Environmental groups were quick to attack US President Trump’s decision to overturn his predecessor’s climate change policy in favour of a pro-fossil fuel approach aimed at securing new jobs in America’s rust belt states. However, this is to misunderstand the many weaknesses of the Paris Agreement itself, which is a wholly inadequate approach to combatting climate change according to Swedish physics Professor Kjell Aleklett:
“Few people realize that the RCP2.6 scenario that forms the basis for the Paris Agreement actually uses more fossil energy in the year 2100 than we use today.
“This scenario permits future economic growth by more than doubling energy use by the year 2100 at the same time as we reduce emissions. Use of fossil fuels will not decrease but by use of negative emission strategies we can reduce carbon dioxide release.”
Far from demanding that we curb coal mining, Aleklett points out that:
“Scenario RCP2.6 requires that we mine as much coal as possible, but also that we capture the carbon dioxide produced by burning it and then pump it underground. This means that the installation for CCS built by Vattenfall in Germany was completely in line with the agreement that Sweden signed in Paris. If President Trump supports coal mining and CCS then that is also in line with the Paris Agreement.”
A major criticism of the Paris Agreement is that it more or less allows developed countries to continue with business as usual until 2030. After this, it is simply assumed that we will have worked out how to do Carbon Capture and Storage at a low enough cost that it can be deployed across the world. In this way, the International Panel on Climate Change assumes that global economic growth can continue even as new yet-to-be-invented technologies suck carbon dioxide out of the air and bury it deep beneath the ground – where, like nuclear waste, it must stay for hundreds of thousands of years:
Even if – and it is a big “IF” – these technologies can be invented in time, Aleklett argues that we have an even bigger problem:
“The climate agreement in Paris assumed increased consumption of fossil fuels during this entire century and five times as much nuclear energy as currently to allow economic growth to continue. This is unrealistic when access to coal, oil and natural gas will be insufficient.”
While energy experts disagree about when global production of fossil fuels and uranium will peak, all agree that these resources are finite, and most anticipate peak production to occur in the first half of this century. As Aleklett says:
“Good news for the climate, but if we are to have economic growth in future then we will need a 100% focus on renewable energy sources. The negative emissions that are written into the Paris Agreement cannot be part of our energy future. Greater investment in renewable energy is required.”
Of course, if we leave making a serious start on that renewable energy infrastructure much later than the year 1990, then we will most likely discover that we are too late to save economic growth or to prevent a climate-induced collapse of civilisation.