The United Nations climate conference has just opened in Paris. The pledges that countries are making fall way short of what many say is needed to solve the problem of climate change. The Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project based in Paris and New York describes what will be needed to get the job done:
- The 2 degree C temperature increase benchmark is used even though it is an arbitrary threshold. “Hell is not going to break loose at two degrees – it will take hundreds of years to unfold.” The world has so far warmed .9 degree C since 1880, halfway to the threshold.
- The technologies available today, such as solar power and wind turbines, while good enough to get a running start on the transition, are not good enough to finish it.
- Many countries will need to keep burning coal or natural gas to generate power while capturing the carbon dioxide emerging from smoke stacks, compressing it and injecting it deep underground. In fact most fossil fuel energy producers do not appear to be putting much effort into this approach.
- Governments could easily flub the energy transition by failing to plan far enough ahead. Most countries are setting 10 and 15 year targets that can be met with incremental changes.
- To achieve emissions goals, entire economies, including transportation, needs to be electrified as much as possible. Spending a lot of effort, as the U.S. is doing, trying to make gasoline cars more efficient, may be going down a blind alley.
- Another potential dead end would be an overreliance on natural gas, which emits only half as much carbon as coal. This helps in the short run but gas has to go away within a few decades. Thus heavy investment in natural gas pipelines and power plants now could undermine long term goals.
The point is that the DDPP, designed to hold a global temperature increase to just 2 degrees C from preindustrial times, is extremely demanding. It will require massive governmental interference in the energy economies of both developed and developing countries all over the world. A far, far better approach is for leading world economies such as the U.S., Western Europe, China and Japan to provide leadership by implementing a tax on carbon emissions and thereby create an economic incentive for the fossil fuel industry to decarbonize itself.