Please find below a précis of an article by the Editor of the Energy Institute magazine, Steve Hodgson, which I find most concerning. Geoff.
Coal, carbon and climate change
Global carbon dioxide emissions are at recorded high levels and coal burning is the principal culprit.
Annual emissions from fossil fuel burning and cement production increased by 2% in 2012, to a total of 9.7 gigatonnes
of carbon (GtC) emitted to the atmosphere, some 58% higher than emissions in 1990 (the Kyoto Protocol reference year) and the highest annual total to date. They increased by a further 2% in 2013. All this according to the Australia and Japan-based Global Carbon Project, which was formed a decade ago to assist the international science community to establish a common mutually agreed knowledge base on greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
In 2012, coal burning was responsible for 43% of total emissions, oil 33%, gas 18%, cement 5%, and gas flaring 1%
adds the Global Carbon Project. That’s not a picture of a world making progress on taking control of carbon emissions. Indeed, not only are international negotiations towards global climate change framework moving very slowly, but we have now seen the first major country, Japan, walk away from its existing carbon reduction target. Japan does have a particular problem: the closure of perhaps all of its nuclear power industry, which used to supply a third of Japan’s electricity.
The figures show that burning coal to make electricity remains the major carbon emissions culprit around the world. Cost use is increasing in many countries, particularly developing countries in Asia, and more particularly, China.
Emissions data also highlights the sifting geographical patterns both of energy use and carbon emissions over the last 20 years. Reporting the Global Carbon Project data, the US-based Worldwatch Institute points out that in 1990, when the Kyoto Protocol was established, industrial countries accounted for 62% of emissions; by 2012 the figure had fallen to 37%, reflecting the rapid industrialisation in some developing countries, and shifting patterns of fuel production and use.But coal use is also growing in countries undergoing energy sector transition. Worldwatch also points to rising coal-related carbon emissions in Germany (a 4% increase 2012); and Japan where emissions rose by 6%. Both are managing a retreat from nuclear power, but in quite dissimilar circumstances. Contrary to a view from a European perspective, where gas and, increasingly, renewables are the flavours of the moment, the global Carbon Project data suggests that coal accounted for just over half of the increase in carbon emissions in 2012.
Looking at energy and carbon emissions from another angle, it has been suggested by US-based climate researchers that just 90 companies – all but seven of these are oil, coal and gas producers – are responsible for two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions created since the industrial age began. And that half the emissions were produced in the last 25 years, well past the date when governments began to understand that burning fossil fuels causes climate change.
However, wherever the carbon has come from (deforestation and other land use changes also play parts), there is now more than ever in the atmosphere. The Worldwatch Institute, quoting data from the US-based Scripps Institution of Oceanography, reports an atmospheric concentration of 394 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide in 2012. This represents a 40% increase since pre-industrial 1750, and a 24% increase since the Scripps Institution started to keep records in 1959.
Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change have agreed that increases in global temperature from pre-industrial times must be kept to 2oC, but many projections are now higher than this – the Global Carbon Project foresees a “likely increase of 3.2 – 5.4oC.
Depressingly it seems that the answer to my question at the start of the article is a resounding NO!