February 19, 2006
Kyoto Signatories Continue To Exceed Emissions Limits

As previously reported here once again the news is full of reports that Kyoto signatories are not meeting their emissions reductions targets. Greenhouse gas emissions are rising in Britain and hitting Kyoto emissions reductions targets is looking less likely.

A DTI spokeswoman said the UK's total carbon dioxide emissions, including the contribution from homes, cars and air travel, was now expected to total some 529 million tons by 2010.

That is 10.6 per cent below their level in 1990 - but compared with the Government's own target of a 20 per cent cut - or even the 12 per cent reduction required to meet Kyoto, they are not meeting requirements.

In 2004, the projection for total CO2 emissions in 2010 was 518 million tons, suggesting the UK is getting further and further away from meeting its targets.

The Brits would probably have to stop their economy from growing if they wanted to meet that target. Either that or they'd have to build a large number of nuclear power plants and wind farms in a hurry.

Some Kyoto signatories are doing worse than the United States on emissions growth.

In the U.S., figures released by the Energy Information Administration at the end of 2004 showed that emissions had risen by 13.4 percent from 1990 levels.

But according to 2003 figures cited by Friends of the Earth Europe this week, some countries which, unlike the U.S., do have legally binding Kyoto targets are doing as badly, or even worse.

For instance, Austria was set a Kyoto target of -13 percent, but emissions are running at +16.6 percent. Italy's target was -6.5 percent, and its actual emissions are +11.6 percent. Others that are off target include Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain, while France, Britain and Germany are nearer to being on track.

Compared to the aggregate -8 percent target for the E.U.'s then 15 member states, the actual situation is -1.7.

"If current trends continue, Europe will not meet its Kyoto target," the green group said, adding that "if emission levels continue to develop as they did over the last three years, the [15 E.U. members'] emissions in 2010 will be +2.8 percent above of what they were in 1990."

The cost of emissions reduction rises with each additional step. The easier reductions come first. I expect bigger industry and consumer opposition for each additional attempt to cut emissions. Governments will favor imposing more regulations on industry than on consumers since the owners of capital are a much smaller number of voters than the employees. But the cost per quantity of emissions reduction is probably cheaper in the home than in the workplace.

Japan is failing to meet emissions reduction targets too.

Like other industrialized countries, Japan has committed itself to reducing its carbon emissions substantially by the year 2010 - in Japan's case to 6% less than 1990 levels.

But despite its good intentions, Japan's performance has been embarrassingly weak - carbon emissions have actually increased by nearly 8%.

Japan's problem is that it already has tried hard to make its economy energy efficient and therefore the Japanese have already adopted many more energy efficient practices and technologies that were relatively cheap to adopt.

One of Japan's difficulties is that it was already very energy-efficient at the time of the Kyoto treaty. The country has few natural energy sources of its own, making its vital manufacturing industries highly dependent on imported fuel.

Nuclear investment

So when the two oil shocks of the 1970s pushed up prices, Japan set about using its technological ingenuity to cut down on its fuel consumption.

There was a huge investment in nuclear power stations; Japan relies on nuclear power for one third of its electricity production.

That's the problem with conservation. It does not serve as a substitute for replacing fossil fuels with non-fossil fuels and there's a limit to how energy efficient an economy can become without a big hit in living standards. See my previous post on just how far the Japanese have already gone in shifting toward adopting conservation technologies.

The Japanese hope to meet their reduction target by buying emissions reduction credits from other countries.

Prices now average $ 5.63 to $ 5.90 a ton, according to the World Bank and think tanks. Futures for 2010 worldwide are averaging between $ 10.96 and $ 23.30, with highs above $ 30.

...

Estimates by the World Bank and private think tanks say Western Europe, Japan and Canada together may need somewhere between 2.5 billion and 3.0 billion tons of credits in the five years through 2012 to meet their commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. That comes to between 300 million to 800 million tons per year.

"Even 40 percent of the amount needed is going to be hard to reach," said Hitoshi Kurihara, manager of the public-private emissions investment team Japan Carbon Finance.

He estimates that the Kyoto Protocol could cost Japan as much as 2 trillion yen in carbon credits.

If the cost goes back up to $30 per ton and the needed tons goes to 800 million per year that'd be $24 billion per year. That's not a large figure compared to the sizes of the national economies in question.

The US economy has also become much more energy efficient in the last 15 years. But economic growth was faster then rate of increase in energy efficiency in the US.

Although overall net GHG emissions have increased more than 20% during the last 15 years, the economy as represented by the GDP grew 46%.

Still, there's one area where the US could do much more to make the US economy more energy efficient: Building codes. Require new construction to be built to higher insulation standards. That'd be a pretty cheap approach to take to increase energy efficiency.

Also, I favor making building energy efficiency a standard part of reports provided to home and commercial building buyers. Buildings could get constructed to some minimum level of efficiency. But an efficiency rating system could capture information about ways that a builder exceeded the regulatory minimum so that this information could be used as part of advertisements when buildings go on the market. Why not be able to easily find out that, say, a building's walls and roof have R70 insulation or triple pained argon glass windows or an orientation that increases solar heating?

Canada has greatly increased its greenhouse gas emissions since signing the Kyoto Accord.

Canada has consistently failed to meet its Kyoto targets and currently exceeds greenhouse gas emission targets by about 25 per cent.

Greenie commentators in many of the Kyoto Accord signatories point to the United States as irresponsible for failing to join in the Kyoto restrictions on CO2 and other greenhouse gases. But the Kyoto signatories are mostly failing to reach their emissions targets and some like Canada (whose press has conditioned much of its populace to look down on the United States) have done next to nothing to meet their treaty obligations. I see this moral posturing as a distraction from the discussion that really ought to take place: How best to accelerate scientific and technological developments in order to technologically obsolesce fossil fuels?

Canada's failure to meet its Kyoto limits flows in large part from a healthy rate of economic growth. Whereas Japan's smaller failure is a reflection of both a slower rate of economic growth and previous efforts to increase energy efficiency. The United States has performed similarly to Canada partly due to immigration driving up the size of the US population (more people consuming energy at US per capita rates of energy consumption) and faster economic growth than Europe.

What would be far more interesting than these country comparisons versus their Kyoto percentage reductions and increases since 1990 would be time graphs showing ratios of energy usage to per capita GDP adjusted to purchasing power parity (PPP).

One European Union Mandarin is skeptical of the US approach of solving the problem with technology.

A U.S. focus on developing cleaner technologies for the future was not enough to tackle the immediate threat from global warming, EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said.

"The U.S. still thinks that technology will find the answer," Dimas said, "but we know we need reductions" in fuel emissions.

Planet Earth to Stavros Dimas: carbon dioxide emissions will not decline until technological advances provide ways to more cheaply make non-fossil fuel energy. Technology is the answer. The political will does not exist - even in the Kyoto signatory nations - to pay a big price to reduce CO2 emissions. In late 2005 Tony Blair finally admitted that countries will not pay a high price for emissions reductions aimed at preventing global warming.

The second thing, though, is that I think – and I would say probably I’m changing my thinking about this in the past two or three years. I think if we are going to get action on this, we have got to start from the brutal honesty about the politics of how we deal with it. The truth is no country is going to cut its growth or consumption substantially in the light of a long-term environmental problem. What countries are prepared to do is to try to work together cooperatively to deal with this problem in a way that allows us to develop the science and technology in a beneficial way.

He's a slow learner. But at least he learned. Some are still in denial about the obvious.

Though Blair has continued to advocate targets and international agreements.

Eyeing a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol, due to expire in 2012, Blair said despite U.S. concerns, there would have to be more decisive action to cut emissions.

"In my view, this can only be done if you have a framework that in the end has targets within it," he told a committee of senior parliamentarians. "If you don't get to that point...the danger is you never have the right incentives to invest heavily in clean technology."

U.S. President George W. Bush has rejected a targets-based approach in favor of developing clean technologies to curb greenhouse emissions. Remarks by Blair last year were interpreted as a sign he was moving toward the U.S. position, but Tuesday's comments are an apparent reassertion of his commitment to the Kyoto Protocol and a successor treaty.

China alone was responsible for almost half of greenhouse gas emissions in 2005. Probably it will become responsible for more than half in 2006 and an increasing percentage in future years. China is not going to sign up for emissions reductions. Only technologies that obsolesce fossil fuels will cut Chinese emissions.

What Stavros Dimas ought to say is that "if the Bush Administration thinks that technological advances are the answer then why is the Bush Administration doing so little to accelerate the rate of advance in energy technologies?" George W. Bush doesn't walk the talk. Dimas ought to call him on it. Similarly, Tony Blair ought to say "President Bush, I agree with your stated approach to energy. So why aren't you implementing it as policy?"

I don't know whether global warming will happen, to what degree, or with what trade-offs in costs and benefits (and there would certainly be benefits such as longer growing seasons and milder winters in the colder regions). But I continue to be interested in phasing out fossil fuels because we have other compelling reasons to develop replacements for fossil fuels. One such compelling reason is that fossil fuels produce conventional pollutants that hurt us down here on the ground much sooner than the theorized global warming. Another reason is that money sent to the Middle East causes problems for the rest of the world with Islam and terrorism and increases defense and security costs. Another reason for the United States especially is that imported oil is making a huge trade deficit even worse (now at 5.8 percent of US GDP).

Last but not least, cheaper alternatives would really be cheaper. Lower costs from the development of better energy technologies would enable much more rapid economic growth and higher living standards the world over.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2006 February 19 02:56 PM  Energy Policy


Comments
PacRim Jim said at February 19, 2006 4:13 PM:

Europe needn't worry. Once Muslims take over, their greenhouse gas emissions will plummet to 6th-century levels.

aa2 said at February 19, 2006 4:41 PM:

The Euro elite I think would like that sadly Jim. They don't like nuclear or any other solution which allows more energy use, because their goal isn't the environment it is to reduce the standard of living. There are a number of different ideologies that agree on this goal..

-Greens who are really conservatives wanting the community farming style of life of the 1700's, pre industrialization. They view it as an idealic time.

-Marxists who want to equalize Europe witht he third world as their goal isn't lifting up the poor but global equality. Some of these are maoists as well, wanting a 'gerat leap forward' for Europe.

-Blue blood types who lived unimaginably better then their peasants in the past, but today those peasants drive toyotas and they drive lexuses. (small difference in real utility).

And there are probably other groups involved who don't agree with the end goals, but who would benefit at least in the shortterm from these rules. Like Enron type companies where carbon credit traidng will be a big market.

aa2 said at February 19, 2006 4:59 PM:

"Eyeing a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol, due to expire in 2012, Blair said despite U.S. concerns, there would have to be more decisive action to cut emissions."


A few months ago on this blog I predicted this is how they would get around not even coming close to meeting the goals.(Actually going away from them)

The original treaty in Rio in 1990 called fro a 10% reduction by 2000 I believe. Well everyone grew between 1990 and 1997, except Bulgaria -- Who in the 1990 treaty would have received the penalty payments from the nations who didn't meet the requirements. Amounting to many billions of dollars... Which bulgaria never got.

So then they met in Kyoto in 1997 and agreed they had to go even farther then in Rio, and set goals for 2011. And my prediction has been that in about 2008 they will meet in some city and agree to even more aggressive targets for say 2025 this time. Which the people who meet in 2008 won't be Blair, Schroeder or anyone else in power in 1997, so they can blame a lack of action from past governments.

Luckily by the mid 2020's we should be putting a major dent in carbon emissions anyway. As the major problem coal for electricity and oil for cars will both be under major attack. From nuke plants and hybrid/full electric vehicles.

gmoke said at February 19, 2006 8:34 PM:

It may not be global warming but it certainly looks like the Arctic is melting. My gut feeling is that peak oil and changing climate are both past the tipping point and we are involved in merely cutting our losses even if we charge full speed ahead now on a transition from carbon-based fuels to their alternatives. Sixth century AD may actually look good when all of this shakes out.

I don't have any big answers. I don't trust big answers. I have some small answers and you can see the videos of them at http://energyvision.blogspot.com if you so wish.

BTW, aa2, who are the "conservative" greens you are talking about who want a pre-industrial agriculture? Never met anybody like that in the thirty years or so I've been involved in local agriculture.

tdean said at February 19, 2006 8:45 PM:

Parker: “I don't know whether global warming will happen, to what degree, or with what trade-offs in costs and benefits (and there would certainly be benefits such as longer growing seasons and milder winters in the colder regions).”

Planet Earth to Parker. Global warming is happening. There is a very strong scientific consensus among climate scientists that it is occurring and that anthropogenic GHGs are the main cause of the increasing temperatures. And just as you can find seemingly qualified scientists who argue heatedly for creation science, Exxon-Mobil has found a few climate scientists who drive the skeptics’ side of the debate, and pays them handsomely for their trouble. It is exceedingly difficult to find a warming skeptic scientist ( or politician for that matter) without a connection to Exxon-Mobil’s disinformation machine. Another great example of corporate money buying public policy and information.

“The truth is no country is going to cut its growth or consumption substantially in the light of a long-term environmental problem.” Ah. More truth and deep thoughts from Parker. The real truth is that no rational nation will attempt to solve a global problem on its own. With the US economy generating about 25% of global CO2 emissions, countries keeping to their Kyoto limits would be surrendering a critical economic advantage to the US in the global marketplace, since last time I checked, reducing CO2 emissions is more expensive than not reducing them. The only sort of agreement that would have a chance of working is a mandatory targeted agreement that was truly global and had the teeth to be enforceable. While such an agreement isn’t particularly likely to happen, it is the only sort that would have a chance of actually working. The logical result of Bush’s rejection of target based approaches to emissions reductions is to simply do nothing at all. If, as is likely for the foreseeable future, energy generated via unrestrained fossil fuel sources will be cheaper than emission-free energy, what will be the economic incentive for industries to reduce emissions? Bush suggests that his “initiative” to reduce the carbon intensity of the US economy is a great green thing, but it is actually only a hoax. His “target” for the carbon intensity is precisely what the “business-as-usual” projections are. In other words lets do nothing and cross our fingers on behalf of our children and grandchildren. That’s pretty similar to his approach to the national debt. At least he’s consistent.

There are very significant uncertainties in the degree of threat that climate change represents. But what we have learned from hundreds of thousands of years of high resolution results from arctic ice core studies is that warming events tend to be much more abrupt than (non-volcanic) cooling events. The likely reason for this is that positive feedback effects are much more significant than negative feedback effects in the case of a positive temperature forcing. In other words, the reality of global warming may be quite a lot worse than most models would suggest. Take the Greenland ice sheet as an example. When summertime temperatures rise to the point (as they recently have) that melt waters form on the surface, the blue pools of fresh water absorb much more light than the white surface of the ice, and so the melting proceeds much faster. As that water leaks away into fractures, the solar heat penetrates instantly to the depths of the glacier, quickly raising the interior temperature to the melting point. This mass transfer of energy was not considered until recently and it’s potential effect on the Greenland ice sheet can be dramatic. Ice at it’s melting point is much less viscous than ice well below it’s melting point and so obviously flows faster to the ocean. The flow itself produces viscous heating which then leads to lower viscosity and more internal melting in a regenerative feedback loop that might just cause the Greenland ice cap to slide into the ocean in a few years. And, in fact the geological record records very abrupt rises in sea level, much faster than drops. So the coastal cities like New Orleans will not only be dealing with much larger hurricanes in a warming earth, they will have to build much larger dikes to keep from flooding or just abandon hundreds of billions of dollars of real estate. It is unlikely that improved soybean results in Canada will offset the losses. Reducing GHG emissions is insurance against these sorts of economic effects.

Ken said at February 19, 2006 8:49 PM:

a couple of points;
This blog is evidence that it isn't only "pinko-greens" seriously advocating a major push towards solar energy. Of course painting these issues by colour code is cheap rhetoric at best. I have serious concerns for the environment but I don't advocate reductions in living standards (even if I suspect that could be one result of a failure to act); I want policy and R&D efforts in line with the seriousness of the issues in the hope that real technological solutions can be found. I don't believe solutions are beyond reach.
Skepticism of AGW doesn't seem to be shared by the world's leading scientific institutions. I haven't come across serious reason to doubt those institutions or the validity of the science. Sure there are uncertainties but they could as well mean things will be worse than the middle of those plus or minus values upon which policy has tended to be based. Given the ongoing trend of accelerating CO2 emissions, there's a high probability of worse. Still it probably won't be until tens of millions of environmental refugees are displaced by saltwater inundation or something equally dramatic that it gets the serious treatment it deserves. Meanwhile I'm not going to change my mind on the basis of attempts to colour code the players and make agreeing or disagreeing an issue of loyalty or disloyalty to your team.
Did anyone really expect Kyoto targets to be met? What it has done is put everyone on notice - future engineers, planners and policy makers are going to be making future emissions a matter of serious consideration. None will be surprised when regulation get tougher - after Kyoto's failure that's close to a given.

malcolm said at February 19, 2006 10:17 PM:

I am Canadian, and I am embarrassed that Canada ever signed the Kyoto agreement. The government did it without a real mandate and that party has just been defeated (hopefully for a long time).
It is really no wonder we are 25% behind target:
" Canada's target is to reduce its GHG emissions to 6 percent below 1990 levels"

Since 1990, Canada's population has grown by 15%. Add the -6% target, and we are behind 21%. I believe the balance comes from the fact that all those people are buying homes which represents one time energy expenditures, and growth in energy exports, including oils sands production which is ghg heavy.

The irony is, that most of these people came from countries that did not sign the accord. So if they had not immigrated, their emmisions would not have counted. Also, the bulk of the oil produce goes to the US, who didn't sign either. If the oil had been on the other side of the border, it wouldn't have counted against Canada either.

The kyoto protocol makes no sense, and I am hopeful the new government will back out.

The above is not to say I am not for reducing emissions including conservation, but I agree with RP that money should be put into research, not just conservation, or worse, just talk.

Randall Parker said at February 19, 2006 10:18 PM:

Ken,

The world's leading scientific institutions? Let me take just one recent example of how the details of climate research are much more complex than the simple distillations in some press reports.

Some claim (as did a recent paper in Nature) the Greenland ice cap is melting. But go read here on just how contradictory the evidence is. That page comes from an on-going stream of CCNet collections of articles on climate research that I regularly read and rarely post about on this blog (mostly because if I took on reporting climate research and did it right I wouldn't have time for anything else).

Similarly, some claim the big currents flowing in the Atlantic might stop due to ice melts and plunge Europe into extremely cold weather. Yet Carl Wunsch of MIT has stated in Nature "The occurrence of a climate state without the Gulf Stream anytime soon - within tens of millions of years - has a probability of little more than zero." (Carl Wunsch, MIT, Nature 428, 601, April 8, 2004).

Meanwhile, I see compelling non-climate reasons to obsolescse fossil fuels. These reasons are less speculative.

tdean said at February 20, 2006 12:46 AM:

It seems I read that Parker “wasn’t responding” to my posts because I was such an obnoxious jerk. Or is it just a coincidence that Parker is expounding on the state of the Greenland ice sheet right after I did?

Parker says that the evidence is contradictory about Greenland. To be more exact, it is, as all scientific data is, somewhat uncertain. And that uncertainty is discussed in the article, which since I am a member of AAAS, I can read in its entirety rather than just the abstract. When you read the entire article, you will find it reads in conclusion:
“There are, however, caveats to consider. First, we cannot make an integrated assessment of elevation changes—let alone ice volume and its equivalent sea-level change—for the whole Greenland Ice Sheet including its outlet glaciers from these observations alone, as the marginal areas are not measured completely using ERS-1/ERS-2 altimetry. It is conceivable that pronounced ablation in low-elevation marginal areas could offset the elevation increases that we observed in the interior areas.”
In other words, the authors say that since their data doesn’t properly measure the lower elevations where, as it turns out, the ice is flowing into the ocean, they can’t say for sure whether the overall balance is positive or negative. That doesn’t mean that the data in the article doesn’t show that something weird is going on in Greenland. And that weirdness is not that the ice in Greenland is melting, as Parker erroneously put it, but that it is flowing into the ocean at much higher rates in recent years. Apparently what Parker thinks is a contradiction is that precipitation in the higher elevation interior of the ice sheet is increasing, leading to increases of elevation there. Actually, this effect is predicted by warming models since warmer air holds more moisture and when that moisture falls as snow in the middle of Greenland, the ice gets thicker there. But if the ice flow at the edges of the sheet is accelerating, it can more than make up for the thickening at the center. These changes are very dramatic in the largest glaciers in Greenland. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/4508964.stm)

"We've seen a 5km retreat of the terminus, we've see an almost 300% acceleration in the flow speed and we've seen about a 100m thinning of the glacier - all occurring in the last one or so years," said Dr Gordon Hamilton, of the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine.

"These are very dramatic changes."

And all of this exciting and weird stuff is not even included in the data that Parker cited. But if the Greenland ice sheet is going to collapse, it will collapse from the edges. And since it could collapse in a regenerative feedback process, the rate of that collapse could become exponential and where it peaks is hard to predict. There is no speculation involved as to what is happening in Greenland, but there is scientific uncertainty regarding the magnitude of the phenomenon. Parker needs to learn the difference. And he needs to understand the concept of insurance. With insurance we take a small economic loss now to cover an uncertain but much larger loss in the indefinite future. That is what the idea of reducing GHGs for climate reasons is about. We pay more now but reduce the likelihood of disaster in the future. Even with the uncertainties, it makes economic sense to reduce GHG emissions.

Paul Dietz said at February 20, 2006 4:50 AM:

I am utterly not surprised by this turn of events.

As I understand the Kyoto process, if a country buys CO2 credits from another country, the seller is responsible for seeing that its CO2 reductions actually happen. The buyer faces no penalty if the reductions fail to materialize. So you can imagine how this will play out: various former eastern block countries will sell bogus credits to western Europe, then will be shocked, shocked to realize they didn't cut their CO2 emissions. At that point they'll just not sign on for Kyoto II, so they won't face any penalty for having scammed the system.

In the long term, I see geoengineering as the only viable solution. Hairshirts and altruistic self sacrifice don't work in the real world.

asl said at February 20, 2006 7:42 AM:

"That's the problem with conservation. It does not serve as a substitute for replacing fossil fuels with non-fossil fuels and there's a limit to how energy efficient an economy can become without a big hit in living standards."

Randall,

conserving energy isn't going to solve all our problems, but it's a start. You can't tell me that there is no room for improvement, i.e. when it comes to cars. In fact, technological improvements in the car industry has been utilized to make larger and more powerful cars, cancelling out any benefits - a classic example of technology not really helping.

If we don't seriously think about conserving energy, who is to say that that won't happen with whatever "green" type of fuel we end up using? The beauty of conserving energy is that it will still be useful when we start using other forms of fuel, and we can start conserving now. Any future technology is still very firmly in the future, and sitting around waiting for technology to ride to the rescue is pretty irresponsible. I agree that sooner or later alternative fuels will replace fossil fuels, but I worry that a) they won't be that much better and b) they won't be around for some time.

I'm not advocating significant lowering of living standards. Indeed, with oil prices the way they are, conserving fuel is not going to do anything but save money from my personal financial point of view, anyway.

As to the Kyoto agreement, in my opinion it's better to set goals and fail them than not setting any goals at all. I agree that there are many problems with it, and it could be more effective (!) however, it has really brought attention to the problem and does put some pressure on policy makers. Nonetheless, one of the lessons learned must be that this pressure has got to be tougher.

Randall Parker said at February 20, 2006 6:23 PM:

Paul Dietz,

Thanks for the link to your post. I followed it to the article on Roger Pielke's site (and I really like Pielke's science policy blog btw) about geoengineering. This caught my eye:

Arguably the first high-level government policy assessment that stated the CO2- climate problem in modern terms was Restoring the Quality of Our Environment issued in 1965 by Johnson’s Science Advisory Committee (PSAC65). (74) The report combines analysis of atmospheric CO2 content based on the then 6 year record of accurate measurements with estimates of global fossil fuel combustion to estimate future concentrations. It then combines concentration estimates with early radiative convective models to estimate temperature change and compares that estimate to observed changes with consideration given to intrinsic climate variability. Finally, it speculates about possible impacts beyond temperature, e.g., CO2 fertilization of plant growth. In concluding the section of the report devoted to climate, the sole suggested response to the “deleterious” impact of CO2-induced climate change is geoengineering: “The possibilities of deliberately bringing about countervailing climatic changes therefore need to be thoroughly explored.” The report continues with analysis of a scheme to modify the albedo by dispersal of buoyant reflective particles on the sea surface, concluding, “A 1% change in reflectivity might be brought about for about $500 million a year... Considering the extraordinary economic and human importance of climate, costs of this magnitude do not seem excessive.” The possibility of reducing fossil fuel use is not mentioned.

Adjusting for inflation I figure if that original estimate is correct then we are still talking only a few billion dollars a year to change reflectivity by 1%. But why so cheap? What would those reflective particles be made of? What would their half-life be? Would they have any negative impacts on ocean life?

Randall Parker said at February 20, 2006 6:34 PM:

The previous article I linked directly above was by David Keith of Carnegie Mellon. Paul also linked to another interesting one by Lowell Wood, Edward Teller, and Roderick Hyde. Paul, your $1 billion cost is the amount for one of their approaches. Read closely below for an even cheaper way to reflect back sunlight.

Positioning of scatterers of incoming solar radiation in the Earth’s upper atmosphere – specifically, the middle to upper stratosphere – is a now-venerable approach that appears to provide the most practical deployment, as operational lifetimes of such engineered scatterers can be as long as a half-decade; required replacement rates are correspondingly modest. Thus, the stratosphere is where we propose to deploy all of the insolation-modulation scattering systems that we propose for near-term study. Insolation-reducing means demonstrated twice in the past two decades – by the eruptions of El Chichon and Mt. Pinatubo, two large tropical volcanoes – and noted per se by the National Academy study illustrate the simplest of radiative forcing-management, albeit in a grossly non-optimized manner: Rayleigh scattering by aerosols of dielectric materials. Each of these volcanic events eruptively injected sufficient sulfate aerosol into the stratosphere to decrease temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere for 1-3 years by 10-30% as much as CO2 in the year 2100 is variously predicted to increase these temperatures. Optimized formation and emplacement of sulfate aerosol is the most mass-costly – albeit a reasonably dollar-economical – means of scattering back out into space the sunlight fraction needed to offset the predicted effects of atmospheric CO2 concentration in the year 2100. Interestingly enough, such Rayleigh scattering of sunlight, performed by stratospherically-deployed aerosols whose diameters are several-fold smaller than the wavelength of light itself, will selectively scatter back into space the largely deleterious ultraviolet component of sunlight while diminishing the light that we see – and that plants use for photosynthesis – only imperceptibly.

From the human perspective, skies would be bluer, twilights would be more visually spectacular, plants would be less stressed by UV photodamage and thus would be more productive, and children playing out-of-doors would be much less susceptible to sunburn (and thus to skin dysplasias and dermal cancers as adults), if this stratospheric Rayleigh scattering system were to be deployed. We’ve estimated the dollar-outlay cost of such active management of radiative forcing on the year-2100 scales to be about $1 B/year, and no one to our knowledge has taken issue with this scooping-level estimate since we offered it a half-decade ago. Indeed, the National Academy study implicitly acknowledged the practicality of this type of approach, although it considered only thoroughly non-optimized dielectric aerosol scattering. Incidentally, such costs appear to be an order-of-magnitude less than health-care savings in the U.S. alone due to avoidance of UV skin damage – and far less than increased agricultural productivity due to avoidance of crop photodamage in the U.S. alone;7 thus, the cost to the U.S. taxpayer of implementing this system of benefit to all humanity would appear to be quite negative: its economic benefits would greatly outweigh its economic costs.

As already noted, metals are greatly superior to dielectrics with respect to the specific efficiency with which they scatter radiation, and the several novel particular means which we’ve considered for the use of metals in management of radiative forcing indeed reflect a 10-100-fold mass savings, relative to dielectric aerosols. The geometries of metallic scatterers, as might be expected, center on metal dipoles and metallic screens, with dimensions selected to be comparable to the reduced wavelengths of the portion of the solar spectrum desired to be scattered. The physics of metallic scatterers – which, to be sure, also include small, thin metallic-walled superpressure balloons – suggest that they could most effectively scatter back into space the UV portions of solar insolation, just as do dielectric scatterers. These more highly engineered scatterers have significantly higher specific costs-to-emplace in the stratosphere than do dielectric aerosols, but their far lower masses result in estimated annual costs to address the reference year-2100 problem which may be as much as five times less than approaches of comparable power based on dielectrics: of the order of $0.2 B/year.1 Since they also would diminish the intensity of a portion of the solar spectrum which is net-damaging to both plants and animals, their ‘side-effects’ are comparably beneficial to those of dielectric aerosol Rayleigh scatterers; again, the net economic cost of deploying such a climate stabilization system would be substantially negative.

So we could easily prevent global warming. If global warming really is going to be a massive disaster that can't be stopped by reduction of greenhouse gas emissions we could always fall back on increased reflectivity of light. Why not do it around the poles as a way to keep the water frozen in ice pack?

Randall Parker said at February 20, 2006 6:50 PM:

asl,

I certainly advocate changes that will increase fuel efficiency. For example, I advocate higher standards for insulation in building construction. I also favor acceleration of the development of battery technology to lower the cost of hybrids and eventually enable fully electric vehicles to displace internal combustion power.

Politicians in America can not get elected running on a platform to raise US gasoline taxes to European levels. Not gonna happen. People will drive the biggest vehicles they can afford.

Yes, technology that increases fuel efficiency partly gets used to allowe people to drive bigger vehicles. We need advances in technologies that entirely displace fossil fuels.

Paul Dietz said at February 21, 2006 5:54 AM:

The stratospheric scatterers do have potential problems with ozone depletion and aesthetics (I remember how weird the sun and clouds looked after Pinatubo), so I think the long term strategy will be a small-angle UV scattering system at the Earth-Sun L1 point. The analysis in the papers gives it fairly small mass, on the order of thousands of tons IIRC.

Albedo engineering will not address the problem of ocean acidification, but that may not be sufficiently important to motivate spending a lot more for a complete solution. One solution would be to grind olivine (magnesium/iron silicate, one of the most easily weathered common silicate minerals, along with serpentine) into micron sized dust grains and suspend these in the oceans. In warm water, and especially at lower pH, the mineral slowly dissolves to form silica and free magnesium and iron ions, which would act to neutralize carbonic acid. The amount of iron added would dwarf that in iron fertilization proposals by many orders of magnitude, so you'd probably want a fairly low-iron olivine. This could fail if too much nickel were also dissolved, since the nickel could be toxic.

Jon Swenson said at February 21, 2006 9:10 AM:

Instead of dumping aerosols or metal dust into the upper atmosphere, consider the creation of nano-scale UAVs which could be controlled or could be programed to stay on station using solar power.

Dezakin said at February 21, 2006 1:12 PM:

My favorite illustration is Germany insisting it will abolish nuclear power at the same time it agrees to reduce emissions.

Philip Shropshire said at February 21, 2006 2:19 PM:

Maybe Germany plans to do it with self sufficient solar cells. Here:

http://www.int.iol.co.za/index.php?set_id=1&click_id=143&art_id=vn20060211110132138C184427

Randall: Any thoughts on this? An excerpt:

In a scientific breakthrough that has stunned the world, a team of South African scientists has developed a revolutionary new, highly efficient solar power technology that will enable homes to obtain all their electricity from the sun.

This means high electricity bills and frequent power failures could soon be a thing of the past.

The unique South African-developed solar panels will make it possible for houses to become completely self-sufficient for energy supplies.

The panels are able to generate enough energy to run stoves, geysers, lights, TVs, fridges, computers - in short all the mod-cons of the modern house.

Nothing else comes close to the effectiveness of the SA invention
The new technology should be available in South Africa within a year and through a special converter, energy can be fed directly into the wiring of existing houses. New powerful storage units will allow energy storage to meet demands even in winter. The panels are so efficient they can operate through a Cape Town winter. while direct sunlight is ideal for high-energy generation, other daytime light also generates energy via the panels.

Randall Parker said at February 21, 2006 5:42 PM:

Phil,

Thanks for that link. I did some digging on South African professor Vivian Alberts and his photovoltaics design and here is an article that tries to quantity the cost of his approach:

The Germans have earmarked a site in the former East Germany for their plant, while the South African site has not yet been chosen. All plants are expected to ramp up from 5-MW to 25-MW production over an 18-month period. The machinery used in the factory, set to have a modular outlay to facilitate expansion, all comes from Germany.

Each 60-W panel to be produced is 1,2 m 5 500 mm in size. “The pilot plant has shown the production cost per watt to be €0,95, verified for a 25-MW production facility, assuming a 10% efficiency and average production yield of 85%,” says Alberts.

This means a 60-W panel would cost around R490, or R8 a watt, compared to imported panels entering local soil at R35 to R40 a watt, he notes.

At the moment, intellectual property resides with PT IP Holdco, a company created by the University of Johannesburg.

How it works To use the sun as an electricity source you need a photovoltaic device, such as a solar panel, to transform solar radiation – sunlight – into electricity, explains Alberts.

The semiconductor used up until now to achieve this has been silicon, which is a rather expensive option, he adds.

Alberts, who read his masters and doctorate in silicon solar technology ten years ago, decided there must be a less expensive, more effective semiconductor than silicon for the purposes of solar devices.

“Silicon is actually a poor absorber of sunlight.” The solar panels typically in use in South Africa are based on a 350-micrometre-thick layer of silicon – which is the minimum requirement to absorb sunlight effectively. Alberts’ invention is five micro- metres thick, combining several semiconductor materials which are as effective, if not more so, than silicon, he believes.

As it uses no silicon, costs are dramatically lower. It makes use of normal window glass as a substrate, with – and here is where it gets complex – molybdenum applied as back contact, followed by the core component, being a compound semiconductor comprising five elements – copper, indium, gallium, selenium and sulphide, replac- ing the silicon – with cadmium sulphide as a buffer layer, follow-ed by an intrinsic zinc oxide layer and, finally, a conductive zinc oxide layer. “The most expensive part of the panel is the glass,” says Alberts.

The 0.95 Euros per watt sounds quite cheap. Does anyone know if that is really a low cost for photovoltaics?

I recall another story I came across recently that has cost data on a large photovoltaics installation. To put those cost numbers in perspective the largest planned solar facility in the world just announced to go in near Clark Air Force Base in Nevada has an estimated $6.50 cost per watt total installed.

Getting solar photovoltaic modules in the U.S. can be a major challenge, says Jigar Shah, Managing Partner of Maryland-based SunEdison. He should know, too. His company, in partnership with a Nevada-based project integrator, announced construction will soon begin on an 18 MW solar photovoltaic (PV) project that would provide power to a U.S. military base in the Nevada Desert.

...

Shah wouldn't reveal the total value of this large project but suggested other multi-MW projects tend to average somewhere around $6.5 million per MW, or $117 million in the case of this project. There are, however, very few multi-MW projects on a global scale to compare to this.

Well, that sounds much more expensive. Though in the latter case the cost includes all the supporting brackets, cables, and lots of other stuff to get the power onto the grid.

Anyone have a good source for the cost per watt of silicon crystal photovoltaics?

Paul Dietz said at February 21, 2006 6:33 PM:

The 0.95 Euros per watt sounds quite cheap. Does anyone know if that is really a low cost for photovoltaics?

That's a very attractive cost.

tdean said at February 21, 2006 8:53 PM:

Parker: "So we could easily prevent global warming." (:')

Once again, Parker enthusiastically promotes nonsense from radical, right-wing sources funded by Exxon-Mobil like the Hoover Institute. Edward Teller may have been a competent nuclear scientist in the 1950’s but now he is only a crazed, senile right-wing ideologue. It is easy to tell that their article that Parker cites is not based on science from the intro:

“It’s not generally realized that the Earth’s seasonally-averaged climate is colder now that (sic) it’s been 99% of the time since complex life on Earth got seriously underway with the Cambrian Explosion, 545 million years ago. Similarly, it’s not widely appreciated that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide – CO2 – are only very loosely correlated with average climatic conditions over this extended interval of geologic time, in that it’s been much colder with substantially higher air concentrations of CO2 and also much warmer with substantially lower atmospheric levels of CO2 than at present; indeed, the CO2 level in the air is observed in the geologic record to be one of the weaker determinants of globally- and season-averaged temperature.”

Sounds impressive, but it is almost totally wrong or irrelevant. First, we don’t have high resolution or reliable measures of “seasonally averaged” climate in the Cambrian because there is no way to calibrate temperature proxies that far back and no accurate way to determine atmospheric CO2 levels. The best and longest term record of climate we have is the ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica and they show an obvious and unmistakable relationship between CO2 and temperature over some 500,000 years. (http://news.mongabay.com/2005/1128-climate.html). While the relationship of CO2 to climate is not known with great precision in the distant ages, we know that during the entire Cretaceous period, the CO2 levels were quite high because it’s weathering product, carbonate rock, was deposited in great abundance. And that period was very warm, with dinosaurs living beyond the arctic circle and no signs of glaciation.

Given the egregious misstating of the scientific record with regard to CO2 and climate, why would we take the rest of the article seriously? All we really have to know is that nano-sized particles of metals or any other solid, have been found to be very hazardous due to lung damage and clotting problems when the particles interact with platelets in the blood. Even if a magic, harmless substance could be found, how would we decide what we would do to change the climate? Whatever decision was made would create winners and losers and every storm would be blamed on the climate tinkerers. The liability issues would be overwhelming and endless.

The bottom line is that when you hear about a simple, seemingly magic “solution” to a very difficult problem, you have to look at it very carefully and consider the motives of those promoting it. In the case of the Hoover Institute and Exxon-Mobil, those motives are all too obvious.

tdean said at February 21, 2006 8:57 PM:

Parker: "So we could easily prevent global warming." (:')

Once again, Parker enthusiastically promotes nonsense from radical, right-wing sources funded by Exxon-Mobil like the Hoover Institute. Edward Teller may have been a competent nuclear scientist in the 1950’s but now he is only a crazed, senile right-wing ideologue. It is easy to tell that their article that Parker cites is not based on science from the intro:

“It’s not generally realized that the Earth’s seasonally-averaged climate is colder now that (sic) it’s been 99% of the time since complex life on Earth got seriously underway with the Cambrian Explosion, 545 million years ago. Similarly, it’s not widely appreciated that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide – CO2 – are only very loosely correlated with average climatic conditions over this extended interval of geologic time, in that it’s been much colder with substantially higher air concentrations of CO2 and also much warmer with substantially lower atmospheric levels of CO2 than at present; indeed, the CO2 level in the air is observed in the geologic record to be one of the weaker determinants of globally- and season-averaged temperature.”

Sounds impressive, but it is almost totally wrong or irrelevant. First, we don’t have high resolution or reliable measures of “seasonally averaged” climate in the Cambrian because there is no way to calibrate temperature proxies that far back and no accurate way to determine atmospheric CO2 levels. The best and longest term record of climate we have is the ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica and they show an obvious and unmistakable relationship between CO2 and temperature over some 500,000 years. (http://news.mongabay.com/2005/1128-climate.html). While the relationship of CO2 to climate is not known with great precision in the distant ages, we know that during the entire Cretaceous period, the CO2 levels were quite high because it’s weathering product, carbonate rock, was deposited in great abundance. And that period was very warm, with dinosaurs living beyond the arctic circle and no signs of glaciation.

Given the egregious misstating of the scientific record with regard to CO2 and climate, why would we take the rest of the article seriously? All we really have to know is that nano-sized particles of metals or any other solid, have been found to be very hazardous due to lung damage and clotting problems when the particles interact with platelets in the blood. Even if a magic, harmless substance could be found, how would we decide what we would do to change the climate? Whatever decision was made would create winners and losers and every storm would be blamed on the climate tinkerers. The liability issues would be overwhelming and endless.

The bottom line is that when you hear about a simple, seemingly magic “solution” to a very difficult problem, you have to look at it very carefully and consider the motives of those promoting it. In the case of the Hoover Institute and Exxon-Mobil, those motives are all too obvious.

Paul Dietz said at February 22, 2006 9:11 AM:

Whatever decision was made would create winners and losers

It shares this property with every other proposed solution to anthropogenic climate change, no?

The liability issues would be overwhelming and endless.

Sovreign immunity, you know. Or do you propose to go to war over this issue?
Anyway, liability doesn't seem to be impeding CO2 emission itself, so clearly
it's not a determining issue.

Albedo engineering has two big advantages over other proposed schemes for dealing with global warming: (1) it is cheap, and (2) it can be imposed without complete concensus, potentially even unilaterally.

Rob said at February 22, 2006 1:20 PM:

People, people, people. Climate is NOT static, it never has been. In the past the earth has been both much colder and much warmer.

No matter what we do, climate will always change!

We may be able to influence the speed or severity of the change, but even that is a point of debate.

Instead of pointing fingers and hand-wringing, we should be focused on how we will deal with the change that is inevitable. The last ice age was hard on primitive man; provoking widespread dislocations and hardships.

Let's not let that happen again.

tdean said at February 22, 2006 4:22 PM:

Rob: "No matter what we do, climate will always change!"

So there's a point in there that is deserving of an exclamation point? The issue at hand is a matter of degree and rate of change. What we know from the detailed climate record in the arctic ice cores is that the climate over last 8000 years or so has been unusually stable and mild relative to the preceeding half million years. And it is no coincidence that agriculture and civilization began right at that time and our ancestors stopped living in caves. The record also show that warming events are generally large and abrupt relative to cooling events. Large and abrupt in this context means 5-10 deg. C warming in 20 to 50 years. This strongly implies that we are taking a very large chance in creating warming GHG forcing events larger than any recorded in a half million years. Taking reasonable efforts to reverse the trend in GHG gasses, even if they have some significant cost, is good insurance against a very large risk with unprecedented economic consequences. But as a global problem it requires a global solution and is certainly impossible without the cooperation of the largest GHG producer - us. The huge losses to our economy from Katrina and the other record setting hurricanes are only a mild preview of the potential loss and disruption of a catastrophic climate shift. Such a shift is not certain but it is also not inevitable. Handwringers are do-nothings and that better describes the Bush administration than the majority of the American people who are in favor of controls on GHG emissions. True, the Bushites are not wringing their hands - they are keeping their hands in the deep pockets of the energy companies which have a large economic stake in business as usual and in return keeping their heads in the sand.

Philip Sargent said at February 23, 2006 1:35 PM:

Technology will be all we need to avoid climate change; not regulation.

Example:
The most significant enegery efficiency change in recent history was when James Watt incresed the efficiency of the Newcomen steam engine dramatically by condensing the steam in a separate chamber from the power piston. The engines were much more efficient, and were widely adopted.

So of course less coal was burned over all, and the climate was saved...?

Whoops. It lead to what we now call the industrial revolution, with carbon emissions rising 10,000-fold.

All based on the simple economic truth that if you make something cheaper (via technlogy or not) people will do more of it.

So energy efficient technologies only reduce carbon emissions in those situations where the market is already saturated and cannot expand; and so more efficient technology will not lead to increased demand. However, I can't just now think of any examples... suggestions?

Randall Parker said at February 23, 2006 6:31 PM:

Philip,

The problem with boosts in fossil fuels energy efficiency is that they increase the usefulness of energy. Increased efficiency allows the economy to grow faster and therefore increases total buying power. The total buying power translates into bigger houses purchased (which use more fossil fuels to more to heat and cool) and more trips abroad (which generates fossil fuels pollution from jet engines) and greater affordability of bigger cars (again more fossil fuels).

What we need is really basic: Cheaper ways to make non-fossil fuels energy.

I keep saying that because it is the crux of the matter. People oppose regulation. They oppose energy taxes because they prefer paying less rather than paying more. They'd switch to cheaper energy sources in order to save money.

It is possible to develop cheaper non-fossil fuels energy sources. Wind energy prices have fallen. Photovoltaics prices have fallen and will fall much more. We can develop cheaper ways to make nuclear power. In fact, nuclear costs less now than it used to.

Philip Sargent said at February 24, 2006 4:12 AM:

Exactly.

So spending on energy technologies needs to focus on *entirely* non-carbon emitting technologies. How many of the initiatives suggested by the Japan/US/Australia group in Dec.2005 fall into that category? Note that hydrid-gasoline cars are in the carbon-emitting category on this analysis: just a more efficient way of using fossil fuel - so will encourage more use of it.

Ken said at February 24, 2006 3:22 PM:

After following your link to CCnet I have to reiterate my initial comment
"Skepticism of AGW doesn't seem to be shared by the world's leading scientific institutions. I haven't come across serious reason to doubt those institutions or the validity of the science."

Randall Parker said at February 24, 2006 4:17 PM:

Phil,

But hybrids have one really big virtue: They increase the demand for higher efficiency batteries. Therefore hybrids increase the amount of R&D money flowing into battery development. Therefore hybrids lead inevitably toward all electric vehicles.

Plus, cost effective hybrids (due to cheaper, higher energy density batteries) would raise living standards. The biggest advantage of fuel efficiency is the same advantage for all types of efficiency increase: higher living standards. Less inputs for more outputs.

Apcx said at February 25, 2006 7:45 PM:

I just saw that global dimming bbc documentary( search in "isohunt.com" if yer interested), sad stuff really. I tend to live below my means, and try to use less than need be, I also advocate vast R&D projects(I'd cut the m-budget drastically, and refocus on energy+health-particularly war on aging-+etc), but alas many others seem not to do so. Yet it will all be rendered meaningless in a few decades, as the world so many cherish is destroyed, either by drastic changes brought about by technology leading to a world beyond imagining, or by man's undoing as a consequence of his own actions/inaction. Change is indeed inevitable, conservatives are just simply destined to fail.

Philip Sargent said at February 27, 2006 1:18 PM:

Randall,
Very true, a large hybrid industry drives down the cost of batteries which then decrease the cost of intermittently-generated electricity everywhere. They also decrease the of 100% electric vehicles, as you say, but these are still going to be fairly short range.

I don't see any other benefits of hybrids: they are largely a USA thing. Nearly everywhere else has regulation that allows (slightly dirtier) diesel engines which are much cheaper. It takes a rich country to afford to put two engines in every vehicle so hybrids won't scale to India, China etc.

100% electric is coming slowly, for sure, especially in dense, small cities; and so I applaud the USA hybrid industry for making batteries cheaper to speed this up. But the rest of the world won't actually be buying many hybrids.

PS My wife recently bought an electric bike. It uses a lead-acid battery. It works fine in Cambridge as we have no hills to speak of. The place she works has no available car parking (being built: it's the hospital). The rest of the city has regulation on restricting car parking and enforcing the provision of cycle parking, so you can see that this really will work, even with no technology improvements.

Paul Dietz said at February 27, 2006 1:56 PM:

Philip: there's no reason diesel vehicles can't also be hybridized, if it is economical to do so.

Diesels would be considerably cleaner with nonconventional fuel (biodiesel, FT, DME).

Randall Parker said at February 27, 2006 5:10 PM:

Phil,

I think you underestimate the future of hybrids. I expect them to become more economical in the US, Europe, Japan, and the rest of the world too. Just because upper middle class lefties buy them now as a political statement does not mean this will always be the case.

The director of Toyota research and development says that by 2010 hybrids will be more cost effective than conventional cars in the United States. Their additional costs will pay back in saved gasoline even at lower US prices for gasoline.

Toyota expect to totally switch to hybrids. Do I need to mention that Toyota is the most profitable car company in the world?

Hybrids allow the engine to be smaller. Make the batteries cheaper and lighter and that'll lower battery costs, engine costs (less weight to move around) and vehicle frame costs (less weight to support). They can also eliminate the need for a transmission by moving electric motors out to the wheels.

Paul Dietz is right about hybrid diesels. I expect to see hybrid diesels in the US since newer diesel tech is cleaning up diesels quite a bit.

Randall Parker said at February 27, 2006 5:23 PM:

Phil,

I also expect to see long range electric vehicles. Once we remove internal combustion engines, radiators, starters, transmissions, catalytic converters, etc we remove a lot of weight that can be used for batteries instead. Combine that with batteries that will have over an order of magnitude more energy per kilogram than lead acid batteries and we'll have vehicles that can go a few hundred miles between rechargings.

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