By David Wilkin, Masters, Electrical Eng., P. Eng
The media is filled with global-warming predictions and warnings, with climate experts and national political leaders calling for more action, yet many in democratic countries are not onside with the current climate policies:
- Ontario voters removed a 15-year Liberal government largely over unpopular cap-and-trade tax and costly green-energy policies. Now Ontario, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, PEI and Alberta all oppose carbon taxes. Recently, the collapse of Canadian oil and gas prices has angered many Canadians, exposing failures in Federal government energy and pipeline policies.
- The French president, after only a few weeks of unprecedented citizen anger and protests over massively unpopular fuel tax increases, backed down on imposing new promised increases for six months. There are signs the uprising may spread beyond France.
- Australia, the world’s largest coal exporter, elected a new conservative PM promising changes to previous climate plans.
- Brazil, the largest player in South America, elected a populist president promising to pull out of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.
- The US Trump administration “America first” policies brought aggressive deregulation and promotion of its energy sectors, then withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement.
Has climate-change politics hit a wall? Perhaps, but before drawing conclusions, here are some ‘big-picture’ energy facts to consider that seldom make headlines:
- Globally, ‘green’ renewables (wind, solar) provide under one per cent of all energy consumed, and global energy demand is forecasted to grow by almost 27 per cent over the next two decades.
- Renewables are used mostly in power generation, but there are real, hard limits to its overall share. Germany, a renewables leader, recently learned this, as it was forced to open new coal plants following the closure of nuclear plants. Green renewables in the German power-grid generate about 18 per cent of its power, and this appears close to the upper share-limit to ensure power-grid stability. Carbon-based backup generation is necessary to balance the load demand.
- According to IEA 2017 CO2 emission reports, only seven of 195 Paris Agreement signing countries, and none of the 32 largest emitters were on track to meet commitments (China and India accounted for almost half of the 1.6 per cent 2017 global CO2 increase). Forecasts point to emissions growth in 2018, potentially by 2.7 per cent, despite the Paris Agreement calls for over one per cent reduction per year.
- Polluting coal plants persist. A 2017 Berlin-based study found 1,600 new coal plants in 62 countries are planned or under construction, expanding coal-powered capacity by a staggering 43 per cent. Chinese companies will build half of them, despite coal reduction commitments.
- A recent Nature Communications report showed if all countries followed the climate energy policies of China, Russia or Canada, world temperature would rise a dangerous five degrees Celsius by 2100.
- The US became the world’s largest oil producer in 2018, and is on track to become a net energy exporter within a few years. This change has big geo-political consequences, particularly for Canada (the US takes 99 per cent of our oil exports), the Middle East, Russia, & China. Yet, somehow the US still managed to reduce carbon emissions by 0.5 per cent in 2017, better than all major emitters.
- Many media headline-grabbing ‘doomsday’ predictions have not panned out with actual historic climate measurements. Some had serious errors.
The emission reduction progress in most countries is not measuring up to government leaders’ talk and commitments. What is becoming clear is that without changes, CO2 emissions will not decline, and we will see growing economic stress, inequities, social unrest and conflict. Quite the dilemma, to say the least. These are very complex issues to be sure, with no easy answers. One thing is clear—governments must have their people fully on board, otherwise they get thrown out. Here are some additional lessons leaders may have learned:
- Transition from the carbon-energy economy will take many decades. Don’t prematurely limit oil and gas supplies or drive their costs too high before competitive alternatives are more widely available.
- Don’t be myopic on renewables. Nuclear has a role to play, as will other innovations and incentives.
- Policy burdens must not fall disproportionally on those least able to pay—it must be broadly viewed as fair.
- Leaders viewed as elitist, idealist, out of touch or over-promising and under-delivering will fail.
- Beware ‘Climate change hysteria’, it hurts the cause in the long run.
- The much-praised 2015 Paris Agreement is flawed. Its national voluntary targets and lack of fairness, standards, and enforcement are evident. Clearly, the biggest and fast-growing emitters (mostly in Asia) must do more to curb emissions. Regardless of your views on Trump, he was right to call out the flaws and need for changes.
- More warming is inevitable, better start planning for it now.
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