The International Energy Agency’s Newroom has issued a new release on carbon dioxide emissions in 2011 that could be extremely helpful for instructors looking to update their lecture notes. The release indicates that fossil-fuel related carbon dioxide emissions rose to 31.6 gigatons in 2011, representing an increase of 3.2% above 2010 levels. This development is extremely foreboding, because it means that there is virtually no chance of avoiding temperature increases of at least 2C above pre-industrial levels, since the IEA in 2011 concluded that emissions had to peak at 32.6 Gt by 2017 to plausibly avoid this scenario.
Also notable is the growing role of developing countries in driving emissions increases. While emissions actually dropped by 0.6% in OECD States during 2011 (largely as a consequence of fuel switching to natural gas from coal to natural gas and soft economies), they increased by 6.1% in non-OECD countries. While Chinese energy intensity fell by 15% between 2005 and 2012, its emissions still increased by 9.3% in 2011, primarily due to higher coal consumption. India’s emissions also rose by a whopping 8.7%, moving it ahead of Russia to become the fourth largest emitter in the the world behind China, the U.S. and the European Union.
In a recent article published in the journal Current Science Govindswamy Bala assesses the potential effectiveness of solar radiation management geoengineering and potential side effects. This brief article would provide an excellent overview of SRM approaches in a geongineering teaching module. Among the take-aways from the article:
- Because of the anticipated quick response of climate systems to reductions in sunlight, SRM deployment could be delayed until dangerous climate change was “imminent;”
- SRM would likely weaken the global water cycle by only offsetting temperature-related precipitation changes, i.e. enhanced atmospheric carbon dioxide under SRM deployment would suppress precipitation while solar forcing would have a much smaller impact on precipitation;
- Whereas the atmosphere would warm slowly with current projections of increased concentrations of greenhouse gases, a failure of SRM could visit commensurate warming on the globe in the course of only 10-20 years. Moreover sudden termination of an SRM approach could result in a release of carbon stored on land and in the ocean, triggering a positive feedback mechanism that would result in much greater and faster warming;
- A uniform reduction in solar radiation with SRM deployment could lead to reduce El Nino Southern Oscillation and increased North Atlantic overturning;
- Sulfate aerosol injection could cause a significant depletion of the ozone layer by accelerating hydroxyl-catalyzed ozone destruction cycles;
- Compared to a scenario of high GHG concentration and and no SRM geoengineering, SRM approaches deployed under high greenhouse gas concentrations scenarios could create a climate more similar to that with “natural” greenhouse gas concentrations than a scenario with high greenhouse gas concentrations and no SRM geoengineering.
This article would be ideal to tease out equity questions associated with geoengineering (for example, assuming that SRM would reduce the global impacts of climate change, would it be acceptable to deploy even if there were negative regional impacts?), as well as the implications associated with the potential failure of SRM technologies for inter-generational equity. The findings of Bala on water cycle issues could also be contrasted with research from others e.g. Caldeira who discount this potential impact; it would be a good opportunity to have students tease out differing scientific assumptions, e.g. the impacts of solar radiation suppression on surface runoff. Moreover, should we also factor in the potential regional precipitation declines associated with climate change?
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The WorldWatch Institute has published a new report in its Vital Signs series on the current and projected status of carbon capture and sequestration. The report portrays a complicated landscape for CCS. Among the take-aways from the report:
- CCS funding remains virtually unchanged in 2011, with total government funding at $23.5 billion;
- There are 75 large-scale fully integrated CCS projects in 17 countries, with 8 plants operational, the same number as in 2009 and 2018.
- The 8 projects (none of which are associated with power production facilities; six are for natural gas processing) store a combined total of 23.18 million tons of carbon dioxide annually;
- 7 large-scale CCS plants are currently under construction, but 13 projects were cancelled or postponed in 2011, most on economic grounds, though at least one was cancelled due to local opposition;
- If all active and planned projects are constructed, they would have storage capacity equal to 0.5% of global emissions from energy use in 2010;
- An additional $2.5-3 trilllion in investments will be necessary between 2010 and 2050 to reduce GHG emissions by 50% by 2050; this would entail the construction of 3000 large-scale CCS plants;
- Incremental costs of CCS technology are very high, increasing the levelized costs of coal plants by 39-64%, increasing prices between 10.2-1.7 cents per kilowatt hour, or a 33% increase in electricity costs for natural gas plants;
- CCS plants increase water usage for coal plants by between 87-93% per megawatt hour, as well as causing relatively plant efficiency losses of 15% for natural gas power plants and 20-25% for coal-fired power plants.
Among the discussion questions that this report might generate in class are the following:
- What impact, if any, does the precipitous drop in natural gas prices in recent years have on the prospects for CCS?;
- Given the substantial costs associated with deployment of CCS, as well as ancillary environmental impacts, are the opportunity costs of CCS too high to justify its pursuit as a policy option in the future?
While many previous studies of the impacts of climate change geoengineering have focused on scenarios involving near-median estimates of climate sensitivity to GHG forcing, those of us in the field know that climate forcing sensitivity remains a highly uncertain scientific construct (see, for example, J. Hansen, et al., Earth’s Energy Imbalance and Implications, 11 Atmospheric Chemistry & Physics 13421-13449 (2011). A new study in Nature Climate Change uses a perturbed-physics ensemble model to assess the response of the climate to the solar radiation management geoengineering approach of aerosol dispersion (SRM-S) in the stratosphere to a range of greenhouse-gas climate sensitivities. Among the take-aways from the study:
- SRM-S is likely to be less effective in ameliorating regional impacts of climate change than mitigation in higher-sensitivity scenarios, “precisely when SRM-S seems most likely to be deployed.”
- Interregional heretorogeneities associated with SRM-S would also be greater under high sensitivity scenarios
- On the other hand, the potential for SRM-S to ameliorate climate change, including at the regional level, increases with climate sensitivity. On average, SRM-S is projected in a high sensitivity scenario to reduce regional rates of temperature change by more than 90% and precipitation change by more than 50%. By contrast, regional rates of warming and precipitation under the highest sensitivity scenario are twice as high in the highest-sensitivity model in the study’s ensemble than in the lowest-sensitivity scenario;
- SRM-S thus least effective in returning regional climates to baseline conditions, but is also most effective in reducing regional relative to the no SRM-S alternative.
A number of geoengineering studies in recent years have discussed potential negative regional impacts associated with deployment. This study adds to the equitable component fo the debate. On one hand, it appears that effective mitigation responses would produce better results in many regions under a high climate-sensitivity scenario; however, SRM-S is also most effective in reducing change relative to a no-SRM-S alternative. This article could generate some interesting discussion. Does the fact that SRM-S’s effectiveness is at its apogee at the point where it’s most likely to be deployed (under a climate crisis scenario) cut against it as a policy option, or does the fact that SRM-S is the fact that SRM-S is most powerful in reducing climate change relative to a non-SRM-S alternative under such a scenario, does it cut in favor of SRM?
Invitation – No Charge Event
Climate Change Continuing Education Symposia
May 8, 2012
Integrating Games into Teaching: Responding to Climate Change
Presenters: Stephanie Pfirman & Patrick Callahan, Barnard College
NCSE will provide a “digital badge” of participation to registered faculty members.
All webinars will be archived and posted on the CAMEL portal at www.CAMELclimatechange.org
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One of the most prominent arrows in the quiver of climate skeptics is the assertion a substantial portion of temperature increases experienced over the past century are related to increases in solar output and, and conversely, projected declines in solar output over the course of this century will help to substantially counteract projected temperature increases (see, this recent article, for example). A recent study by the U.K.’s Met Office puts the lie to the latter argument. The Met Office has published a nice summary of the study that would make a good reading in a teaching module that addresses the primary arguments of skeptics.
Among the takeaways of the summary:
- While solar output is slated to decline through 2100, this will have a de minimis impact on projected global surface temperatures, reducing projected temperature increases by only 0.08 °C;
- Even if solar output were to decline to below that seen in the Maunder Minimum during 1645-1715, a period in which solar activity was at its lowest observed level, this would only reduce projected temperature increases by 0.13.°C. However, there is only an 8% chance of solar output dropping to these levels;
- One caveat to the study is that it’s based on a single model; the use of multiple models would help to reduce uncertainties about these projections.
For instructors who include a module on the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme (EU-ETS), the European Energy Review, one of my favorite sources for information on energy and climate issues on the continent, published an excellent article last month on the ETS, whose fate, the article concludes “hangs in the balance in the EU.”
Among the take-aways from the article:
- The EU Energy Commission has argued that the EU carbon price of 6 euros is insufficient to drive low-carbon investments on the continent; however, a carbon price of more than 20 euros would be deemed unacceptable to European industry in the current economic climate;
- The EU-ETS has resulted in declines in GHG emissions, and is slated to reduce emissions from the energy and industrial sectors by 21% below 2005 levels by 2020
- The two primary reasons cited by analysts for low carbon prices in the EU are the recession and the overlap of the EU-ETS with other decarbonization policies, especially the EU Renewable Energy. Renewables reduce carbon prices but not emissions because they don’t have an impact on the cap established under the EU-ETS;
- Perhaps the most viable solution to low carbon prices is a proposal to set aside (withdraw from the market) as many as 1.4 billion euros in the EU-ETS carbon market. This could set the EU on a course to reduce its GHG emissions by 30% by 2020;
- A 1.4 billion allowance removal would likely result in EU carbon prices rebounding to 20 euros a ton and increase revenues in member States by 20 billion euros annually;
- However, some analysts content that a set-aside would engender market uncertainty in carbon markets and a precedent for additional political intervention, though Commission officials maintain this would be a one-off action
- Some stakeholders, including the International Emissions Trading, have suggested an alternative set-aside approach, emphasizing automatic adjustments based on economic conditions, technological changes and overlapping policies. Others have suggested that we should ratchet up the so-called linear reduction factor, that is the rate of decline of the cap, which is currently set at 1.74% annually.