by Tony Brown (tonyb)
This article assesses the impact of UK’s proposed climate change legislation.
“To achieve the target of an 80% reduction in (UK) carbon emissions by 2050 virtually all our electricity will need to come from clean sources.” – Gordon Brown, 2007
“(UK) Families will have to get used to only using power when it is available”-Steve Holliday, Chief Executive of National Grid- Sunday Times of 22 May 2011
Some months ago my colleague Ed Hoskins sent me an interesting paper he was writing, which at the time I was sceptical about. It concerned the virtually non- existent temperature reductions that would be achieved by following and exceeding the UK Governments climate change legislation that involves the rapid and progressive shutting down of most of our carbon economy. His study had added credibility, however, as he had run it past the eminent Prof Mackay who essentially appeared to agree with it. I had previously written about Professor Mackay, now Chief Scientist at the UK’s Department for Energy and Climate Change, so this reference intrigued me.
Ed’s paper has been re-written and refined over the past few months, but has particular relevance now as the UK Government wants to go out on a limb and enshrine in law further cuts beyond the current time horizon of 2020: this would be a unique commitment. A link to Ed’s entire paper can be found [here].
This policy has resulted in an explosion of anger from the UK business community over what the resultant policies and taxes would mean to them. TATA Steel is mothballing a steel mill, citing carbon taxes as one reason. This is occurring at the same time taxes are being progressively raised to pay for a raft of renewables, mostly based on wind farms, which the general public has to pay for. Add in other green taxes–fuel duty and air passenger duty amongst others– and the costs and restrictions of going green are being revealed to the British public, who seem to be the guinea pigs for much of the rest of the West.
That’s all well and good if you believe the world is heading for catastrophic warming through AGW. As a climate historian I don’t happen to agree, but even the most hardened green advocate must surely take pause and wonder if all our sacrifices–additional costs and restrictions on our lifestyle–are actually completely pointless IF Ed’s hypothesis is correct. An excerpt from Ed’s article:
“It seems that the UK government is expecting to spend about £32 billion, (~2.2% of UK GDP), according to the Stern Review , every year for the foreseeable future in order to achieve by the year 2100 at the absolute maximum global temperature reduction of ~0.0019°C, (less than 2 thousandths of a degree Centigrade). This temperature reduction would have to involve the total elimination of all future UK CO2 emissions. Any lesser goal for reduction as proposed could only be even less effective temperature wise. The Stern review was released in 2006, so as ever with government budgets the sum will have escalated since. If the UK is proposing to spend £32 billion ($50 billion) per annum to partially influence ~1.7% of world CO2 emissions, it means that the equivalent global spend could be as much as ~$3,000 billion per annum for the foreseeable future. At present this would amount to about ~4.5% of the global GDP, ($69,000 billion) to achieve a reduction in temperature for the whole World of 0.11 °C about 1/10 degree Centigrade, on the basis that all future CO2 emissions were eliminated.”
Before asking readers to deconstruct Ed’s paper [link here] it is useful to put in context the reality of changing from fossil fuel to renewables and the costs involved. Both myself and Ed are pro renewables. Eventually they will prove a worthwhile adjunct to other forms of power generation. However we are both against highly expensive and inefficient renewables that can’t begin to replace fossil fuel and will put a brake on the economic prosperity we have enjoyed –largely due to cheap plentiful power– since the Industrial revolution.
In essence, we are being exhorted to change our lifestyle and switch to renewables in order to reduce emissions and keep temperatures below the 3 degree Centigrade increase projected from the doubling of C02 concentrations. This is calculated from the pre-industrial 280 ppm to the estimated 500 ppm or so that will likely be attained by the end of the Century. In order to provide aggressive carbon mitigation there is a body of opinion that believes there is an overriding aim to initially stabilise the concentrations and then subsequently reduce them to 350 ppm–generally considered a ‘safe’ level by 350.org whose luminaries include Dr. James Hansen and Al Gore.
These aims are expressed in this talk by Professor Bill McGuire who (to paraphrase) believes that if we are going to save the planet, we need to be free of carbon emissions within 50 years but will still see a 0 .6 degree C rise that is in the pipeline and can’t be avoided. 2-3 degrees Centigrade is certain unless emissions are cut to zero immediately. The expected equilibrium warming for 550 ppm is 2 to 4.5 C according to the IPCC. 1% of the world’s GDP could stabilise emissions at 500 ppm according to Lord Stern (subsequently increased to 2%.)
Anyone considering aggressive carbon mitigation policies–such as National Governments acting on the advice received from the UNFCCC/IPCC –that will have a huge and fundamental impact on their citizens lives would reasonably be expected to read the evidence and ask themselves a number of questions before embarking on a course of action- such as the following;
1. How much will implementing the carbon policies cost?
2. Do the UNFCCC /National Governments have the means to carry out its objectives-in this case to quickly implement viable alternatives to fossil fuels and thereby stabilise, then reduce, C02 concentrations?
3. How much temperature reduction (from that expected anyway) can be achieved by changing to renewables and dramatically changing our lifestyles, and does this merit the costs and actions resulting from enacting 1 and 2?
How much will implementing the carbon policies cost?
This is a basic question and one that surely should have received a great deal of attention from those eager to implement the actions needed. However, a basic cost benefit analysis seems to either not have been conducted, or those representing the views of the scientific ‘consensus’ seem reluctant to divulge the contents.
The following is from an interview between Andrew Bolt and Jill Duggan. Jill Duggan is from the European Commission’s Directorate General of Climate Action. She is the EC’s National Expert on Carbon Markets and Climate Change. She was head of Britain’s International Emissions Trading. (Additional nonpartisan profile here) As Bolt notes (March 2011):
AB: Can I just ask; your target is to cut Europe’s emissions by 20% by 2020?
AB: Can you tell me how much – to the nearest billions – is that going to cost Europe do you think?
JD: No, I can’t tell you but I do know that the modelling shows that it’s cheaper to start earlier rather than later, so it’s cheaper to do it now rather than put off action.
AB: Right. You wouldn’t quarrel with Professor Richard Tol – who’s not a climate sceptic – but is professor at the Economic and Social Research Institute in Dublin? He values it at about $250 billion. You wouldn’t quarrel with that?
JD: I probably would actually. I mean, I don’t know. It’s very, very difficult to quantify. You get different changes, don’t you? And one of the things that’s happening in Europe now is that many governments – such as the UK government and the German government – would like the targets to be tougher because they see it as a real stimulus to the economy.
AB: Right. Well you don’t know but you think it isn’t $250 billion.
JD: I think you could get lots of different academics coming up with lots of different figures “
The interview is well worth reading in full, but apparently no one in the UK Government, the EU or the UNFCCC/IPCC appears to have a clear idea of the full costs and implications of their policies–or have spelt it out to those who will have to pay for it, although we do have access to a few studies concerning the cost of carbon reduction, the most famous being that by the UK’s Lord Stern, who was responding to a brief from the UK’s treasury.
To achieve the aim of initial stabilization followed by an actual fall in emissions by the year 2020 by 20% the cost was estimated at some 2 to 5% of GDP in the initial period and an average of 1% over a 50 year period. (Higher mitigation targets involved dramatically higher costs) As it is the initial upfront costs that will concern people 2.5% of GDP each year for the next 10 years has been used as a bench mark of costs in the following table. This methodology also enables a reasonable like for like comparison with a Japanese study (referenced below). The Stern document was a nuanced report that claims cost savings would be greater than initial costs. Its aim was to eventually reduce emissions in the UK to half of the 1990 figures.
This study correlated with a much quoted UK government mitigation cost of £18 billion per annum over 40 years, which in hindsight appear substantially understated. Stern is referring to an eventual target of a global figure of one tonne emissions average per person per year, a reduction of 80% by developed countries by 2050, and assumes all countries will join in with varying degrees of carbon mitigation (this was before the Copenhagen summit).
This governmental report from Japan in 2009 estimates a US$515 billion cost for Japan over a 10 year period (i.e. $51 Billion per year with ongoing costs after that) this includes the cost of the infrastructure needed–such as the building of solar power and insulation–which would continue to provide benefit after the ten year period. The report estimated that this equated to an ongoing extra cost for each householder of some US$800 per year, a rise in unemployment and an effect on the competitiveness of industry.
Note: Japan subsequently withdrew from the Kyoto protocol following the publication of this report (but remain committed to a 25% reduction in emissions) Canada and Russia also withdrew at the Cancun summit.
Other cost estimates include those from Lomborg at a global cost of $150 billion per annum.
The estimates from government are taken at face value, although such costs do have a habit of being far larger than originally expected, and we are into unknown territory with a social, technological and environmental experiment to be undertaken that dwarfs any other joint human venture in history. Increasing human population and greater need for energy as countries develop will also all impact on emission levels and costs.
A table has been compiled [link] showing world population, gross carbon emissions by country and per head for the main emitters, the likely cost of a carbon reduction programme by head and per country, assuming a 20% overall reduction (effectively a 10% reduction as half goes into a carbon sink)
So we now know the likely costs for achieving a 20% overall reduction, which as mentioned by many parties is considered nowhere near enough. The UK’s Climate Change Act 2008 set legally binding emission reduction targets for 2020 (reduction of 34 percent in greenhouse gas emissions) and for 2050 (reduction of at least 80 percent in greenhouse gas emissions), and introduced five-yearly carbon budgets to help ensure those targets are met.
Is the enterprise feasible — can we change to renewables?
I am something of a fan of the idea of renewables, indeed I wrote a piece on Wave Energy that was published in ‘Energy and Environment’ journal last year. Frankly, it depressed me to realise how inefficient, costly and expensive renewables currently are. Wave energy is currently at a very low level of development compared to wind power-which explains why the UK’s energy policy is so heavily dependent on the latter-they really are the only game in town if legally enshrined emission limits are to be achieved.
In order to make renewables competitive, the price of all other forms of energy are being ratcheted drastically upwards to enable them to compete on a level playing field. This will be alarming news for Britons who seem to be at the sharp end of environmental tax increases. Ask any Briton about the eye watering cost of fuel for their cars (around US$10.40 for a gallon of petrol (gas) and the expense of heating their homes. My heating bill has gone up 40% in three years (ironically partly caused by a longer heating season as temperatures have plummeted in the UK over the last five years-I am not claiming this to be a trend.) Costs are expected to at least double over the next five in order to provide a subsidy for renewables and create this level playing field the Government seeks.
I mentioned at the outset that my initial interest was sparked by my renewal with the work of Professor Mackay who presumably secured his position as Chief Scientist at DECC not only on his academic qualifications, but through his understanding of the UK’s energy requirements.
In an article I wrote two years ago on the politics of climate change I referenced the following comment;
“Setting fire to chemicals like gas should be made a thermodynamic crime,” he said. “If people want heat they should be forced to get it from heat pumps. That would be a sensible piece of legislation.”
Now let it be mentioned immediately that Professor Mackay seems an eminently sensible person not given to outrageous statements, but presumably says things that chime with the climate establishment, which is why he is where he is now. His comment here reeks of common sense:
“Take, for example, the idea that one of the top 10 things you should do to make a difference to your energy consumption is to unplug your cell-phone charger when you are not using it. The truth is that leaving a phone charger plugged in uses about 0.01 kWh per day, 1/100th of the power consumed by a light bulb.”
“This means that switching the phone charger off for a whole day saves the same energy as is used in driving an average car for one second. Switching off phone chargers is like bailing the Titanic with a teaspoon. I’m not saying you shouldn’t unplug it, but please realize, when you do so, what a tiny fraction it is of your total energy footprint.”
“In total, the European lifestyle uses 125 kWh per day per person for transport, heating, manufacturing, and electricity. That’s equivalent to every person having 125 light bulbs switched on all the time. The average American uses 250 kWh per day: 250 light bulbs.”
It is clear that what he thinks and says matters, as the Department of Energy and Climate Change is an important department of the British Government, responsible for all aspects of UK energy policy, and is tasked with tackling global climate change on behalf of the UK (hence the mission to Australia as exemplified by Jill Duggan’s interview above). The UK has assumed leadership of the climate community in the absence of any direction from the US over many years, so by implication what the UK says and does matters.
As Prof Mackay said on his appointment:
“Climate change and secure energy are two of the most urgent issues facing the UK and the global community. The solutions must be rooted firmly in the science and I look forward to advising the government on how it can help deliver these important goals.”
Speaking on his first day as Chief scientist at DECC, Mackay set out a vision of how Britain could generate the threefold increase in electricity it needs, with nuclear power at its heart and expanded on his ideas on energy here.
Probably one of the elements that helped secure his current position is that he wrote a very good book on renewable energy options from which the quotes above-and those below- were originally taken . Available here online for free:
“Among all the energy-supply technologies, the three with the biggest potential today are solar power, wind power and nuclear power.
As a thought-experiment, let’s imagine that technology switches and lifestyle changes manage to halve American energy consumption to 125 kWh per day per person. How big would the solar, wind and nuclear facilities need to be to supply this halved consumption? For simplicity, let’s imagine getting one-third of the energy supply from each.
To supply 42 kWh per day per person from solar power requires roughly 80 square meters per person of solar panels.
To deliver 42 kWh per day per person from wind for everyone in the United States would require wind farms with a total area roughly equal to the area of California, a 200-fold increase in United States wind power.
To get 42 kWh per day per person from nuclear power would require 525 one-gigawatt nuclear power stations, a roughly five-fold increase over today’s levels.
I hope these numbers convey the scale of action required to put in place a sustainable energy solution. What about tidal power? What about wave power? What about geothermal energy, biofuels or hydroelectricity? In a short article, I can’t discuss all the technology options.
But the sober message about wind and solar applies to all renewables: All renewables, much as I love them, deliver only a small power per unit area, so if we want renewable facilities to supply power on a scale at all comparable to our consumption, those facilities must be big.
If you don’t want to build 1 million wind turbines, you can drill 1 million geothermal boreholes instead.”
Recently the subject of renewables was debated on this Climate Etc. thread;
“It turns out, to get on a trajectory to hit 450 ppm, we’re going to need to turn off most of our fossil fuel energy, end deforestation, and build about 11.5 new terawatts of clean energy capacity by 2033 (30 years out from the 2003 baseline).”
To fully understand the costs and scale of replacing fossil fuel with renewables it is desirable to read Professor Mackay’s energy article and those highlighted in Climate Etc. and Grist, all referenced above.
Grist’s inelegant title says it all “gobsmackingly gargantuan challenge of shifting to clean energy.’ So in examining the financial element and the challenges of the cost benefit analysis we are able to determine that the costs are vast and the challenge of moving to renewables appears beyond our present capabilities. Which leads us to perhaps the most interesting part of the three questions I posed at the start of this article.
3 What temperature reduction can be achieved?
Professor Mackay takes centre stage again as he has agreed to the publishing of the original reply he gave to an email by my colleague Ed Hoskins, who had posed a question to him.
Dear Ed Hoskins,
In response to your correspondence.
Where is the flaw in this logic?
Greenhouse Effect = +33.00⁰C Water Vapour causes 95% of the effect = 31.35⁰C Other Greenhouse gasses cause 5% of the Effect = 1.65⁰C CO2 is about 75% of the Effect of all GHGs = 1.24⁰C Total worldwide Man-made CO2 is about 7% of atmospheric CO2 = 0.086⁰C So closure of the world carbon economy could only result reducing the Greenhouse Effect by 86 thousandths ⁰C. The UK contribution to Man-made CO2 is ~2% = 0.00174⁰C .So closure of the total UK carbon economy could only result reducing the Greenhouse effect by 1740 millionths ⁰C.
The following response has been made: flaws are marked (*)
Greenhouse Effect = +33.00⁰C Water Vapour causes 95% of the effect = 31.35⁰C Other Greenhouse gases cause 5% of the Effect = 1.65⁰C CO2 is about 75% of the Effect of all GHGs = 1.24⁰C
Total worldwide Man-made CO2 is about 7% of atmospheric CO2 = 0.086⁰C
* Nope, steady emissions lead to CO2 concentration rising.
So closure of the world carbon economy could only result in reducing the Greenhouse Effect by 86 thousandths ⁰C. The UK contribution to Man-made CO2 is ~2% = 0.00174⁰C. So closure of the total UK carbon economy could only result reducing the Greenhouse effect by 1740 millionths ⁰C.
* Well, that’s “the tragedy of the commons”. You can always argue that it is fine for you to be antisocial because you are just one person. But there are other views of ethics, leadership, pollution. London doesn’t have smog any more, and that’s thanks to all 7 million people all following the lead of whoever went first.
David MacKay, Cavendish Laboratory
In other words Professor Mackay appeared to give tacit agreement to the generality of the figures, but that we must all make sacrifices for the common good, even though on the surface it appears that we can make no practical difference to temperature.
At our suggestion Ed carried out some more work on his initial calculations and sourced figures from CDIAC which gave a somewhat higher figure than the ones he originally used in the communication above and which consequently altered the temperature reductions that could be achieved through aggressive mitigation and which are detailed in Ed’s article below.
Before reproducing the article it appears on the surface that the uncomfortable answers from an examination of the cost benefit analysis would lead us to conclude:
- Either the full practicalities of aggressive carbon mitigation hasn’t been properly thought through or the detailed cost benefit analysis has been deliberately obscured.
- The costs are startling at around $1000 per head per year and likely to escalate under real world conditions.
- The actual temperature reduction-if the figures are correct- is vanishingly small even if the global carbon economy was completely eliminated. This is impossible to achieve, so by any reasonable measure the reductions that will be achieved, with considerable pain and cost, by those participating Governments -mostly in the West- are so tiny as to be virtually impossible to comprehend.
- The technology does not appear to exist that would enable us to move to renewables.
So it appears we are being asked to consider ‘the tragedy of the commons’ as the basis for our carbon reduction plans, based on an incomplete understanding of the component parts of this complex jigsaw.
Several things came into my mind whilst writing this article.
- Are we being driven by over zealous environmentalists who want to ‘save’ the earth at any cost?
- Is this vast enterprise being promoted largely by politicians who see this as an excuse to raise taxes and exert more control?
- Is it being driven by sincere people who have not been apprised of all the facts of the enterprise they are promoting?
- Are Ed’s figures totally incorrect and we can actually have a much greater impact on temperature mitigation than appears to be the case?
This is where readers of this blog can help, as the intention is to have a version two of this article that takes into account expert opinion. So I am asking this question of those able to make the calculations;
Question: Temperatures are expected to rise by 3 degree Centigrade because of actions we have already taken. If the world collectively closed down their carbon economies what temperature reduction could be achieved?
a) By 2100
b) By 2200
(Please describe your calculations together with caveats or provide a reference/link.)
Note: This is NOT a discussion on whether this 3 degree figure has any merit in the first place. For those without the background that would enable them to make the calculations, I would pose two rather more philosophical questions;
- In future, precisely how and where do we get the cheap and plentiful energy that has been the cornerstone of our growing prosperity since the industrial revolution? The events in Japan have thrown up the whole subject of energy contribution from nuclear back into the melting point, a key part of Mackay’s energy mix. Similarly, the events in the Middle East demonstrate the volatility of supply and the costs of oil. Whatever your feelings about the reality or not of global warming, should we be investing this sort of money anyway in order to develop alternative sources of energy needed to keep the lights on and ensure security of supply against disruption?
- Should we reintroduce fossil fuels-coal/shale gas etc- back into the energy mix, perhaps as an interim measure for the next thirty years whilst renewables are developed into a viable energy solution?
Footnote: In his Budget of March 23 2011 the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne confirmed that the UK would become the first country in the world to impose a carbon floor price. It is designed to ensure the price on carbon imposed through the EU emissions trading scheme does not fall below a set level. He said the floor price would start at £16 per tonne in 2013 and rise to £30 a tonne by 2020. However, experts were divided on the effectiveness of the new floor price. Many warn it will not be high enough to drive significant increases in low-carbon investment, while others predict it will deliver a major windfall in excess of £1bn a year to existing nuclear power plants.
Reminder: in case you missed it the first time through, here is the linkfor Ed Hoskins’ paper.