Sunday, December 13, 2015

Cop out or tipping point?

Jim Hansen isn't right about everything these days - this paper has rightly had a rough ride (ignoring the delusional nonsense) and I wait with interest to see what transpires. But on the Paris talks, he's pretty much right. He's worth quoting in full (as reported in the Guardian and elsewhere):

It’s a fraud really, a fake. It’s just bullshit for them to say: “We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.” It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will continue to be burned.
James Hansen, Columbia University

It is also interesting to see that, just as most scientists have regretfully given up on 2C as a plausible target (maybe we could still just about do it in theory, but we certainly won't without lots of serious and immediate effort), the politicians decide they will aim at 1.5C instead. I predict a lot of Canute analogies and cartoons as the temperature continues to rise steadily.

On the other hand, it could be seen as a positive sign that at least the politicians are talking seriously about the need to cut carbon emissions, even if it is merely talk. It's not beyond the bounds of possibility that at least some nations might act in accordance with their words and put their money where their mouths are. If we really did achieve carbon neutrality before the end of the century, I'd regard that as a pretty positive outcome. But it's a long way off from here. Of course a carbon tax/fee/whatever as espoused by just about everyone who's thought about the problem and who does not have a vested interest in it would be the obvious starting point, and what matters from here is the start rather than the endpoint. What does everyone else think?

28 comments:

crandles said...

While a carbon tax looks efficient, just imposing a high carbon tax 20 years ago would have been devastating economically. Giving incentives to make renewables more cost competitive was a more important goal at that time.

Governments can do a lot of different things. However COP21 agreement looks insignificant compared to the economics. Because renewables are now looking cheaper than ff, then movement towards renewables is going to start to happen much more rapidly. It is only because the cost of converting to renewables now looks low that an agreement is now possible to reach.

Of course, the politicians are going to claim the credit for reaching an agreement and saving the world, but it is mainly the economics. Perhaps some credit is deserved for giving incentives that have allowed renewable to become cost competitive or even cheaper.

sylas said...

I find the notion of a temperature target a bit problematic. I don't think we have climate sensitivity sufficiently constrained to know what is required to hit a temperature target.

Soarer said...

"While a carbon tax looks efficient, just imposing a high carbon tax 20 years ago would have been devastating economically."

Not necessarily.

If it is just an additional tax, then that would take demand out of the economy, which would have slowed growth of course. But if it was revenue-neutral, then it would cause problems in some places, but opportunities in others.

I believe the only government to attempt a revenue-neutral 'carbon' tax was Australia.

In any case, as pointed out by Tim Worstall many times, we in the UK already have a 'carbon tax' at around the level proposed in The Stern Review. It is too low on some items and too high on road fuel but with some better targeting, it can meet the requirements if the review.

"Giving incentives to make renewables more cost competitive was a more important goal at that time"

Well, if that was the goal then the shot hit the corner flag.

"Because renewables are now looking cheaper than ff"

I really don't see how you come to this conclusion. It flies in the face of all the facts on the ground, except in specific cases like solar in off-grid areas of sunny countries, wind & PV are not cost-competitive at all. If you believe they are, would you be OK with removing subsidies as, surely, cost competitive renewals will win through all on their own, won't they?

crandles said...

http://s619.photobucket.com/user/Bob_Wall/media/unnamed.jpg.html

has unsubsidized levelised costs ranking:

Energy efficiency
Wind
Solar (utility scale)
Gas combined cycle

Yes that is a high insolation region and utility scale not rooftop. A higher latitude country would face higher solar costs or costs of high voltage lines pushing price above at least gas combined cycle according to those figures. However, solar costs are falling rapidly. Perhaps 'now' gave the wrong impression or is perhaps just wrong but in the context of COP21 agreement only starting in 2020... I would also admit it was a little too wide, 'renewables' in general has to include rooftop solar which is expensive. However I would maintain that it isn't only in limited isolated cases where renewables are cheaper as you seem to be implying.

The UK does seem to have removed a lot of the subsidies and plans to remove pretty much all the remaining ones. Other countries seem to be heading the same way. Yes this is causing job losses so perhaps the UK is doing it a little too soon. A carbon tax, provided not introduced too abruptly, may well work better to make a faster transition than systems of subsidies where politicians might interfere too much or not fast enough. Large subsidies that have no effect on speed of transition do not seem a good idea. Some small subsidies, if they do have the effect of speeding up transition to renewables (particularly if they are cheaper) might still be sensible. However the trend seems to be towards removal of subsidies and I am not too unhappy with this.

I certainly don't want to indicate we can be complacent, there is a huge amount to be done. But is a 'we are now doing anything so we are all doomed' the right attitude to project?

EliRabett said...


A huge global shift in policy objective which will make action much easier (not easy) to get through politically. Lie back and do nothing because it is useless is not a very good way to survive.

jules said...

Yes, but can you imagine anything politically possible that would have satisfied James Hansen? He seems to want action in 1990 and nothing else will satisfy. For a more realistic post, you should also have included this from Nicholas Stern, which is also not necessarily untrue:

“This is a historic moment, not just for us and our world today, but for our children, our grandchildren and future generations. The Paris Agreement is a turning point in the world’s fight against unmanaged climate change, which threatens prosperity and well-being among both rich and poor countries. The Agreement creates enormous opportunities as countries begin to accelerate along the path towards low-carbon economic development and growth.”

Mitch Lyle said...

I am waiting for governments to realize that they can externalize the costs of changeover from fossil fuels by instituting a carbon tariff. I know that free-traders will be upset, but money from the tariff can be used internally to offset costs.

James Annan said...

jules, I would have put in the Stern quote but couldn't find it on-line anywhere :-)

As for creating opportunities, well that depends on the actions that follow the words, which we haven't seen yet...

EliRabett said...

What Jules said, but with the point that in any such change a Hansen is necessary. Without the words there will be no actions, with the words there is a chance

There is also this peculiar situation where James agrees with James, Jules disagrees with the tall James and Eli more or less agrees with Crandles.

It's the juballee

Steve Bloom said...

Jules, pretty clearly there is a package of steps that would have more or less satisfied Hansen, centered on a binding international C reduction regime with a ratcheting down mechanism. (It's interesting how Hansen has become something of a scientific Al Gore.) Instead we have INDCs collectively aimed at 3-4C depending on how one does the calculations. So "fraud" becomes an entirely reasonable response to the orgy of mutual back-patting with which the COP ended.

But OK, things are as they are. Now we look to see what short-term actions get put in train in the next couple years, and then if the world responds appropriately to the forthcoming IPCC Special Report. (I'm assuming here that scientists will be able to rise to the occasion; this one comes with rather more pressure than past IPCC reports.) And of course a lot more scientists will need to step up out of their comfort zones. I might suggest a role model for that.

Kevin O'Neill said...

crandles writes: "While a carbon tax looks efficient, just imposing a high carbon tax 20 years ago would have been devastating economically. "

Gasoline prices have varied by country due to differing taxes for decades. Also exporter countries typically have much lower prices than importer countries. Despite this, there never has been much if any correlation between price and economic growth.

Just look at the price by country today.

And consider this: "Currently, the federal government levies a $0.184 per gallon tax on gasoline. In addition, state and local governments levy an average gas tax per gallon of about $0.35. This is an average combined rate of about $0.53 a gallon.
The U.S. combined gas tax rate is actually a lot lower than rates in other industrialized countries. According to data from the OECD, the average gas tax rate among the 34 advanced economies is $2.62 per gallon. In fact, the U.S.’s gas tax is the second lowest (Mexico is the only country without a gas tax) and has a rate less than half of that of the next highest country, Canada, which has a rate of $1.25 per gallon."

Philip Austin said...

Susan Solomon points out that most of the effectiveness of the Montreal Protocol comes from amendments agreed upon after 1987:

http://bit.ly/montreal_accord

The Paris framework has the potential to evolve in the same way.

MikeR said...

Think I agree with Hansen. The really important players - China, India, and eventually other developing countries like Africa - don't really have to do anything at all now. If the price of renewables comes down far enough, they will convert on their own. If they decide it's time to cut their pollution for the benefit of their citizenry, that can aid the conversion as well. If they start using clean fracking that will help too, as it has helped the United States.
But what a bunch of politicians say in speeches means nothing. Do you really think Putin is worried that Russia might get warmer? They basically decided to agree to say a certain type of stuff that sounds good. Excitable people are swooning because they like to feel like they're succeeding.

James Annan said...

This sort of thing makes COP look like an irrelevant talking shop...

Hank Roberts said...

"... Oh terrible to know, and noble, Chaos' child green-robed in blue and golden light ... the thrown and spinning ball of life alone in space ... Have I saved you?"
-- The Last Flight of Dr. Ain -- James Tiptree

Alastair said...

James Annan said...

This sort of thing makes COP look like an irrelevant talking shop...

Well wasn't it? Even if Donald Trump does not become president, the US Republicans will never allow Obama or any one else to implement the changes needed.

Steve Bloom said...

Alastair, no time to go into the deets now, but things are far more hopeful than that in the U.S., noting e.g. that this is happening notwithstanding a pretty major Republican tantrum when it was first announced. Don't over-worry about Trump. Also, "never" is a very long time.

James, this sort of thing provides a little perspective, and as it happens had been made entirely clear pre-COP21. Key quotes:

"We look forward to an agreement that enables financial support from the countries that have developed on the backs of cheap energy, to those who have to meet their energy with more expensive but low carbon energy."

"We are very clear that solar and wind is our first commitment, hydro and nuclear all of these non-carbon sources are what we will develop to the largest extent we can. What cannot be met by these will be met by coal."

Shorter: Make up the finance and technology gap on a renewables pathway for India or the climate gets it.

And let's not forget that India's air pollution problem is at least as bad as China's even though we hear much less about it.

This also pertains, noting that it's very important to India's self-image to be seen as a leader if not the leader of the undeveloped/developing world. The new group seems designed to be the vehicle for the solar component of the needed assistance, which seems likely to be most of it (wind not being very suitable for distributed generation and micro-grids).

James Annan said...

Steve, I'm pleased you see grounds for optimism. However, I can't help but think that India's idea of how much support it needs is going to be well in excess of what the spporting nations expect to give...

Steve Bloom said...

Absolutely, James. Hard-fought negotiations will ensue. Given the need to head off India's coal plant plans in the quite near term, it should be possible to make a judgement about this within a couple years.

Steve Bloom said...

TBC, the sort of thing I expect to see surfacing soon is stuff like Chinese solar panel manufacturers locating plants in India, with funds from the US/EU being used to subsidize their purchase cost, thus keeping the Indian kleptocracy under a degree of control.

MikeR said...

Hmm: http://climateaudit.org/2015/12/23/cop21-emission-projections/

Steve Bloom said...

McI produces another shiny bauble for the dull, I see. But never mind, he's a geeeeenius. /snark

So the initial INDCs, collectively, are a mess. This was news to you, miker?

In the meantime, there's no outside hockey in Toronto for the hols. Those T anomalies in Eastern NA are impressive, no? Now imagine if (when, very likely) they happen in July.

I see that this summer Germany is set to issue what appears to be an actual roadmap for their commitments. Should be interesting.

Hank Roberts said...

> Chinese solar panel manufacturers locating plants in India ...

So, anyone good at interpreting satellite imagery?
Is that gray pall over India up to the Himalayas, and over NE China, coal smoke?
http://epic.gsfc.nasa.gov/epic-archive/jpg/epic_1b_20151225061435_00.jpg

Hank Roberts said...

PS, if you poke around the EPIC page you can download a higher-resolution PNG file.
Just replace "jpg" with "png" two places -- or click to save the image, cancel, and click to save it again and the second time it'll offer you the png file. Dunno why.
https://flic.kr/p/CqNbrP

Steve Bloom said...

Apparently the Chinese bits are smoke, so I would assume the similar-looking Indian ones are too.

Steve Bloom said...

2 GW is nice enough, but more significant is that this model is intended to be replicated across India.

Hank Roberts said...

> as espoused by just about everyone who's thought about the problem
> and who does not have a vested interest in it ....

Simple. Add a tax on vested interests to redress the imbalance in money-equals-speech. Who could be against that?

Oh, wait ...

Speaking of India, it's interesting how far away one has to be to publish such a blunt critique of the US system, while we're equally far away and can criticize their air quality.

There's a study there for someone - how distance improves understanding.

Which would explain the Overview Effect, come to think ...

MikeR said...

Whoa - US Supreme Court stays EQA CO2 emissions standards http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-court-obama-climate-change-20160209-story.html