Pulled by an increased demand in gas and coal, year 2021 ended with a 5% rebound of Carbon emissions approaching the 2019 peak levels.
Let’s start 2022 by expressing a handful wishes to steer the race against carbon emissions back on track.
Assign the proper priority
Would it be in politics talks or newspaper, the question of fighting climate change remains under-considered at large. Now that it is admitted that climate change will reshape the future of our society, reducing carbon emissions should get the desired attention, fundings and shall trigger any major political decision.
While this question becomes a growing citizen concern, individuals can reduce their own carbon footprint by not more than 10% (up to 20% thanks to significant investments in electric cars, house insulation etc) -see note 1-. Governments hold the major decarbonization lever through regulation, investments and incentive. Assuming this is mostly an individual responsibility is unfair and not sufficient.
Trades off on key decisions shall shift from short term ROI to long term sustainable vision. This applies to infrastructures, mobility, energy, land use, etc…
That requires long run plans, consistency in actions but also a clear communication and a proper level of expertise.
Learn & teach
Climate science and carbon footprint assessments are complex, their understanding requires technical background. Devil is in the details.
It is nation leaders responsibility to take the time (and efforts) to gain skills on those topics. They are many experts relentless sharing their work, speaking up their observations and providing recommendations. The extent of the challenge ahead us worths an accurate diagnostic, prerequisite to administrate the proper cure.
Same applies to media who tend to simplify and polarize the debates on energy, climate and transition to a green society. Let’s take the example of electrical cars. Depending on where the electrical vehicle is produced and operated, its overall carbon emission benefits over traditional cars is not always evident. Weight, lifetime of the car and carbon intensity of the electrical mix are key parameters tilting the scale one way or the other. A light and fuel efficient traditional car is less carbon intensive than an heavy electrical SUV driven in a country which electrical mix is led by coal power-plants (note 2). Again, devil is in the details. There is no generic answers but specific situations to be adressed case by case.
Also, spreading & teaching state of the art knowledge on climate change & energy is a must do to embark people in the transition. Recent experience of Citizens’ Convention on Climate is full of insights. (https://www.conventioncitoyennepourleclimat.fr/en/) A panel of 150 French citizen drawn by lot debated and were given lectures by climate & energy experts for 8 months. The outcome was extremely positive ending up with a common ground of understanding, mobilization and a roadmap full of relevant proposals.
Stop painting green, do count
It is not because the equation is complex that one should simplify it with a green paintbrush. Let’s take one another example.
Solar (42 kg CO2e & 30€ cost/MWh) & on shore wind turbines (15 kg CO2e & 26,4€ cost/MWh) are now reported to be part of the cheapest & greenest plants to produce electricity- Note 3 & 4-. That is true if we talk about the production costs of one MWh out of the facility. Now, if we consider that solar farms have a 15% load factor and the one of wind turbine plants does not exceed 25%, the cost of their continued service is different. Back up solutions are required to quickly kick into the grid during night or windless conditions. As those additional production units must light and produce in a snap, they are mostly Gas or Oil generators (storage capacities are marginal). Bottom line is that the real cost of those renewable energies power plants can end up being significantly higher than disclosed because of their intermittent production. So is their carbon intensity per MWh produced.
There is no intention here to promote one solution over one another. The point is to pragmatically count & compare carbon emission of solutions which are providing the same level of service. Then, it comes to pick up and chose the one fitting within the overall carbon budget. In other word, a country signing today for the construction of a natural gas power plant (about 450 kg CO2e per MWh– Note 3) will have to refrain its production or cut other carbon intensive activity to reach Net Zero compared to a nation choosing nuclear plants (about 18 kg CO2e per MWh with 80% load factor- Note 3 ).
As for any others, carbon budgets do not suffer approximation.
Lead by Example
No doubt that decarbonizing industries and societies is affecting competitiveness and reducing GDP. Competition within a globalized world is clearly slowing down the pace of the low carbon race.
But that should not be a reason to drag feet. No one would contest Fatih Birol, (IEA Executive Director) when he warns that the cost of inaction will be much higher than the investments required to mitigate Earth temperature rise.(https://www.iea.org/news/world-energy-outlook-2021-shows-a-new-energy-economy-is-emerging-but-not-yet-quickly-enough-to-reach-net-zero-by-2050)
Governments costs exposure to cure the impacts of climate change will keep growing with inaction time. Same observation applies within the economical sphere, there will be no stable nor flourishing business within chaos.
Nations and companies engaging themselves into the transition will slowly but surely pave the road for others and attract talented individuals into a virtuous momentum.
Eco anxiety has started to gain a growing portion of the population, youth at first rank. This is a legitimate feeling with few opposable arguments when looking at the trends of business as usual practices.
But as fear does not spare danger, best is to get mobilized into the comprehension of the overall challenge ahead. And then decide how becoming part of the solution.
There are tons of books & course contents available to satisfy anyone’s curiosity (note 5) and….. find the energy to fuel the momentum!
HAPPY 2022 !
Note 1: Carbone 4 paper: https://www.carbone4.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Publication-Carbone-4-Faire-sa-part-pouvoir-responsabilite-climat.pdf
Note 2: https://jancovici.com/transition-energetique/transports/la-voiture-electrique-est-elle-la-solution-aux-problemes-de-pollution-automobile/
Note 3: Source: IPCC 2014, Technology-specific Cost and Performance Parameters: https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/02/ipcc_wg3_ar5_annex-iii.pdf#page=7
Note 4: Source IEA: https://www.iea.org/articles/levelised-cost-of-electricity-calculator
Note 5: Few readings suggestions:
IPCC, Climate Change 2001, The Scientific Basis, editions Cambridge University Press, 2001
The Limits to Growth (LTG)Universe books, 1972, MEADOWS Donella & Dennis ,RANDERS Jørgen, BEHRENS William W.III
Oil, Power, and War : A Dark History, 2015, AUZANNEAU Matthieu