Monday, February 1, 2010

17. Global Emissions

Apart from all other issues, it is already clear that imposing CO2 emission limits in the Annex 1 (advanced) countries is a futile endeavor.  Emissions from countries that are exempt from these controls are rising rapidly, especially from Asian countries that have enjoyed vigorous economic growth during the last decade. To illustrate, the upper two curves in the figure show the recent history of the CO2 emitted due to energy consumption in the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD – i.e., the advanced countries, excluding Mexico and South Korea since they are not Annex I countries), and in the rest of the world.* If current trends continue, emissions from the exempt countries will be twice those from the OECD in less than a decade.

The lower curves show the CO2 contributions by the United States and by China and the former members of the Soviet bloc. Note that the economic collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1990 led to a substantial reduction in emissions, so that including some members of this group in Annex 1 is nothing more than a sham, enabling them to pretend that they are working diligently to meet their Kyoto targets.

The real economic growth rate in China was an astonishing 13% p.a. in 2007, and it was still 9% p.a. in 2008, despite the worldwide recession. In order to accommodate this growth, China has undertaken a crash program to build electric power plants. The annual increment in capacity peaked in 2006 at 110,000 MW (a figure that exceeds 10% of the present total US capacity), and more than 90,000 MW of the new plants were coal-fired. The deployment rate has declined to around 75,000 MW per year, but will presumably accelerate when the recession ends.

As a result of this growth, Chinese emissions are now greater than those of the USA, and they are responsible for 60% of the present rate of increase from all the exempt countries. Several of these countries, including China, and India, have categorically refused to slow their economic progress by undertaking any steps to limit emissions of CO2.

In the absence of such commitments, strict regulatory regimes in the advanced countries are a waste of time and money. Moreover, the reliance on a substantial, artificial increase in energy prices is a fatal flaw that makes the proposed remedies counterproductive in terms of their stated goals.

The difficulty is that abundant cheap energy is the sine qua non if we are to deal with all the other human, societal and environmental problems facing the planet. In particular, high energy costs will severely inhibit economic growth in the poor countries, perpetuating their disastrous population growth rates. UN forecasts suggest that the number living in abject poverty could triple by 2100. Apart from humanitarian issues, this growth will inevitably increase the output of CO2 from these countries. The probable overall effect of even the most draconian limits in the advanced countries, without matching restrictions in at least the prosperous exempt countries, is thus that the increased population will lead to an atmospheric concentration of CO2 in 2100 that is greater­ than it would be without the artificial increase in energy prices.

In the unlikely event that further research confirms the theory of anthropogenic global warming, the misguided countermeasures now proposed would mean that we will bequeath to our descendants a grim, dirty, crowded, decaying world that is actually slightly warmer than it will be if we encourage global economic growth and, in particular, make sure that energy remains cheap.

*The data are from International Energy Statistics published by the DoE EIA.

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