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Day 3 – COP23 in Bonn – What it means to be a climate leader?

marraskuu 9, 2017

What is behind true climate leadership?

Wednesday saw the release of the fresh report “Climate Leadership Report 2017” from Energy for Humanity, of which I was one of the authors. After honing the press release into the last minutes, we finally sent it around 2 pm.

The Climate Leadership Report, fresh from the press.

So why another report on climate mitigation efforts? I think our report brings some data to the table that actually matters for climate. Just a day before, 350.org gave France the ”Fossil of the Day” -award here in COP23. Why? Because, like I wrote in yesterdays journal, France is postponing the forced closures of its operating nuclear fleet.

I’s still rolling my eyes on this. What just happened?

France got kicked for being a ”fossil” because it chose NOT TO close 17 of its very low carbon, clean, affordable and reliable baseload producing nuclear power plants that will save tens of millions tons of emissions by replacing coal and gas burning in France and in the European grid.

Electricitymap.org shows that 9th Nov 2017 France has average electricity emissions of 141 gCO2/kWh (thanks to its nuclear fleet) while Germany has 512 gCO2/kWh, thanks to its decision to close nuclear and keep coal running.

It takes a special kind of myopic madness to see a decision to not shut down clean energy production as a negative thing for climate. The sad thing is, 350.org, once an organization I wholly supported for their efforts to reduce emissions, has seemingly become another marketing department for the renewable energy industry and a mouthpiece for anti-nuclear propaganda, alt.facts and outright lies. With that ”fossil of the day”-award, 350.org just stated and underlined that they don’t actually give a damn about actual emissions, nor the climate. It is a sad, sad day.

It is all in the metrics and assumptions

Of course one always has to make tough choices on what to include and what to emphasize in a report such as this, but given that multiple reports so far have seen Germany – the biggest emitter in Europe that is cutting emissions slower than EU on average despite its huge investments and support schemes – as one of the leaders, there seemed to be something quite strange in the metrics they used.

These metrics often concentrated on proxies that actually have very little to with cutting emissions efficiently. They include share of renewable energy (including bioenergy), the growth of renewable energy capacity in recent years (often not production, but nameplate capacity which can be wildly misleading when it comes to actual energy production) and perhaps the promises that governments have given on emissions reductions (with no regard to if they actually seem to be reaching those targets). These other reports usually penalize if a country decarbonizes with nuclear, often giving it an arbitrary carbon footprint of natural gas (WWF G8 climate scorecards, see footnote on page 17), or even coal. In effect, some of them say that it is an act of climate leadership if one replaces nuclear with almost any sort of burning. We document these in detail in our book Climate Gamble.

The thing is, none of these proxy-metrics matter when it comes to actually reducing a country’s emissions. None of them tell us the story of decarbonizing our economies, and aiming to be a leader in those reports won’t solve our climate issues. We need to keep our eyes fixed on the goal, not poor proxies.

Press conference with James Hansen and Michael Shellenberger

In the afternoon, we went to a press conference moderated by Stuart Scott, the host of Climate Matters. Michael Shellenberger talked about Environmental Progresses’ new study where they found out that adding renewable energy has practically no correlation (apart from a few cases like Denmark) with reducing emissions, while adding hydro or nuclear correlates very well with reducing emissions.

Stuart, Michael and James

To add to that, they found an inverse correlation between electrification of the energy supply and renewable energy. The logic is rather simple actually. With subsidies (that wind and solar still require, despite supposedly being really cheap), the cost of electricity will go up. And with costlier electricity, that electricity is not replacing direct burning as a source of energy. Electric vehicles are less competitive, heat pumps are less competitive, electric cooking is less competitive, electric heating is less competitive. The thing is, we really do want to electrify these things and produce that electricity cleanly. But it is not going to happen if electricity costs more instead of less. We should aim to make electricity cheap (not artificially, but actually).

Michael also presented some data on the materials requirements and environmental impacts of various energy sources, showing that solar PV-produces about 300 times as much waste per kWh than nuclear. This is a very interesting and alarming finding that should give pause to anyone interested in environmental footprint of human activities or the efficient use of our natural resources.

James Hansen gave a very straightforward case on why we need all the tools, including massive amounts of nuclear energy, if we want to leave our children with a climate compatible with civilization and good prospects for human kind. I will post/share a video of the conference later.

****

ps. I will write and publish my journal from COP23 when I have the time to write, so its not real time.

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