By Planning Engineer (Russ Schussler)
Do we care more about keeping CO2 emissions lower in just the western world, or do we want to reduce emissions worldwide?
Currently most of the western world is seeking collectively to reduce global CO2 emissions and achieve “net zero”. The fatal flaw is that the success of approach hinge on two premises:
- The western world will be able to greatly reduce their CO2 outputs through the use of wind, solar and other renewable resources.
- The western world will be able to inspire, convince, cajole or command other nations to do the same.
How will the west stop other nations from acquiring “affordable” power to improve their standard of living? What carrots and sticks might be employed? The World Bank attempts to exercise control through what types of development might be funded or not. The US Energy secretary recently said, “”(W)e want to get to net zero [emissions] by 2050. We are really pushing other countries to do the same… countries are susceptible to peer pressure because no nation wants to be the “outlier.”
Long term, the efficacy of these tools and approaches seems weak compared to the great pressures associated with providing for the health , safety and economic development of third world nations. It is at best tragically naïve to expect that China and third world nations will peacefully agree to be kept back long term by the CO2 goals and machinations of the western world.
Countries that will likely rely on coal and diverge from the western approach have very large populations. There are over 1.4 billion people in China as well as in India. Will China support energy development in Africa? China is currently supporting various African nations in their efforts at modernization. Each of these three areas on their own have as large population as the US and Europe combined. While emissions from the US and Western Europe are shrinking, emissions from Asia are skyrocketing. India and Africa may just be starting a steep ramp upwards.
From the above chart ,several things are evident. If trends continue, the emission increases from Asia and Africa will dwarf any impacts from reductions in North America, Oceania and Europe. This will be the case even if North America, Oceania and Europe somehow all manage to get to net zero.
Consider that the western world is on a course towards more expensive electricity. If you understand that it will also likely result in greater unreliability, you see the emerging concerns as intensely magnified. Higher cost (and more unreliable) energy in the west will lead to a greater exodus of manufacturing, production, industry and emissions to developing countries. This seems highly likely as today as efforts to implement green technology rely upon resources and technology produced within China and third world nations with energy sources which are not as clean as what is being replaced.
Does it make sense to continue on a plan which calls not only for massive technological leaps, higher costs and reduced reliability for the participants, but also virtually ensures that that the developing world will go in a different direction? Or does it make more sense to consider plans that might be more effective globally, considering the most likely scenarios to play out worldwide?
A Better Scenario?
The numbers provided below were developed informally for illustration purposes. But rest assured that with a complex sophisticated computer model relying on a host of inputs, we could tweak the parameters to arrive at essentially the same results presented below.
Scenario A represents the forked future that will likely emerge if present strategies are continued. In Scenario B, the US strategy is to develop and improve affordable “cleaner” technology for use domestically and worldwide. The impact of this focus will be to raise C02 emissions in the US, but lower net emissions in China, India and Africa. Further, with lower cost differentials, less energy consumption will be exported to foreign manufacturers with higher emissions. US efforts that make marginal improvements toward moderately cleaner technology can potentially show far more sweeping impacts, than 100% reduction targets that are ignored by the third world. Below are the sample illustrative numbers.
Under these hypothetical alternative scenarios, one can see the possibility that the US may be more effective with focused goals that are less stringent. Our greatest strength may be as a leader in developing technology that works for us and the third world as well, rather than excelling in a path that others cannot and/or will not follow. To the extent that other developed nations also participate in developing affordable effective approaches, the potential results described above may be even more substantial.
Is it reasonable to expect that a coordinated single global approach requiring high cost zero emission technologies can work without enforcement from a central world government? Probably not. Self-interest works on both sides of world-trade. Consider that today cheap dirty third world resources support the manufacture of much of our “clean” technology. These trends are likely to persist and perhaps worsen. Increased development in China, Africa and India likely will work to insulate them from western pressure. A world with independent and broadly divergent power supply approaches will not be optimal.
In the end, do we care more about keeping CO2 emissions lower in just the western world, or do we want to reduce emissions worldwide? The “green solutions” that are being developed within the US, Oceania and Europe are showing themselves to be increasingly costly, cumbersome, complicated and unworkable. Because of the cost, complexity and challenges they cannot transform Africa, or support great improvements in India and China. The best strategy might be to seek out technologies that can support a balance between economics, reliability and social responsibility on a global basis.