Carbon, America and the World

Climate Change

For a business to be Sustainable – that is, able to thrive in perpetuity [1] – requires that the world remain a viable place in which to thrive, in perpetuity. The world faces a number of substantial threats to its continuing viability to support a prosperous humanity. Climate Change is arguably the most discussed of these just now. Unfortunately, Climate Change is highly politicized and not generally well understood.

To clarify:

Climate Change refers to significant changes in the world’s climate that diminish the natural world’s ability to adequately support humanity and its civilizations.

Climate Change, in the sense intended here, refers to an increase in the global mean temperature.

Climate Change, then, is a set of negative effects caused by Global Warming.

Global Warming, again in the sense intended here, results from a “greenhouse effect” – a change in the composition of the earth’s atmosphere that results in retaining a greater portion of the energy from sunlight.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is a rapidly increasing “greenhouse gas” component of the earth’s atmosphere.

Energy generation from combustion of fossil fuels contributes most of the approximately 34 billion metric tons of CO2 that are currently being added to the earth’s atmosphere annually.

Most of the world’s nations, through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), have reached agreement on the necessity to reduce global CO2 emissions quickly and significantly.


The American Situation

At a meeting of the UNFCCC in December 2015, President Obama expressed an intention for the U.S. to reduce its greenhouse gas (essentially CO2) by 26% to 28% below 2005 levels, and to do so by 2025 (that is, 8 years from now).

This graph, from U.S. Department of Energy’s Annual Energy Outlook 2017, projects America’s energy related CO2 emissions to 2040 in a number of cases (sets of assumptions). As you can see, none of those cases provide substantial reductions in CO2 emissions, compared to present levels.

CO@ Emissions Projections

The Global Situation

Global CO2 EmissionsThe graph labeled Figure 9-1 [2] plots global CO2 emissions, broken out as emissions from OECD [3] countries (which include the USA) and non-OECD countries. Add the two together to get total global emissions (for 2016, approximately 13 billion metric tons from OECD countries + 21 million metric tons from non-OECD countries approximates 34 billion metric tons). Annual emissions from the OECD countries are projected to be approximately constant over the period through 2040. Annual emissions from the non-OECD countries are projected to increase substantially.[4]

Two points here: (1) Annual global CO2 emissions are projected to increase, not decrease. (2) Even if the USA could drive its CO2 emissions to zero, that reduction, of itself, would not prevent total annual CO2 emissions from continuing to increase, not decrease.

So, in order to contain Global Warming and it’s predicted negative effects (meaning Climate Change), annual global CO2 emissions need be reduced substantially, pronto. However, the Department of Energy’s figures, based on existing policies along with world demographic and economic projections, indicate that emissions will continue to rise, at least through 2040.

What to Do?

The USA can institute policies that directly affect its own emissions. It can only influence, not control, the emissions of other countries. Here are three possible approaches that the USA might choose to take. None of them can promise to radically reduce annual global CO2 emissions within the next decade or so.

Whatever it Takes: This approach posits that the USA forgets about costs and domestic economic growth, shuts down existing U.S. emissions sites on a crash schedule, and uses moral suasion, political pressure and an open checkbook to persuade other countries to follow suit.

Lead by Example: The approach starts by embracing, then building on President Obama’s expression of intention to reduce emissions. From there, the USA would lead by further reducing its emissions, while using diplomacy, economic incentives and coalition building to encourage others.

Pragmatics: The USA could continue to encourage the development and implementation of economically viable technologies, continue to research new emissions control and decarbonization approaches, and work with other nations to encourage them to do likewise on a mutually beneficial basis.

Considering present and your expectation of future political and economic realities in the USA and elsewhere, what do you think the USA should do? What approach should your business or organization take?

My House with Solar Panels

Google Map View of Chez Chuck, with Solar Panels

Thoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington (Chuck@JeraSustainableDevelopment.com)

This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome.


[1] Adam Werbach, Strategy for Sustainability, Harvard Business Press (2009), page 9

[2] The graph labeled Figure 9-1 is from the U.S. Department of Energy’s International Energy Outlook 2016 (IEO 2016). The Annual Energy Outlook and the International Energy Outlook are available fro free download at www.eia.gov

[3] OECD, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, is a group of 34 relatively developed countries. The USA is a member.

[4] The non-OECD countries are growing significantly faster than the OECD countries, both demographically and economically. People in less economically developed countries understandably want to catch up with those in OECD countries on a GDP per capita GDP basis.

 

Pragmatics and the Paris Pacts

Efforts toward a global agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions, hence to forestall climate change, will come to a climax in Paris a few weeks from now. Groping Toward Paris, an essay to this blog from February 2015, outlined what is at issue. This post replays Groping Toward Paris and adds several comments of a pragmatic nature, representing my own personal views. – C.H.


Groping Toward Paris (from 7 February 2015) 

A Climate Climax

UN FlagOn 30 November 2015, delegates from about 200 nations will convene in Paris, including many Heads of State and Heads of Government. Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will meet for 12 days in an attempt to finalize two closely related international agreements:

(1) Conclude a comprehensive agreement on reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions sufficiently to hold global temperature increase below 2oC, compared to pre-industrial levels.

2) Establish a $100 billion Green Climate Fund to assist less developed nations to develop economically while coping with effects of climate change. [1]

About the CO2 Emissions Reduction Agreement

Parties to this agreement, especially the economically developed nations that emit the majority of the world’s CO2, are expected to propose national emissions reduction goals sometime this Spring. Those proposals, of course, will remain open to negotiation until a final agreement is concluded. There is an expectation that achieving national goals will be (somehow or another) legally binding. A working level meeting of delegates this week (8 – 13 February 2015) in Geneva is expected to produce a draft agreement, providing a framework for negotiations.

To date, the U.S. has proposed to reduce CO2 emissions levels by 26% – 28% by 2025, compared to 2005 levels. China has proposed to reach a peak in emissions levels by 2030, with reductions thereafter. The European Union has proposed national guidelines of 40% reduction by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. [2]

About the Green Climate Fund

The fund is intended to help less economically developed nations develop sustainably, while coping with effects of climate change. The expectation is that the fund will have $100 billion at its disposal, of which about $10 billion has been promised. The fund is to be administered and distributed under the direction of a Board established by the UNFCCC. [3]

What About It?

The entire matter of climate change is contentious and, unfortunately, highly politicized. In the U.S., any number of credible surveys [4] indicate that belief that human activities seriously threaten the global climate correlates highly with political views. People who profess views associated with the political left tend to regard climate change as a dire and immediate threat to humanity. Those who profess views associated with the political right tend to discount the matter as error or hysteria, if not outright fraud. Further, those polls indicate something less than half of Americans polled believe that human activities seriously threaten the global climate. On top of that, a clear minority of those polled regard climate change as an urgent public issue.

On a global scale, less economically developed nations tend to regard climate change as caused by past actions in the more economically developed nations. Since the developed nations caused the problem, in their view, they should solve it. Further, nations that rely on export of fossil fuels – especially petroleum – for a significant part of their national GDP are understandably less than enthusiastic about an international pact that is clearly detrimental to their economies. In addition to the Middle Eastern nations, Russia, Nigeria, Venezuela and Angola come quickly to mind.

What’s Next?

Diametrically opposed views on climate change are likely to precipitate lots of global political maneuvering and media bombast. In this country, the President and the Congress are, in my view, unlikely to find any meaningful common ground. Globally, nations are likely to watch each other, each waiting for others to make the serious concessions.

In the end, I do think that some sort of agreement will be reached. I doubt that such an agreement will even promise – let alone deliver – the emissions reductions projected as necessary to hold global warming to 2oC, which is the stated objective of the entire UNFCCC process.

What should a smaller manufacturer do? Continue to act in a pragmatic manner. Continue to reduce materials requirements. Continue to improve energy utilization efficiencies. Continue to produce the innovative products, processes and business models that make a business competitive in this globalized economy. In the end, American (and global) manufacturing doesn’t really need a government – driven international agreement. Manufacturing firms need to recognize and address, jointly and severally, the Sustainability of their own businesses.


Comments Added 31 October 2015

>> Events since Groping Toward Paris was published early last February have proceeded pretty much as outlined. The media has relentlessly expounded on the urgency of taking actions to prevent climate change. Much – but not all – of the ceaseless climate change reporting is drivel at best, P. T. Barnum-esque at worst. And I expect that the media’s shrillness and intensity will increase even further during November.

>> The prospect of climate change is not nonsense – or fraud, as some contend. The basic physics behind concern about greenhouse gases is sound. However, the computer model projections of specific effects within specified time spans are tenuous. Earth’s climate is an extraordinarily complex system. It is an immense task to model all of components of such a system – the known knowns, the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns – as well as getting all of the relationships, dependencies, sequences and initial values right.

As Niels Bohr put it, “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future”.[5]

>> Given that significant global climate change may occur within this century, it is useful to consider what priority pre-emptive actions should have. As those of us who are over 15 years old have experienced, a whole lot of bad stuff can happen in a century. As examples, how should the pre-emptive actions concerning climate change be prioritized compared to: (1) Global economic depression, like or worse than the one that occurred in the 1930’s or the one that almost occurred in 2008? (2) Global war, like the two that happened within the last century, this time with 21st century weapons? (3) Global epidemic, like several in the 20th century and like the recent Ebola scare could have become? (Several more possible calamities, each comparable to climate change in its potential consequences and its probability of occurrence, come quickly to mind. These three are enough to make the point.)

>> The pacts to be finalized in Paris are to replace the Kyoto Accords. Most nations eventually signed the Kyoto Accords. The U.S. did not. Most nations did not even come close to reducing their CO2 emissions. The U.S. did significantly reduce its CO2 emissions. Nations are sovereign entities – they do as their interests and internal pragmatics dictate from time to time, sincere intentions to the contrary notwithstanding.

In my view, the level of human generated CO2 in the global atmosphere at the end of this century will be determined by the interests and internal concerns of about 200 nations, conditioned by everything else that happens over the next 85 years.

Each of us is entitled to their own views.

Chuck & Joan in ParisThoughtful comments are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington (Chuck@JeraSustainableDevelopment.com)

P.S: Contact me when your organization is serious about pursuing Sustainability … CH

This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome. New blog posts are published weekly.

UN flag image: © Friziofriziofrizio | Dreamstime.comUn United Nations Flag Photo


[1] Learn more on these issues at the UNFCCC website: http://unfccc.int/2860.php

[2] For more detail, see: http://www.rtcc.org/2015/01/30/pressure-on-to-finish-draft-paris-climate-deal-in-february/

[3] For more on the Green Fund, see: www.gcfund.org

[4] Example polls from the Pew Trust and from the Gallup organization: http://www.people-press.org/2014/06/26/section-7-global-warming-environment-and-energy/http://www.gallup.com/poll/167843/climate-change-not-top-worry.aspx, and  http://www.people-press.org/2015/01/15/publics-policy-priorities-reflect-changing-conditions-at-home-and-abroad/

[5]  http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/nielsbohr130288.html

 

Groping Toward Paris

A Climate Climax

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-un-united-nations-flag-original-graphic-elaboration-image44755347On 30 November 2015, delegates from about 200 nations will convene in Paris, including many Heads of State and Heads of Government. Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will meet for 12 days in an attempt to finalize two closely related international agreements:

(1) Conclude a comprehensive agreement on reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions sufficiently to hold global temperature increase below 2oC, compared to pre-industrial levels.

2) Establish a $100 billion Green Climate Fund to assist less developed nations to develop economically while coping with effects of climate change. [1]

About the CO2 Emissions Reduction Agreement

Parties to this agreement, especially the economically developed nations that emit the majority of the world’s CO2, are expected to propose national emissions reduction goals sometime this Spring. Those proposals, of course, will remain open to negotiation until a final agreement is concluded. There is an expectation that achieving national goals will be (somehow or another) legally binding. A working level meeting of delegates this week (8 – 13 February 2015) in Geneva is expected to produce a draft agreement, providing a framework for negotiations.

To date, the U.S. has proposed to reduce CO2 emissions levels by 26% – 28% by 2025, compared to 2005 levels. China has proposed to reach a peak in emissions levels by 2030, with reductions thereafter. The European Union has proposed national guidelines of 40% reduction by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. [2]

About the Green Climate Fund

The fund is intended to help less economically developed nations develop sustainably, while coping with effects of climate change. The expectation is that the fund will have $100 billion at its disposal, of which about $10 billion has been promised. The fund is to be administered and distributed under the direction of a Board established by the UNFCCC. [3]

What About It?

The entire matter of climate change is contentious and, unfortunately, highly politicized. In the U.S., any number of credible surveys [4] indicate that belief that human activities seriously threaten the global climate correlates highly with political views. People who profess views associated with the political left tend to regard climate change as a dire and immediate threat to humanity. Those who profess views associated with the political right tend to discount the matter as error or hysteria, if not outright fraud. Further, those polls indicate something less than half of Americans polled believe that human activities seriously threaten the global climate. On top of that, a clear minority of those polled regard climate change as an urgent public issue.

On a global scale, less economically developed nations tend to regard climate change as caused by past actions in the more economically developed nations. Since the developed nations caused the problem, in their view, they should solve it. Further, nations that rely on export of fossil fuels – especially petroleum – for a significant part of their national GDP are understandably less than enthusiastic about an international pact that is clearly detrimental to their economies. In addition to the Middle Eastern nations, Russia, Nigeria, Venezuela and Angola come quickly to mind.

What’s Next?

Diametrically opposed views on climate change are likely to precipitate lots of global political maneuvering and media bombast. In this country, the President and the Congress are, in my view, unlikely to find any meaningful common ground. Globally, nations are likely to watch each other, each waiting for others to make the serious concessions.

In the end, I do think that some sort of agreement will be reached. I doubt that such an agreement will even promise – let alone deliver – the emissions reductions projected as necessary to hold global warming to 2oC, which is the stated objective of the entire UNFCCC process.

What should a smaller manufacturer do? Continue to act in a pragmatic manner. Continue to reduce materials requirements. Continue to improve energy utilization efficiencies. Continue to produce the innovative products, processes and business models that make a business competitive in this globalized economy. In the end, American (and global) manufacturing doesn’t really need a government – driven international agreement. Manufacturing firms need to recognize and address, jointly and severally, the Sustainability of their own businesses.

Chuck and Sophia at Disney World 2Thoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

 

…  Chuck Harrington (Chuck@JeraSustainableDevelopment.com)

P.S: Contact me when your organization is serious about pursuing Sustainability … CH

This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome. New blog posts are published weekly.

UN flag image: © Friziofriziofrizio | Dreamstime.comUn United Nations Flag Photo

[1] Learn more on these issues at the UNFCCC website: http://unfccc.int/2860.php

[2] For more detail, see: http://www.rtcc.org/2015/01/30/pressure-on-to-finish-draft-paris-climate-deal-in-february/

[3] For more on the Green Fund, see: www.gcfund.org

[4] Example polls from the Pew Trust and from the Gallup organization: http://www.people-press.org/2014/06/26/section-7-global-warming-environment-and-energy/http://www.gallup.com/poll/167843/climate-change-not-top-worry.aspx, and  http://www.people-press.org/2015/01/15/publics-policy-priorities-reflect-changing-conditions-at-home-and-abroad/