Paris: Climate Change Should Be on All Our Agendas, Small or Large

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Whatever one may feel about climate change, and few things can separate friends, family and colleagues more passionately, the fact is the powers that be will be gathering in Paris next month to hammer out deals about reducing carbon emissions.

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Those deals will impact every one of us and not just to the extent that they do or do not have any effect on global temperatures. After initially being a rather reluctant participant in the whole emissions control lobby, at least from the climate change perspective, the US has in recent years taken a leading role in garnering collective action.

Regulations as Local Economy Hurdles

It has avoided the punitive actions taken by some European governments that have disadvantaged their own industries with high power costs in an effort to appear better than the rest in terms of lowering overall carbon emissions. In an article printed in the Financial Times the US is credited with helping to define a nationally determined approach to greenhouse gas reduction targets to which 150 countries representing 85% of the world’s total emissions have submitted proposals, so expect the US to take a very active part in the Paris deal, potentially with ramifications for US industry and consumers.

Some nations in Europe have already made substantial strides to reduce their total emissions although in the process some, like the UK, have left themselves perilously exposed to blackouts after the closure of coal-fired, base-load power generators and hamstrung their energy consuming industries like steel with unsustainably high costs, not to mention residential consumers who pay some of the highest tariffs in Europe. Reductions in carbon emissions have come at a substantial cost.

The China Question

Others, such as China, continue to build coal-fired power stations while at the same time adding nearly as much wind-power generation as the rest of the world put together last year according to Reuters.

Asia, in general, continues to embrace coal for power generation even though natural gas prices have fallen, preferring plentiful and often domestic coal to imported liquid natural gas. Reuters reports that in Asia, alone, this year power companies are building more than 500 coal-fired plants, with at least a thousand more in planning.

“Electricity is increasing its share in total energy consumption (in emerging markets) and coal is increasing its share of power generation,” said Laszlo Varro, head of the gas, coal and power markets division for the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Local Actions Require Global Support

How Asia can possibly achieve a reduction in carbon emissions is not even a question on the agenda, it’s whether the growth in emission can possibly be slowed that is consuming analysts. 40% of the 400 gigawatts in generation capacity to be added in Southeast Asia by 2040 will be coal-fired, the IEA is reported as saying.

That will raise coal’s share of the Southeast Asian power market to 50% from 32%, while natural gas declines to 26% from 44% now. And growth in coal is not only seen in developing economies. Coal’s share of the energy mix in Japan, top importer of LNG, will rise to 30% by 2030, up from 22% in 2010 – without it’s nuclear plants, Japan’s carbon footprint has risen significantly.

Meanwhile India, the world’s fourth-largest emitter is increasing emissions at 8.2% per year – the highest of any major economy in the world and while its carbon intensity, a measure of its emissions relative to its GDP, is half that of China’s, its emission reduction targets are, like many government set targets in India, unlikely to be met.

The announcement this month that China’s coal consumption, and hence carbon emissions, have been under-reported has heaped further pressure on Paris to achieve meaningful change. Statistics in China have always been a haphazard affair and while no wrongdoing is suggested the revelation by the National Bureau of Statistics reported in AsiaOne raised the figures for coal consumption in previous years by as much as 17%.

For 2012 alone, the increase was 600 million tons, — over 70% of the United States’ annual coal consumption — implying that China’s annual emissions of carbon dioxide had been underestimated by more than Germany’s total yearly output.

This underlines how futile, from a total emissions perspective, efforts by small mature markets in Europe are to the overall position. Sure, they give the country the moral high ground to lecture the rest, but, in reality, global action is needed, unilateral action simply damage the domestic economy and materially achieves little.

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So, remote and unimportant as it may seem, the meeting in Paris next month could have a significant impact on us at home. Keep a close eye on what your politicians sign up to and whether they manage to get the big polluters to play the same game.

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