at COP24 for after 2025.


Author: Graham Lovell

Ancient history historian, software developer, one-time accountant, husband, father and doting grandfather.

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