Must-read IEA report explains what must be done to avoid 6°C warming

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"Must-read IEA report explains what must be done to avoid 6°C warming"

The International Energy Agency is out with its World Energy Outlook 2008. I wrote last week about the report’s stark conclusions on oil (see “IEA: Oil price to rebound to $100 when economy recovers, then soar to $200 by 2030“).

The IEA’s conclusions on climate are even starker: “Without a change in policy, the world is on a path for a rise in global temperature of up to 6°C.”

The report does a good job explaining the practical difference between pursuing 450 ppm and 550 ppm. Yes, I’m aware that 350 ppm is a superior long-term target to minimize the risk of an ice-free planet and that the countless amplifying carbon cycle feedbacks mean 550 probably takes you to 1000 ppm and 6°C anyway, but the IEA is not so up on all the latest, depressing science, and it tends to temper its climate desperation with some practical short- and medium-term energy and political realities.

Reductions in energy-related CO2 emissions in the climate-policy scenarios

iea-450.jpg

[Click to enlarge: yellow is efficiency, green is renewables and biofuels, red is nuclear, blue is coal with carbon capture and storage.]

Yes, their CO2 numbers are low. The Global Carbon Project says we probably hit 8.5 GtC (or 31 Gt CO2) back in 2007. In any case, even if you are one of the 550-ers left over from the 1990s, you still need to cap total global emissions at 2020 levels, which is a 9-wedge job starting then, before sharply cutting emissions post-2030, which means yet more wedges. For 450-ers, you need the full 12 to 14 wedges starting closer to 2015.

The IEA pulls no punches in its Executive Summary, spelling out the high CO2 price needed:

Cap-and-trade systems are assumed to play an important role in the OECD regions. The carbon price there reaches $90/tonne of CO2 in 2030 in the 550 Policy Scenario and $180/tonne in the 450 Policy Scenario.

I think we might not need $180 a metric ton in 2030, based on some questions I have about the IEA’s assumption, but that will be the subject of a later post. The price is certainly going to have to be high for 450 ppm — and far higher for those who want 350 ppm, if, in fact, 350 can even be done through a price mechanism.

The EIA lays out the sobering energy and policy challenge to get to 450 ppm:

The 450 Policy Scenario assumes much stronger and broader policy action from 2020 onwards, inducing quicker development and deployment of low-carbon technologies. Global energy-related CO2 emissions are assumed to follow broadly the same trajectory as in the 550 Policy Scenario until 2020, and then to fall more quickly. They peak in 2020 at 32.5 Gt and then decline to 25.7 Gt in 2030. This scenario requires emissions in OECD countries to be reduced by almost 40% in 2030, compared with 2006 levels. Other major economies are required to limit their emissions growth to 20%. Participation in an international cap-and-trade system is assumed to be broader than in the 550 Policy Scenario, covering all major emitting countries from 2020 onwards.

In short, China must be in the international cap from 2020 onwards for us to have a shot at 450 ppm

Hydropower, biomass, wind and other renewables see faster deployment in power generation, accounting for 40% of total generation worldwide in 2030. An additional 190 GW of CCS is deployed in the last decade of the projection period compared with the 550 Policy Scenario.

I think the IEA overestimates what is possible with CCS and perhaps underestimates what is possible with solar baseload (see “An introduction to the core climate solutions,” but the task is staggering either way:

The scale of the challenge in the 450 Policy Scenario is immense: the 2030 emissions level for the world as a whole in this scenario is less than the level of projected emissions for non-OECD countries alone in the Reference Scenario. In other words, the OECD countries alone cannot put the world onto the path to 450-ppm trajectory, even if they were to reduce their emissions to zero. Even leaving aside any debate about the political feasibility of the 450 Policy Scenario, it is uncertain whether the scale of the transformation envisaged is even technically achievable, as the scenario assumes broad deployment of technologies that have not yet been proven. The technology shift, if achievable, would certainly be unprecedented in scale and speed of deployment. Increased public and private spending on research and development in the near term would be essential to develop the advanced technologies needed to make the 450 Policy Scenario a reality.

No argument here. I believe we will have successfully commercialized most of the rest of the relevant technologies by 2015, in particular plug-in hybrids and baseload solar, although we should certainly push big bucks at advanced geothermal, scalable cellulosic biofuels (if that isn’t an oxymoron) and CCS to see if at least one of those options could be a major player after 2015. The Obama election makes this all far more likely given his commitment to major investment in energy technology development and deployment.

And yet, while the costs of mitigation are high in absolute terms, the investments are quite small in comparison to our overall wealth — a conclusion every major independent study has reached:

The profound shifts in energy demand and supply in the two climate-policy scenarios call for huge increases in spending on new capital stock, especially in power plants and in more energy-efficient equipment and appliances. The 550 Policy Scenario requires $4.1 trillion more investment in total between 2010 and 2030 than in the Reference Scenario — equal on average to 0.24% of annual world GDP. Most of this goes to deploying and improving existing technologies. Investment in power plants is $1.2 trillion higher, with close to three-quarters of this additional capital going to OECD countries.

Additional expenditures on the demand side are even bigger. Most of the extra spending is by individuals, who have to pay more for more efficient cars, appliances and buildings. This extra cost amounts to $17 per person per year on average throughout the world. But these investments are accompanied by large savings on energy bills. Improved energy efficiency lowers fossil-fuel consumption by a cumulative amount of 22 billion tonnes of oil equivalent over 2010-2030, yielding cumulative savings of over $7 trillion.

The additional up front expenditures on energy-related capital are, unsurprisingly, considerably larger in the 450 Policy Scenario. An additional $2.4 trillion needs to be invested in low- or zero-carbon power-generation capacity and an additional $2.7 trillion invested in more energy-efficient equipment, appliances and buildings than in the 550 Policy Scenario. Together, these costs equal on average 0.55% of annual world GDP. These expenditures are particularly great during the last decade of the projection period, when CO2 emissions fall most rapidly and the marginal cost of abatement options rises sharply. Galvanising these investments would require clear price signals (including through a broad-based, efficient carbon market), appropriate fiscal incentives and well-targeted regulation. At $5.8 trillion, the cumulative savings on fuel bills are smaller than in the 550 Policy Scenario, because higher electricity prices offset the bigger energy savings.

Again, it is important to remember that the investment costs are not “losses” but rather a shift in investment, some of which generates net savings. The actual reductions in GDP, even in fairly standard macroeconomic models, are far closer to 0.1% of GDP, as the IPCC and many others have concluded (see “Absolute MUST Read IPCC Report: Debate over, further delay fatal, action not costly“).

And the investments yield huge benefits that are typically unmonetized in most macroeconomic models, such as tremendous improvements in clean air and reductions in healthcare costs.

Finally, of course, the investments spare the next generation and perhaps the next 50 generations after them up to 6°C warming, an ice free planet, widespread desertification, the death of the oceans along with most species — and the incalculable misery needlessly suffered by billions of people. That has got to be worth something, no?

[Rather than buying the actual report, you can get the key points from the Executive Summary here and the Fact Sheets here.]
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23 Responses to Must-read IEA report explains what must be done to avoid 6°C warming

  1. Will Greenpeace says:

    Joe,
    I wonder if you could mention the National Day of Action Against Coal that is Nov. 14-15. I have been waiting for some mobilization against coal, and it seems like it has arrived. Your readers would like to know about this.

  2. rpauli says:

    And “Lessons not learned will be repeated”

  3. Henry Hill says:

    Since climate sensitivity is most likely 1C per CO2 doubling or less, the IEA is simply generating more alarmism for which they have zero evidence. Obviously they want more money.

    [JR: One thing we know is that reality has ruled out a 1°C climate sensitivity. You really should read the scientific literature before wasting everyone's time with this nonsense.]

  4. paulm says:

    No, climate sensitivity is most likely around 3C per CO2 doubling !

    Oh, the latest in on Japan’s CO2 emissions is really bad – up 8%. No where near the decrease that they were aim for.

    http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5i18y8Nhc_6DI97iPikQVS07tABnQ

    I think were in trouble.

  5. Henry Hill says:

    “One thing we know is that reality has ruled out a 1°C climate sensitivity. You really should read the scientific literature before wasting everyone’s time with this nonsense.”

    Reality has done nothing of the sort. And you should take your own suggestions.

    [JR: The scientific literature is quite clear that there is virtually no chance whatsoever that the "fast-feedbacks" sensitivity is below 1.5°C. There is quite a real chance it is above 4°C. The slow feedbacks sensitivity is almost certainly about 4°C as the literature makes clear. I would post links, but I have blogged on this so many times. Just put "sensitivity" in the search engine.]

  6. Jonas says:

    Sorry, 450ppm is totally unacceptable. We must work towards 350ppm from today onwards. Anything less is blackmail.

  7. David B. Benson says:

    For $90 per tonne of CO2 (as a tax) enhanced mineral weatering will rome at least 2.25 tonnes of CO2 from the iar and quite possibly twice that.

  8. David B. Benson says:

    Weathering. And possibly even four times that.

  9. Henry Hill says:

    “The scientific literature is quite clear that there is virtually no chance whatsoever that the “fast-feedbacks” sensitivity is below 1.5°C.”

    There is no such thing as “The scientific literature”. For you there is only the agenda driven stuff that you are so fond of. There are different papers with different opinions. The ones that have been bought and paid for by the 50 billion we have spent so far on AGW research are going to be alarmist because they want to keep those checks coming. To this point we don’t have a shred of emperical evidence that would support even 1.5 C per CO2 doubling, much less an absurd number like 6.

    “The slow feedbacks sensitivity is almost certainly about 4°C as the literature makes clear.”

    There is no literature that makes anything of the sort clear. The only thing that exists is wild alarmist speculation.

    “I would post links, but I have blogged on this so many times.”

    I understand, you can’t be bothered to discuss the evidence more than once. But the ranting alarmism that is based on those unverifiable conclusions you can discuss millions of times.

    [JR: This comment gets you permanent moderation. You refuse to post any links to your long-debunked disinformation. I have posted dozens of links on this blog. Don't have time to waste on anti-scientific folk like you.]

  10. David B. Benson says:

    Henry Hill — A history of the collection of the evidence is available for easy reading: “The Discovery of Global Warming” by Spencer Weart:

    http://www.aip.org/history/climate/index.html

    Review of above:

    http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F04E7DF153DF936A35753C1A9659C8B63

    A teatment with some mathematics is “Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast” by David Archer;
    sample chapter 4 on greenhouse gases available as a pdf here:
    http://forecast.uchicago.edu/samples.htm

    The IPCC AR4 states that equilibrium (charney) climate sensitivity is between 2 and 4.5 K, with 3 K most likely. Further research on establishing the error bounds for this sensitivity are in Annan & Hargreaves. You can read about in on James Annan’s blog.

    Another starting point is the ‘Start Here’ link at the top of the RealClimate blog.

    Horse. Water. Drink.

  11. Ray says:

    I agree with Henry Hill. You must look beyond the alarmist sites. I check both pro and anti AGW sites and conclude that the AGW idea is without merit. Man contributes very little to global warming. Ray

  12. David B. Benson says:

    Ray — Amazing! You have just contradicted 159 years of physics! You have discovered something which disagrees with every nation’s academy of science (those that have such), every major scientific and engineering society; even the American Association of Petroleum Geologists!

    For various reasons, ClimateProgress is not the best blog to explain your astounding discovery. I suggest the OpenThread on

    http://tamino.wordpress.com/

    I’ll be watching there for your announcement! :-)

  13. paulm says:

    “Anyone” with a bit of statistics and maths can use readily available temp data to find out what is happening….

    Joseph
    http://www.blogger.com/profile/11536734331366279894

    Wherein I Revise Previous Sensitivity Estimate Down to 3.13C
    http://residualanalysis.blogspot.com/2008/08/wherein-i-revise-previous-sensitivity.html

    I found an annual reconstruction of CO2 atmospheric concentrations that goes from 1832 to 1978. It is made available by CDIAC and it comes from Etheridge et al. (1998).

    This means that climate sensitivity to CO2 doubling (based on this model which only considers this one forcing) is most likely 3.13 degrees Celsius.
    ….

  14. Larry Coleman says:

    Clearly, deniers like HH and Ray have no idea how they appear to anyone who understands the science. It would be revealing to see what they use as sources. It would be revealing to know what they understand science to be. Many (most?) deniers quote, e.g., Crichton as one of their talking points. This immediately tells us all we need to know about their cred.

    The irony is that, after politicizing the science of climate change, deniers complain that it is politicized and see even valid science as political partisanship. And they believe it.

  15. vakibs says:

    You cannot put a price on carbon. This is quite stupid, and suffers from circular thinking.

    All the global currencies are tied to energy prices. In effect, it is energy that is the true currency in our world (not US dollars). Energy prices are the true indicators of the health of the global market.

    No matter how much price you put on carbon, it will still be profitable to use fossil fuels. This is precisely because of the inertia that is built into our global market. Everything is tied to oil, natural gas and coal. We don’t have an infrastructure to run a non-fossil-fuel economy.

    No price on carbon will guarantee the establishment of such an infrastructure.

  16. Karen says:

    Joe, on this subject, I’d be interested in reading your take (in all your free time ;-) ) on a new post in Nature’s Climate Feedback blog, which claims there may not be enough fossil fuel to get us to an A1FI-type scenario (altho curiously they don’t refer to A1FI but to A1G). I have not paid the $ to get the full IEA report but can’t imagine it remotely syncs.

    http://blogs.nature.com/climatefeedback/2008/11/energy_vs_climate_a_surprising.html

    Thanks.
    Karen

  17. Joe says:

    Karen — One guy’s calculation is not much to go on.

    I actually think that the person who wrote that post doesn’t really understand the latest IPCC analysis, particularly its discussion of feedbacks.

    I’d like to say I will get back to this, but the news is flying so fast and furious, I barely have time to respond to comments.

  18. JCH says:

    “No matter how much price you put on carbon, it will still be profitable to use fossil fuels. This is precisely because of the inertia that is built into our global market. Everything is tied to oil, natural gas and coal. We don’t have an infrastructure to run a non-fossil-fuel economy. …” – vakibs

    I sort of agree with you, which is why I predict core countries will eventually make the combustion of fossil fuels illegal on the entire globe. I think you will see the first signs of that around 2020 to 2030.

  19. David B. Benson says:

    Far, far better just to require ‘retiring’ as much (or more) CO2 as combustion of fossil fuels generates. Use, more example, enhanced mineral weatherization.

  20. David B. Benson says:

    Karen — That is CalTech professor David Rutledge’s take on the matter. His post regarding peak coal is over on TheOilDrum.

  21. msn nickleri says:

    I sort of agree with you, which is why I predict core countries will eventually make the combustion of fossil fuels illegal on the entire globe. I think you will see the first signs of that around 2020 to 2030.

  22. It is fascinating to read all these comments. Obviously some are wiser than others. My question is, what has all of these comments to do with actually cutting GHG?
    There are tremendous amount of blogs on the subject, including mine, and what are we doing to make impact, to reduce coal power plants emissions, to increase conservation? Essentially nothing.

    It is very satisfying to comment but it does not lead to action. Knowledge does not lead to action! And the most important action is to create political pressure on our Congress,
    How many of us write and phone our 3 Congress members. How many are urging our family and friends to create political pressure?
    Very few. We despise politicians, so we do not use the only tools we have to make a difference.
    Let’s concentrate on what may make a difference and less on expressing our views.

  23. Leif says:

    Dr. Mantaina Ginosar: IMPACT DAY, (International Motivate the President to Act on Climate Day), conceived and gestated within the loins of this very site, (Nov. 3, @ 3:09 p.m.) is struggling to make the big time. The goal is to swamp the White House web site on Turkey Day with positive vibes for climate action. Pass the word… Grass Roots…