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World Energy Outlook 2011: “The door to 2°C is closing”

Posted on 16 November 2011 by Andy Skuce

If we don’t change direction soon, we’ll end up where we’re heading

These words come from the Executive Summary of the World Energy Outlook 2011 (WEO11), just published by the International Energy Agency (IEA). The study incorporates the most recent data on global energy trends and policies, and investigates the economic and environmental consequences of three scenarios over the 2010 to 2035 time period. This is an important document that should be widely read but, unfortunately, the full report costs €120 for a single-user 650-page pdf.  Some key graphs and fact sheets are provided for free.

The WEO11 report is a commentary on the assumptions and output of the World Energy Model (WEM) in the IEA's words: a large-scale mathematical construct designed to replicate how energy markets function and is the principal tool used to generate detailed sector-by-sector and region-by-region projections for various scenarios.  A detailed description of the WEM is available here. The IEA updates their model and analysis every year, since important and unpredictable developments — a tsunami in Japan, the Arab Spring, new technologies in natural gas production — change the model’s boundary conditions significantly. In 2012, we can look forward to: an election in which the world’s largest economy may elect a government that denies the urgency and even the reality of climate change; further unrest in the Middle East; developments in renewable and fossil-fuel technology; and an unfolding economic crisis in Europe. And those are just some of the more foreseeable events that will make a new WEO study needed next year. In comparison, climate modellers have it easy.

In the 2011 Outlook, the IEA explored three scenarios.

  • The New Policies Scenario. This is used as a reference case. It assumes that governments will follow through on the (non-binding) pledges that they have made to reduce emissions and deploy renewable energy sources.

  • The 450 Scenario. This is an outcome-driven scenario, which lays out an energy pathway designed to limit the long-term concentration of greenhouse gasses to 450 ppm CO2 equivalent. Achieving this would provide a 50% chance of limiting global temperature increases to 2°C. Some climatologists, such as James Hansen, argue that a more aggressive 350 ppm target is required to avoid the possibility of “seeding irreversible catastrophic effects”.

  • The Current Policies Scenario.  This projection models a future in which only those climate and energy policies actually adopted in mid-2011 are incorporated.

To summarize: the IEA base case imagines a ideal world in which governments do what they say they will do; the optimistic case explores what needs to be done if we heed the advice of the more conservative climatologists; and the pessimistic case shows what happens if our governments just carry on doing what they have always done.

Where’s our energy going to come from?

Figure 1, taken, like all the figures in this post, with permission from WEO2011, shows the projection for the energy mix for the New Policies Scenario.  Note that the values are the proportions of the energy shares and not the absolute amounts of energy, the absolute amounts of oil and coal demand continue to climb over the period.

 

Figure 1: Shares of energy sources in world primary energy demand in the New Policies Scenario.

The graph shows that the relative importance of coal and oil will decline, while the use of natural gas rises. Non fossil-fuel energy sources gain slowly, but steadily, in importance. The relative changes reflect the influence of the policy assumptions in this scenario (among them, applying carbon taxes of $30-45 per tonne of CO2 before 2035).  However, mainly because of assumptions of population and economic growth, total energy consumption rises over the 2009-2035 period by approximately 40%, despite modelled increases in energy intensity (energy used per dollar of GDP).

The IEA does not foresee any major problems associated with depletion of fossil fuel resources over this time period. New technologies for the extraction of natural gas from shales herald what the IEA refers to (notwithstanding concerns about aquifer contamination and other environmental impacts) as a “Golden Age of Gas” Unconventional oil production (bitumen sands) and emerging light-tight oil production technologies will make up for declines in conventional oil production that result from resource exhaustion and underinvestment in the major oil producing areas.

The New Policies Scenario would result in an atmospheric concentration of CO2 equivalent of about 650 ppm, which is expected to result in equilibrium warming of more than 3.5°C. Once warming has reached these levels, according to authors cited by the IEA, the world will be committed to disruptive climate changes, a damaging sea-level rise and greatly increased probabilities of triggering feedbacks in the global carbon cycle (for example, in the Arctic and the Amazon Basin).

The 450 Scenario

Stabilizing atmospheric CO2 levels at 450 ppm is only achievable with the application of policies that are more aggressive than the policies in the base case. For example, the 450 Scenario envisages developed-country carbon taxes in the range $20-45 per tonne in 2020, rising to $95-120 for all countries by 2035.

Figure 2: World energy-related CO2 emissions per year by scenario.


The 450 scenario assumes that global emissions will decline to 1990 levels by 2035, with approximately 67% of the reductions, relative to the other scenarios, coming from non-OECD countries. Over the 2010-2035 period, the 450 scenario involves a 141 GT reduction in cumulative emissions relative to the New Policies Scenario and a 212 GT reduction relative to the Current Policies Scenario.

Figure 3: World energy-related CO2 emissions abatement in the 450 Scenario relative to the New Policies Scenario.

The IEA path to 450 is shown in Figure 3. Large contributions to abatements arise from efficiencies and renewable energy sources but large impacts come from nuclear energy and carbon capture and storage (CCS). After the accident at Fukushima, public acceptance of nuclear energy has fallen, for example, leading Italy to abandon its plans for building new nuclear plants and Germany to accelerate its plans to phase out its nuclear plants. If this trend away from nuclear energy persists, then its contribution to the 450 plan will not be realized. The IEA prepared an additional case, The Low Nuclear Case, to model this eventuality. To reach the 450 target without more nuclear power will require bigger increases in efficiencies, greater deployment of renewables and a very wide deployment of CCS to make up for increased uses of gas and coal in power generation.

Although CCS has been demonstrated as a feasible technology in pilot projects, there are doubts about the scalability, safety and the degree of public acceptance of the technology. The large carbon taxes envisaged in the 450 Scenario should help overcome the problem of the economic viability of CCS, but many other obstacles remain, any one of which could easily delay, restrict or prevent the widespread deployment of CCS, rendering the IEA’s path to 450 unfeasible.

Figure 4: Energy-related CO2 emissions per capita in the 450 Scenario by region.

Emissions per capita will decline everywhere, but the biggest relative and absolute per capita reductions occur in the USA. Developing country per-capita reductions generally start declining after 2020. The biggest source of abatement in the 450 Scenario in all countries is in the electrical power sector.

Energy for all

Concerns about the interactions between energy supplies and human welfare are not just confined to climate change. Chapter 13 of WEO is devoted to the problem of providing energy to the poorest people on the planet, the 1.3 billion without access to electricity, as well as to the 2.7 billion people, nearly 40% of humanity, who do not have clean cooking facilities in their homes. Electricity brings light, communications and refrigeration, benefits that those of us in prosperous counties have taken for granted for many decades. But perhaps the biggest environmental welfare issue of all is the use of biomass (wood, charcoal and dung) as cooking and heating fuels.

A recent article in Science Magazine estimates that primitive household fires contribute to nearly two million deaths annually from indoor air pollution, making this a worse health problem than malaria. The IEA report estimates that by 2030, biomass smoke will result in more premature deaths than HIV/AIDS. This is a problem that can be dealt with the deployment of simple and cheap technology—efficient stoves—albeit on a massive scale. As this article by Stephen Leahy shows, not only would resolving this problem lead to fewer deaths from respiratory illnesses, but it would result in a big reduction in black carbon pollution and help reduce climate change.

If not now, when?

Even though they are expressed as round-number integers, climate and emission targets can't really be defined with any precision: a little more than 450 ppm might be safe; a little more than two degrees of warming might not lead to climate disaster; we might still have a decade rather than the IEA's five years to dither around. On the other hand, perhaps 350 ppm, a limit that we have now passed, should have been our target; carbon cycle feedbacks may have started to kick in already (e.g., the  Amazon, Arctic). Perhaps we had five years to act twenty years ago.

What we do know is that we are near or past the limits. We also know that deploying the policies and the technologies that we need will take time to bear fruit. And that the bad infrastructure choices we make today will be with us for many years.

Figure 5: Typical lifetime of energy-related stock.

The headline conclusion of the WEO11 report is that, while the 450 target is still achievable, our chances of success are decreasing with every year of delay, and that, by 2017, the target could be out of reach.  Countries have been ready to announce targets but less ready to agree to binding commitments and, faced with the recent economic turmoil, have tended to push climate-related issues down their priority lists. Policy  procrastination has consequences:

  • Every year of delay in implementing policy leads to delays in deployment of low-emissions technology.
  • Every coal-fired power station and bitumen mine that gets opened will be with us for forty years or more. Refitting these projects for CCS will be expensive and sub-optimal.
  • Energy-inefficient buildings may be around for a century.
  • Every delay makes the goal of ensuring a stable climate less likely to be achieved and will make future mitigation and adaptation efforts more expensive.

Our limits are uncertain. Our models and best-laid plans won't survive unscathed from their first contact with reality. But, as the WEO11 report makes clear, we do know exactly when to act: now.

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 75:

  1. Andy S:

    Kudos on an excellent and timely post. The findings of the IEA study are getting world-wide attention in the business sector. Perhaps this exposure will cause business leaders throughout the world to stand up and pay attention to what the scientific community is telling us about climate change.
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  2. We must reduce our energy consumption, rise the price of fossil fuel, accept biofuels and nuclear… on one hand, these choices limit climate risks, and everybody agrees with that, but on the other hand, are they totally risk-free ? Energy is the very base of modern world, it is positively correlated to health, wealth, education, longevity, etc. so it’s hard for me to imagine a scenario which can change in one generation this secular energy basis and guarantee there is zero probability of adverse effects, for 7 billions humans today and 8 billions in 2030 (not just the rich club of OECD). Because we do have examples of such adverse effects in reality, not models : Fukushima 2011 for nuclear, 2007-2008 food crisis partly caused by biofuels, economic recession partly associated with rising prices of oil and commodities, etc.

    As a French citizen, I’m personally ‘habituated’ to a nuclear-based electricity, a highly taxed gazoline, a state control, etc. so a little more or less would not be a revolution (as it may be, say, for a Texan conservative owning 2 pick-up and 3 SUV). But I think a too manichean discourse (either climate hell or carbon-free paradise) will be hardly convincing. Such reforms need long-term populations agreement and support, not just expert consensus. We know the benefices (climate stabilization) but what are the costs and hazards?
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  3. Skept,
    There is no guarantee that that if we limit carbon we will all live in paradise. It may be the case that we are too late already. The evidence indicates that more carbon dioxide is bad. If we limit CO2 pollution we will be better off than if we emit more CO2. There remains the possibility of problems, both ones we know about and ones we have not anticipated. If we do nothing the carbon will run out anyway (WUWT had an article yesterday suggesting carbon emissions would peak in 2030) and then we will have no carbon and a ruined ecosystem. Wouldn't it be better to try to preserve soemmthing?

    If you are in the bottom of a hole the first step to getting out again is to stop digging.
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  4. I think it was Lonnie Thompson who said climate change impacts will be split between mitigation, adaption, and suffering. The longer we wait to mitigate, the more we'll have to adapt and suffer. That's the main message from this report.
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  5. skept.fr @2, discovery of new conventional oil reserves are starting to fall behind production. What is more, world reserves of Oil and Gas constitute significantly less than a century's supply at current consumption rates. That means we are going to see an energy transition over the next 30 years regardless. Any risk involved in that transition will be there, whether we convert from conventional fossil fuels to unconventional fossil fuels such as the Athabasca tar sands, or opt instead for clean energy.

    I will note, on the side, that the adverse effects of coal on health are so large that even a Fukushima accident every 5 years (which is very unlikely) would still not match the harm done by coal.
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  6. Skept@2:
    Energy is the very base of modern world, it is positively correlated to health, wealth, education, longevity, etc.
    Is that necessarily the case? This was a predicate of mid-20thC US economics, but I don't think that it is consistent with recent data. See for example this report.
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  7. Skept.fr @2: Such reforms need long-term populations agreement and support, not just expert consensus.

    I fully agree, which is the reason that I lamented the fact (in the first paragraph, above) that this report is not freely available. And, as you say, the costs and risks of changing our energy infrastructure do need to be better defined.

    However much we find things to criticize the IEA for, I think we should be grateful that the organization is directing a lot of its resources to helping resolve the climate crisis. The original mandate for the IEA was to coordinate a response to the oil supply crisis in the 1970's. Given that start, it could easily have evolved into an organization devoted to maintaining the energy status quo, rather than, as it now does, proposing constructive pathways to a sustainable future.
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  8. skept.fr "Energy is the very base of modern world, it is positively correlated to health, wealth, education, longevity..."

    Education??
    You also distort the use of the word modern. Modern does not equate to anything you have stated. All 'modern' means is that it refers to today as opposed to the past. Hence by definition a modern world can be anything that people want. So 'the very base' of a modern world could for all intents and purposes anything. What you have done is imposed what you think it should be and assume there is no negotiation.
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  9. The IEA factsheets and key graphs links in the article point to the 2010 Outlook.

    2011 Factsheets here http://www.worldenergyoutlook.org/docs/weo2011/factsheets.pdf

    and key graphs http://www.worldenergyoutlook.org/docs/weo2011/key_graphs.pdf

    Cheers
    Jeff
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    Moderator Response: [AS]Thanks! I corrected the links.
  10. Skept.fr, I would like to see the following statements of yours substantiated:

    "2007-2008 food crisis partly caused by biofuels"
    "economic recession partly associated with rising prices of oil and commodities"

    If this latter one refers to the recent economic recession, it was brought almost exclusively by poorly regulated banking practices and deeply flawed economic models used in the financial industry.

    I note that nobody (absolutely nobody) in the so-called skeptic camp had voiced doubts on the validity of these models before they crashed the world economy and skeptics are also eerily silent about them since, despite their proven track record of failure. And this is really a failure that cost trillions, verifiable, obvious for all to see, unlike the fictitious or hypothetical ones that skeptics always cry about when "debating" climate mitigating economic policies.
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  11. Concerning energy correlate, this document for example :
    http://www.undp.org/energy/docs/WEAOU_part_II.pdf
    As you can see in Figure 3 , p. 27, per capita energy consumption is linked to Human Development Index (which includes literacy and education). For more precise estimations, you can also read Vaclav Smill ‘Energy in Nature and Society’(MIT Press 2008, pp346-347 and references), or use Gapminder (wealth and health of nations in comparison of CO2 emission). Of course, people’s life in poorest countries can be improved by many ways including political and juridical reform without energy cost. Also, a 60-110 GJ/hab/y seems to be a very sufficient for numerous needs, and the extreme consumption of richest countries (especially USA !) is by no way a model. If energy is useful for human development and welfare, it doesn’t mean necessarily carbon-based energy.

    But the problem is far from simple : for example, Iceland gets 80% of its primary energy from renewable (geothermia and hydro), but nevertheless, its per capita emission of CO2 are greater than France or Germany. Even with very low-cost and abundant renewable (rare conditions that Iceland meets), it’s difficult to avoid oil use (and in this case coal for alu plants). And more broadly, I’m also attached to many humanitarian concern other than climate, because when people die or suffer or starve, you have no moral foundation for sacrifying them to future generations. I cannot blame South Africa for using coal as we did one century ago, but of course I would prefer CCS coal-plants if the technology is available.

    I strongly agree that we need an energy transition for this century (for different reasons including climate, but also fossil depletion, sustainable development, etc.) as well as a true evaluation / compensation of social and environmental cost of carbon. So AIE report is welcome. My concern is more the realistic pace of the transition and the sincerity / clarity of its discussion in public debate. The denial of climate change risks or coal/oil/gas externalities shouldn’t be answered by a denial of energy change risks or insufficient energy externalities.

    PS : For ‘modern world’, sorry, it must be a gallicism.
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  12. "Such reforms need long-term populations agreement and support, not just expert consensus."

    And there we have the nub of issue. We have a large enough segment of the population who would rather believe in fairies than confront an uncomfortable reality, and are blocking effective action. Sadly, there is no way to ensure that the negative effects of inaction fall only on the stupid and their children.
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  13. skept.fr, that is an interesting fig. 3 in your reference and is worth examining further. It suggests that per capita energy use can be cut significantly here in the USA without lowering the HDI. Also does more energy use per capita lead to more education, or does more education lead to more energy use?
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  14. 13, Eric (skeptic),
    ...does more energy use per capita lead to more education, or does more education lead to more energy use?
    Or do they feed off of each other, leading to a death spiral, a runaway energy-education effect, if you will...

    :)
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  15. Philippe : For biofuel and food crisis, see for example the p.11 of this document from World Bank, for the impact (less than announced in 2008 by WB, but real, debate among specialist) and expose the concern for future (in AIE 450 scenario, we must double the production of biofuel).
    http://www-wds.worldbank.org/external/default/WDSContentServer/IW3P/IB/2010/07/21/000158349_20100721110120/Rendered/PDF/WPS5371.pdf

    For oil price and recession, this document shows the sensitivity of national economies to oil volatility 1970-2010. Surprisingly, most countries GDP are not affected (either they export or they have tax-regulating system like France)… but it is not the case for USA. So I suppose the third shock of 2005-2008 (fivefold increase up to 145$ !) had a role in the economic recession.
    http://voxeu.org/index.php?q=node/6905

    Of course, I’m skeptic of economic models (much more than of climate models !). Shadow banking, financialisation, ideology-based deregulation, runaway private and public debts play the central role for the crisis of 2007-2008 and 2011. But it’s hard to imagine that intensive and importer economies are insensitive to energy and commodity price trends in the last decade. I think that our poor economic models (as you say) also tend to underestimate the physical (energetic and material) basis of wealth, so the limits of this planet. Thereafter, two analysis of these trends and the 'new paradigm' (second link).
    http://www.steeldistributors.org/portals/0/NewsAndViews/Q32011/credit-suisse.pdf
    http://www.scribd.com/doc/53865070

    Eric : yes, beyond approx. 110GJ/hab/y (mean), you do not observe any correlation between energy and HDI (or specific data like infant mortality, woman mortality, food availibility, etc.). As far I as know, USA overconsumption do not translate in overperformance in these indicators of the quality of life. But for the majority of countries under 50GJ/hab/y, the problem is clearly inverse. And as climate is a global challenge, so is energy.
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  16. Eric (skeptic) @13, figure 3 is certainly worth attention, as is this similar figure (which I have presented because it indicates energy use in familiar units rather than in kg oe, ie, kilograms of oil equivalent):



    The simplest interpretation of this graph is that per capita energy use is a limiting factor of HDI. That is, you need a certain amount of energy use per capita to achieve a given level of HDI, but using that amount of energy in no way guarantees achieving the HDI gain. Further, and very clearly, HDI gains for increased energy use above 4,000 kWhours are very limited for very large gains in energy. I suspect that there is still some gain, however. Further, changes in technology will no doubt shift the point beyond which gains are minimal with increased energy use.

    As to your question, I think it is the wrong question. If energy use sets a limit on HDI, that limit exists regardless of education standards in a country. Education, however, is probably a significant player in how closely a nation approaches the limit of a restricted HDI index based on life expectancy and GDP alone. (Educational standards represent 1/3rd of the potential scoring of HDI, so it is trivial, and uninteresting that education and HDI are correlated.)
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  17. I'm not sure I see how any of those links support your argument.

    The first link's introduction goes like this:
    "The paper also argues that the effect of
    biofuels on food prices has not been as large as originally
    thought, but that the use of commodities by financial
    investors (the so-called ”financialization of commodities”)
    may have been partly responsible for the 2007/2008 spike."

    That amounts to saying that speculation by financial operators on commodity markets is a far worse influence than the push for biofuels. Nothing new there. I haven't read the whole thing, but it looks interesting and certainly not very supportive of your original assertion.

    The 2nd link expands at length on how oil prices have a far less severe effect on economies than generally thought, even oil importing economies:

    From the concluding paragraphs:
    "Our recent research indicates that oil prices tend to be surprisingly closely associated with good times for the global economy. Indeed, we find that the US has been somewhat of an outlier in the way that it has been negatively affected by oil price increases. Across the world, oil price shock episodes have generally not been associated with a contemporaneous decline in output but, rather, with increases in both imports and exports. There is evidence of lagged negative effects on output, particularly for OECD economies, but the magnitude has typically been small."

    Once again, quite interesting and not very supportive of your argument.

    One can easily infer from these 2 links that the world economy can quite safely absorb both more development of biofuels (as long as the financial industry's crooks are kept away from these markets) and higher oil prices.
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  18. skept.fr @15, it is a mistake to attribute high food costs to just one use of agricultural production as you are doing. If the only market for agricultural production was biofuels given 2008 production levels of each, prices would have plummeted. It is the total consumption that drives the price up, not just one item.

    In that context, the largest single discretionary item of agricultural consumption is no biofuels, but grain feed for animal stock. Some of that is necessary for animal production (chickens), but much is not (beef). If there is genuine concern about food shortages due to current consumption patterns of agricultural products, the single biggest problem is, therefore, not biofuels, but high meat consumption, and in particular high grain fed meat consumption in western societies - particularly the USA and Australia.

    Picking on biofuels as the problem is therefore, cheap and dishonest politics at best. (I make no imputation that you are the one being dishonest.)
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  19. Revisiting the 1st link, cited about the influence of biofuels, I find this in the conclusion section:

    "We conjecture that index fund activity (one type of “speculative” activity among the many that the
    literature refers to) played a key role during the 2008 price spike. Biofuels played some role too, but much less than initially thought. And we find no evidence that
    alleged stronger demand by emerging economies had any effect on world prices."

    All quite speculative, but nonetheless interesting.
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  20. The US state I live in posted $1.8 billion in lost agriculture yields due to drought; the US drought hit us lightly in comparison to Texas and Oklahoma. The surface area of the world affected by extreme heat (and I presume heat and drought often go together) is growing, and growing rapidly over the last decade.

    I wonder how much alternative energy we could have put into production for $1.8 billion.

    I suspect that economic losses in yields (and damages) will quickly overtake economic losses in pursuing more expensive energy; never mind that it is easier to live with using less energy than eating less food.

    Oh, I searched on Texas; it looks like losses there were about $5.2 billion this year.

    How much did France loose in 2003?
    How much did Australia loose in 2009?

    (Yes, I'm hinting that the costs of these events are not just economic and not just related to agriculture.)

    These are not individual events; they are part of a growing trend. Sure, we had heat waves and droughts before, but now they are many times more common.

    I wonder if you could correlate the losses under Dr. Hansen's 3-sigma warming events, and show an increasing economic loss over time. Might be an effective counter to any argument that mitigation will cost too much. Too much compared to what? Should we wait until 3-sigma anomalies cover 15-20% of the land mass, and then start making a transition which will take decades?
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  21. Philippe, Tom : my first point was that biofuel « partly » (not solely) caused the food crisis 2007-2008. And most importantly that there are risk associated with our energy choices, whose probabibilty should be assesed in the same way we estimate climate risk.

    There are some risks, costs and debates among expert, as you can read on page 11 of the report of World Bank :

    "The contribution of biofuels to the recent price boom, and especially the price spike of 2007/08, has been hotly debated. Mitchell (2009) argued that bio‐ fuel production from grains and oilseeds in the US and the EU was the most im‐ portant factor behind the food price increase between 2002 and 2008, accounting, perhaps, for as much as two thirds of the price increase. Gilbert (2010), on the other hand, found little direct evidence that demand for grains and oilseeds as biofuel feedstocks was a cause of the price spike.

    FAO (2008) compared a baseline scenario, which assumes that biofuel production will double by 2018, to an assumption that biofuel production will remain at its 2007 levels; it concluded that in the latter case grain prices would be 12 percent lower, wheat prices 7 percent lower, and vegetable oil prices 15 per‐ cent lower than in the baseline scenario. OECD (2008) arrived at similar conclu‐ sions for vegetable oils, finding that their prices would be 16 percent lower than the baseline if biofuel support policies were abolished; eliminating biofuel subsi‐ dies would have smaller impacts on the prices of coarse grains (‐7 percent) and wheat (‐5 percent). Rosegrant (2008), who simulated market developments between 2000 and 2007 (excluding the surge in biofuel production), concluded that biofuel growth accounted for 30 percent of the food price increases seen in that period, with the contribution varying from 39 percent for maize to 21 percent for rice. Looking ahead, Rosegrant found that if biofuel production were to remain at its 2007 levels, rather than reaching its mandated level, maize prices would be lower by 14 percent in 2015 and by 6 percent in 2020.10 »

    Banse and others (2008) compared the impact of the EU’s current mandate to (i) a no‐mandate scenario and (ii) a mandate whereby the US, Japan, Brazil al‐ so adopt targets for biofuel consumption. They estimate that by 2020, in the base‐ line scenario (no mandate), cereal and oilseed prices will have decreased by 12 and 7 percent, respectively. In the EU‐only scenario, the comparable changes are ‐7 percent for cereal and +2 percent for oilseeds. By contrast, under the “global” scenario (adding biofuel targets in US, Japan, and Brazil) oilseed prices will have risen by 19 percent and cereal prices by about 5 percent. The European Commis‐ sion’s own assessment of the long‐term (2020) impacts of the 10 percent target for biofuels (i.e. that renewable energy for transport, including biofuels, will supply 10 percent of all EU fuel consumption by 2020) predicts fairly minor impacts from ethanol production, which would raise cereals prices 3‐6 percent by 2020, but larger impacts from biodiesel production on oilseed prices; the greatest pro‐ jected impact is on sunflower (+15 percent), whose global production potential is quite limited. Taheripour and others (2008) simulate the biofuel economy during 2001‐06. By isolating the economic impact of biofuel drivers (such as the crude oil price and the US and EU biofuel subsidies) from other factors at a global scale, they estimate the impact of these factors on coarse grain prices in the US, EU, and Brazil at 14 percent, 16 percent, and 9.6 percent, respectively."

    Side-effect on price is not the sole problem for biofuel of firt ou second generation, there are also debate among specialists concerning the true carbon budget (clearing of tropical rainforest for palm oil or sugar cane, more emission than agricultural crops for their production, poor energy intensity for methanol maïze in Northern Hemipshere, etc.).

    As you know, there is still 1 billon of humans suffering from hunger, and there will be another 1 billion humans to feed between now and 2035 (end of AIE scenario). So the question is : can we ensure the doubling of biofuel production in AIE scenario is the good choice ? Of course, you can grow biofuel and try to limit beef consumption... Everything is possible, but the more complicated your energy reform, the less probable its success.
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  22. Chris : concerning your point, I agree and that is part of the carbon cost. But on details, when you suffer a heatwave, you cannot attribute all the losses to CO2 : you must evaluate the usual cost of heatwave without anthropogenic change (something like baseline cost under natural variability), then attribute the overcost to the GHG-related overheat. For your information, French heatwave of 2003 had not generated much cost to agriculture, because of its timing (august). To the contrary, spring drought of 2011 has been very costly (but I didn't find a global estimate).
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  23. As it is related to this topic, and for the benefit of those who haven't seen the series, the indefatigable Albert Bartlett crunches some numbers on the resource side of things.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-QA2rkpBSY

    It'd be nice to see it updated and polished, but Bartlett's style is compelling in a Sumner-Miller fashion.

    Sadly, given some of the clueless comments on those pages, it seems to be a law of human nature on the internet that no matter how carefully facts are arranged for the ignorant, ignorance trumps enlightenment in the population in direct proportion to the prgamatic urgency and the moral challenge of the matter.

    Cue The Debunking Handbook Part 1: The first myth about debunking...
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  24. I understand what your point was skept; however, it should have been worded rather as "may have participated in" since, as you pointed yourself, some research failed to find any evidence tha it actually did.

    As is stands now, there is no single greater threat to the World economy than speculation and the behaviors of the major actors in the economy. As a risk, speculation dwarfs the effect of any possible climate mitigation policy by orders of magnitude.

    It is bad behavior, wishful thinking and speculation that brought the current crisis, costing literally trillions. I'm sure you'll then understand that I'm unimpressed by a problem that has not been showed to be significant, let alone exist at all. I would take the economic concerns of skeptics more seriously if they were ever ready to address, or even acknowledge the real economic problems, the kind that can demonstrably cause a crisis like the current one.
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  25. I will add that I am no advocate for biofuels, which do not make sense in their current schemes of production, from a carbon budget point of view. Large agri-businesses are the main actors pushing these fuels. they are carbon inensive in their production that they do not present any significant advantage.
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  26. But the effect of CO2 as a Greenhouse gas becomes ever more marginal with concentration

    This article is predicated on the suggestion that a temperature rise of +2 degC must not be exceeded

    Remarkably, IPCC Published reports themselves show that the effective temperature increase caused by growing concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere radically diminishes with increasing concentrations. The effectiveness of CO2 as a greenhouse gas is well understood in the climate science community to reduce logarithmically as concentrations increase.

    Although the IPCC accepts that this crucial effect exists, it certainly does not emphasise it.

    The IPCC does not explain the devastating consequences of this fact in their Summary for Policy Makers, and it thus fails to provide conclusive support for its claim. When it states

    "Warming of the climate system is unequivocal. Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations."

    Thus any unquestioning, policy making reader is unequivocally lead to assume that all increasing CO2 concentrations are progressively more harmful because of their escalating Greenhouse impact.

    This is not so.

    From the present position of a atmospheric CO2 concentration of ~390 ppmv, there is only ~12% of the effectiveness of CO2 as a Greenhouse Gas remaining even as emissions increase.

    These guys miss the crucial point that only 12% of the effectiveness of CO2 as a GHG remains however much the concentration of CO2 increases

    So however much CO2 is emitted its never going to have that 2degC effect

    And nobody seems to see this (-snip-) flaw in the alarmist argument


    see http://diggingintheclay.wordpress.com/2011/09/21/quantifying-co2-mitigation/

    read the summary at the end
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    Moderator Response:

    (Rob P) All Caps edited.

    [DB] "But the effect of CO2 as a Greenhouse gas becomes ever more marginal with concentration"

    Incorrect.  Please support this assertion with a link to a reputable source.

    "The effectiveness of CO2 as a greenhouse gas is well understood in the climate science community to reduce logarithmically as concentrations increase."

    Incorrect.  The temperature rise produced by logarithmic increases concentrations of CO2 rises is about 3° C per doubling.  Thus, there is no loss of "effectiveness".

    "Although the IPCC  accepts that this crucial effect exists, it certainly does not emphasise it."

    This "crucial" effect does indeed exist, as I have described it.  That the IPCC fails to "emphasise it" to your satisfaction is your issue.

    "The IPCC does not explain the devastating consequences of this fact in their Summary for Policy Makers, and it thus fails to provide conclusive support for its claim."

    IBID.  Inflammatory tone struck out.

    "Thus any unquestioning, policy making reader is unequivocally lead to assume that all increasing CO2 concentrations are progressively more harmful because of their escalating Greenhouse impact. 

    This is not so.   "

    Unsupported assumptions, speculations and allegations, on your part.

    "From the present position of a atmospheric CO2 concentration of ~390 ppmv, there is only ~12% of the effectiveness of CO2 as a Greenhouse Gas remaining even as emissions increase."

    Incorrect, as Dikran points out subsequent to your comment.

    "These guys miss the crucial point that  only 12% of the effectiveness of CO2 as a GHG remains however much the concentration of CO2  increases"

    Repetitively incorrect and IBID.

    "So however much CO2 is emitted its never going to have that 2degC effect"

    IBID, and spectacularly so.

    Inflammatory tone snipped.  Less ideological posturing and more emphasis on using citations to reputable sources would begin to lend you credibility.  And if you are just another sock puppet of Galloping Camel/Peter Morcombe:  you know better than to continue your modus operandi as above.

  27. Edmh The radiative forcing from CO2 rises only logarithmically with the concentration, so in a sense, yes "effect of CO2 as a Greenhouse gas becomes ever more marginal with concentration". However the point that you are missing is that CO2 concentrations are rising approximately exponentially, which means that CO2 radiative forcing (the effect on the climate) is rising linearly.

    "From the present position of a atmospheric CO2 concentration of ~390 ppmv, there is only ~12% of the effectiveness of CO2 as a Greenhouse Gas remaining even as emissions increase."

    This is simply incorrect, logarithmic relationships have no upper limit.
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  28. Edmh @26, first, your "summary" contains multiple denier myths, including the canard that CO2 only contributes 5% of the greenhouse effect. You add a few straight out falsehoods of your own, including a claim that CDIAC disagrees with the IPCC about the temperature effect of increased CO2 concentrations. Indeed, your table of temperature effects is best described as a complete fiction.

    More troubling is your claim in your spreadsheet that an increase in atmospheric CO2 from 900 to 1000 ppmv would have no effect on temperatures. In fact, given the best estimate of climate sensitivity, it would increase Global Mean Surface Temperature by over 0.4 degrees C. In fact, given reasonable estimates of fossil fuel reserves, we can increase atmospheric CO2 concentrations to levels well beyond 5000 ppmv, with consequent forcings significantly greater than any experienced from the combined effects of solar and CO2 concentration changes since the evolution of the first vertebrate, the common ancestor of all fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds or mammals.

    Further discussion of this topic can be found where is it on topic, ie, the rebuttal of the denier myth that The CO2 effect is saturated.
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  29. Edmh's assertion of 12% is off by a factor of 10. The real increase is 120%, not 12%.

    Just to clarify things for readers who may fall for the pseudo-logic of non-mathematical declarations that do not include actual math, Edmh's false and unsupported assertions amount to (I assume, since his rambling, emotional assault was so thin on details):
    • CO2 effects are logarithmic.
    • The difference in forcing from the current level of 390 ppm to a doubling of the preindustrial value of 285 ppm to 570 ppm will only represent a 12% increase in forcing over the current level.

    Let's look at that.

    A doubling of CO2 from 285 ppm will increase temperatures by 3 degrees. This can be written as:
    ∆T = 3•log2 (ppm-CO2/285)
    Forcing at 285 ppm is presumed to be our base, that is
    3•log2(285/285) = 3•log21 = 0˚C
    Put into words, a zero increase over the base level of 285 ppm has no effect on mean global temperature.

    Forcing at 570 ppm (double the original) is a factor of 1, that is
    3•log2(570/285)= 3•log22 = 3˚C
    Put into words, a doubling of CO2 to 570 ppm increases temperatures by 3˚C.

    Forcing at 390 ppm (where we were a few years ago, we're now at 395 ppm) is 1.36˚C, that is
    3•log2(390/285) = 3•log21.37 = 3 • 0.454 = 1.36˚C
    Put into words, if we stopped right now the global mean temperature would rise, with time, to a point 1.36˚C above the general global mean for the past 5,000 years (but with all of the same natural variation seen in the last 2,000 years of about ±0.3˚C).

    The difference between a doubling, 3˚C, and the current forcing, 1.36˚, is
    3 - 1.36 = 1.64 ˚C.
    So if we succeed in stopping at a doubling of CO2 (which deniers like Edmh strive to prevent us from doing by arguing against any action at any time) then that added CO2 will increase temperatures 1.64˚C beyond the 1.36˚C to which we have already committed ourselves, or as a percent
    100 • 1.64 / 1.36 = 120.5%
    120.5%. Not 12%.

    Off by an order of magnitude -- a factor of 10.

    And, of course, what we really care about is temperatures, not percents. We are rolling the dice and gambling with civilization and hundreds of millions if not billions of lives even if we stop at 2˚C. Policy analysts hope that 2˚C won't be so bad that hundreds of millions die or become refugees, and the resulting burden on the economy and food production doesn't overwhelm us all.

    And this assumes that climate sensitivity really is only 3˚C per doubling. Current estimates are in the range of 2˚C (increasingly unlikely) to 4.5˚C. So that equation could be 3.5•log2CO2 or 3.8•log2CO2 or 4.5•log2CO2 or worse yet even 5•log2CO2.

    We are at 1.36˚C. If we want to stop at 2˚C, we need
    3•log2(X/285)=2.0

    log(x/285) = 2.0 / 3

    x/285 = 22.0 / 3

    x = 285 • 22.0 / 3 = 285 • 1.59 = 452 ppm
    450 ppm is a number you may have seen recently. Like in this post (up above, The 450 Scenario).

    And, of course, even a 120.5% increase in forcing presumes that we are able to stop cold at 570 ppm.
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  30. "A picture is worth than a thousand words" (Grandma et al.)
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  31. Or "is worth a thousand words". But Grandma was french.
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  32. Philippe : I agree, my first words were imprecise. Also, I understand and share your concern, but a larger debate on market-equilibrium models failure, short-termism in economy policy and illusion of infinite exponential growth in a finite planet (Bartlett from Bernard) would probably be off-topic here. (Note that IEA as well as IPCC SRES share a basic assumption of sustained economic growth for coming decades… non compatible for example with a fast fossil depletion.) Furthermore, I also quoted the correlates of energy so as to remind a fundamental fact : whatever your economic system is (capitalist, socialist, feudal, etc.), it’s very unlikely that a low production and consumption of energy will meet the common criteria of human welfare. Bolivia, Yemen or Haiti have an ideal energy consumption per capita for climate stabilization, but few people in developped or emerging countries would consider their HDI as their new ideal. There would be no debate if we can simply give up fossil fuels without any sacrifice, or if climate stabilization was the unique problem of humanity. Look at the Millenium Development Goals of United Nations : most of them are not energy-free in their achievement and no climate objective is sustainable that would worsen on short-term the vulnerability to non-climatic hazards or threats.

    IEA (and Andy) message is clear : we’re committed to act for climate stabilization, and to act now. So, part of the debate should now deal with the efficiency and security of present energy alternative to fossil fuels ‘other things beeing equal’, because if we condition our climate action to the instauration of a perfect economic and political world system, we will never act ! And similarly, if we choose the worst solutions revealing their negative side-effects for other human needs or concerns, a long-term policy will be very difficult to maintain. On biofuel in their current generation, I think there are all sort of reasons to consider they may be a local and partial solution (eg Brazilian way if enviromentally constrained), but to doubt and even to fear their global extension to the detriment of agricultural use. Most studies do find an influence on crops price, so we cannot just pick those which don't so as to conclude there is no risk at all. (Thereafter, a quite devastative assessment of biofuel by International Energy Forum, including the crop price risk)
    http://www.ief.org/PDF%20Downloads/Bio-fuels%20Report.pdf

    Edmh : hem, we're discussing IEA report, 450 scenario and choices in energy policy, not exactly your topic.
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  33. skept.fr @32, I reiterate my point @18 which I do not feel you have addressed.

    There is no doubt, IMO, that increased production of biofuels will lead to an increased cost of grains. That is a simple consequence of increased demand in the face of constrained supply. However, logically you cannot split apart the many sources of demand and say one is responsible for the higher prices while others are not.

    Given that, if you wish to restrict demand for one use of a good to keep prices down, the decision to do so represents a decision that the restricted use is less valuable than all the other uses of the good. In other words, restricting biofuels because of their price impacts on food, while not restricting grain use as animal fodder represents a decision that grain fed animal meat is more valuable than cheap grain for the third world, which in turn is more valuable than access to biofuels. What is more, this is a valuation that stands outside the market and imposes itself on it.

    While the meta-valuation that biofuel is less valuable than cheap grain for third world food production is one I agree with, the meta-valuation that grain fed beef is more valuable than either cheap grain for the third world, or biofuels is not. Please note that these meta-valuations are ethical, not economic valuations, which can be derived from the market itself.

    Therefore, allowing that increased production of biofuels increases overall demand for grains, and hence prices, it does not follow that the appropriate policy is to reduce production of biofuels. Rather, if you are going to interfere with market valuations at all, then you are faced with a range of possible policy responses including (but not restricted to):

    1) Restricting production of biofuels;

    2) Imposing a tax on purchases of grain for animal fodder (thereby decreasing effective demand for animal fodder);

    3) Subsidizing purchases of grain for human consumption in the third world, thereby increasing the effective demand for human consumption of grain); or

    4) Encouraging production of biofuels from plant material other than grains, especially plant material that can be grown on marginal land for grain production.

    Of course, various of these can be tried in combination. A tax on animal fodder could be used to fund subsidies on human consumption of grains in the third world.

    Regardless of the policy chosen, it represents an implicit moral choice. As it is fairly straightforward (to me) that western demand for more marbled meat is of significantly less importance, ethically, than future generations demand for the existence of major eco-systems such as the Amazon, and the Great Barrier Reef (both significantly under threat even with a 2 degree C increase in global temperatures) any response to an increase in demand for grains due to the production of biofuels that restricts itself to restricting biofuels represents a very selfish choice of minimal current convenience (for a select proportion of the world's population) over fundamental needs of the majority of the world's current population and future generations.

    Until you adress this issue, I have little interest in what (to me) appears like a very shallow analysis of the issue.
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  34. Tom : I’ve partly adressed your point (at least in my mind), when I wrote :

    « Of course, you can grow biofuel and try to limit beef consumption... Everything is possible, but the more complicated your energy reform, the less probable its success. » (#21)

    « we’re committed to act for climate stabilization, and to act now. So, part of the debate should now deal with the efficiency and security of present energy alternative to fossil fuels ‘other things beeing equal’, because if we condition our climate action to the instauration of a perfect economic and political world system, we will never act ! » (#32)

    So, the first point is pragmatic versus ethical approach. You can choose to reason ‘as if’ governments, populations or markets were readily accepting all kinds of reforms, not only in energy system, but also in agriculture, nutrition, habits, whatever you want. But they are not, and that’s reality we must deal with : 15 years of climate rounds has shown it is very difficult to gain a consensus and to decide reforms.

    Now, from an ethical point of view, I don’t know all the consequences of our choices and that’s my problem. As a consequentialist, I think we must be informed of the consequences of our acts so as to choose the better ones (of course, the ‘better’ in question depends on more basic judgements about what is good or bad, but anyway consequentialism as a procedural ethic needs first the correct information). So my question is simple : you’ve climate models that assess as precisely as it is possible the reasons for concern and key vulnerabilities to climate change, and try to attribute probability to each risk, damage, hazard, etc. ; where are the energy-economy models’ results that assess exactly in the same way the reasons for concern, key vulnerabilities, risks, hazards, etc. to economy-energy change ? All that I see is raw estimate of costs and, even for that, a lot of debate about them (eg Stern versus Nordhaus). In the WG3 reports, I’ve no more relevant information : we’re said « there are advantages and disadvantages for any given instrument », but with no clear and quantitative assessment about what they are, and what they could eventually become in a given policy, no more than we have a synergistic view.

    Your personal reflexion about policy option for biofuel, animal fodder and climate change are of great interest, but they don’t give any useful information to found my ethical choices. Because there are unbalanced : on one side, you give precise outcomes (climatic) ; on the other side, generalities.

    So until you adress this issue, and give a probabilistic evaluation of potential effects of different energy scenarios on global and regional wealth, health, development, etc., I'v little interest in what (to me) seems a double standard : great attention for some risks, slight interest for others.
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  35. Where did Edmh go?

    Why do deniers so frequently drop in, launch into an emotional tirade based on a blatant falsehood, and then vanish without a trace when the facts are presented clearly and unambiguously?
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    Moderator Response: [John Hartz] Because most deniers subscribe to the "I've made up my mind, don't confuse me with the facts!" school of thinking. The behavior that you describe is what I call "littering."
  36. skept.fr @34:

    1) Your responses quoted from your 21 and your 32 disavow consideration of ethical issues beyond a concern about climate in our response to climate change. However, that disavowal flies in the face of your raising concerns about impacts of biofuel production on food prices. If we are to be pragmatic, well then we can let the market sort it out, and if that results in increased food prices - well we have disavowed any ethical interest that might be troubled by that.

    Apparently, your disavowal of anything beyond pragmatic considerations has a strategic element to it. You eschew mere pragmatism long enough to present concern about rising food prices; but if an ethical response is proposed for an ethical issue, instantly we must retreat back to pure pragmatics again.

    2) Although your quoted "responses" are very revealing, they are in fact not responses to my stated criticism. My criticism was that attributing food price increases to biofuels is necessarily a political (or ethical), not an economic criticism. That follows because it is the sum of effective demand that determines price, not some subset of it. Consequently picking out some subset of the demand to focus on is not economic analysis - or if intended to be economic analysis, is necessarily faulty.

    You have said not a single word against that thesis, and certainly presented no counter argument. Instead you want us to leap straight to pragmatic solutions. Having critiqued a pragmatic response to climate change - the production of biofuels - because of its ethically undesirable consequences, you now pose as being concerned only with pragmatic solutions to the issue of climate change.

    3) Whether you are a consequentialist, deontologist, or pursue a virtue based ethics, you are required to act based on the information available to you. Lack of knowledge is to be corrected if it can be, but is not an excuse for not acting. Hypothetically, therefore, it might well be that you only have certainty of risk on one side, and almost complete uncertainty on the other. That does not then become a reason for not deciding what to do, but merely a condition under which you decide what to do.

    4) The uncertainty about future energy capability is nowhere near as uncertain as you make it out. Even if we needed to provide for per capita energy equal to that of US citizens for the whole globe, there is no doubt that that amount of energy is available to be harvested from sunlight, wind or wave. Nor is there any doubt that we are now, even with no further R&D technically able to harvest that energy. The issue, beyond political will, is a purely economic question of the relative cost of electricity if we make the switch. That cost may be anything from a slight reduction in costs, to a significant increase - but that significant increase will have a small economic impact overall, because energy is a small component in the total cost of our goods.

    So the choice you are facing is moderate uncertainty about a very large risk - the cost of unmitigated global warming could be anything from a loss of sereveral percentage points of GDP per anum for the next few centuries, to the almost complete breakdown of international trade in a world with sufficient ecosystem collapse to quarter our food production capabilities (at least)- and significant uncertainty about a very small risk - ie, slight increased GDP growth going forward to the loss of several percentage points of GDP per anum for the next few decades.

    A consequentialist having difficulty with that decision isn't pursuing the consequence of the greatest good for the greatest number (and hence is no utilitarian).
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  37. Tom Curtis - Perhaps a bit off topic, but I find it a delight to read the words of someone who has put serious study into philosophy. Thank you, a very cogent post regarding consistency of decision making.

    skept.fr - I have to agree with Tom Curtis. You are being inconsistent in your application of ethics versus pragmatics in your reasoning.
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  38. Tom

    I’m sorry but it’s truly hard for me to understand point 1 and 2. Maybe because I’m not native-english or unfamiliar with concept agility it demands. (More generally, it’s very hard to write my message, I’m not fluent in your language, and I’m desperate because debates are very interesting here).

    You say: ‘Having critiqued a pragmatic response to climate change - the production of biofuels - because of its ethically undesirable consequences, you now pose as being concerned only with pragmatic solutions to the issue of climate change’. But my initial point was rather from a more simple or pragmatic point of view, and in #2, I wrote : ‘we do have examples of such adverse effects in reality’. So basically, are there yes or not ‘adverse effects’ from biofuel uses in the observed world (and not in an hypothetized or idealized world)? Anyone who answers ‘yes’ can imagine solutions to counteract these effects, and you propose some alternative issues for the crop price problem. You must after that deal with other problems : water-use, pesticide, deforestation, etc. All that is purely pragmatic in my mind. If you have a fuel ‘solution’ that produces a low quantity of energy with a large surface use, and brings diverse problems needing other reforms, I just call it a poor solution, unlikely to be successful. But you conclude what you want.

    For point 4, I disagree with your statement : ‘The issue, beyond political will, is a purely economic question of the relative cost of electricity if we make the switch. That cost may be anything from a slight reduction in costs, to a significant increase - but that significant increase will have a small economic impact overall, because energy is a small component in the total cost of our goods’

    Energy is just a small amount of the cost of our goods because all the energy infrastructures are already installed – that is, you don’t need to create ex nihilo all the industrial chain from extraction of the ressource to production of objects for the final use passing by the distribution, transformation, etc, it’s already there. Have a look at real energy transitions in history : even if a new ressource have a better energy density, it took decades for it to gain a significant (>20%) share of the primary energy production, and that’s true for coal, oil, gas or nuclear (see Vaclav Smill, Energy transitions, Praeger 2010 for a full discussion of history, requirements and prospective of such transitions). So, for energy sources with a worse energy density, it’s strange to imagine the transition will be easier and faster. You have had 164 scenarios running for the WG3 SRREN 2011 report and trying to model the part of renewable in 2050. What was the conclusion : 'In scenarios that stabilize the atmospheric CO2 concentrations at a level of less than 440 ppm, the median RE deployment level in 2050 is 248 EJ/yr (139 in 2030)'. Unless you cherrypick optimistic models (exactly as some persons cherrypick optimistic CO2 sensitivity, but they are not serious for that reason), you have a higher probability of modest contribution of RE in the future energy mix : about 50% of the primary energy we consume now, but in 2050 there will be 9 billions humans to feed, heat, educate, etc. and we hope in better conditions than now. Most of these models depend on nuclear, biofuel, CCS coal, etc.

    So, and for the ethical debate from a consequentialist point of view, if I’m abruptly asked for example : ‘do you accept to stabilize climate at 2 K (best estimate of models for 450 ppm) if we are obliged to stabilize energy production at 450EJ/y for 9 billions humans (50GJ/hab/y)’, my answer would be negative. Because in known conditions, such a low energy rate would imply a vast loss of welfare, and a likely more important loss than a more than 2 K warming induced counterpart in a high-energy scenario (which allows adaptation). At least, I would ask the person that brings me in this moral moral dilema to list the probability of casualties in each case, not a fuzzy promise that we can live collectively very well with 50GJ each year. I'd like to be sure this option of a low energy future is realistically excluded : unfortunately, IEA model is not for free, so I cannot compare all their assumptions with what is said elsewhere in the literature.

    PS : there are a lot of things to do for climate mitigation. Fortunately, the 20-20-20 energy plan of European Union for 2020 is not centrally based on biofuel. But as you know, European Union isn't exactly sure to be alive next year, so it's energy future is a bit more complicated than an ideal production from sun, wind or wave... Sorry to be so pragmatic!
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  39. Post scriptum : I must add that I’m skeptic about how precisely our economy models deal with the inputs of energy. I’ve read a very interesting book from Robert Ayres and Benjamin Warr on this subject, The Economic Growth Engine. How Energy and Work Drive Material Prosperity (Edward Elgar 2009). They are economists and specialized in the energy-economy question. The conclusion of their model (Linex adjusted) is that a large part of economic growth for the last century is due to technological improvments of energy (more precisley exergy, useful work from energy). According to Ayres and Warr, the neoclassical models (eg Solow-style) acknowledge that long term growth is due mainly to technological innovation rather than capital or labor (75% for the first, 25% for the others). But technology is vague : these models fail to identify in what way technology precisely stimulates this growth. The economy is about transforming nature to produce goods and services, and energy efficiency gain is the first factor of growth in this process, due to technological innovations' effect on useful work. (As Bartlett observations about illusions of exponential growth, Ayres and War conclude that future long term growth is by no way guaranteed because of limits in ressources and modest pace of technology innovation in efficiency, as we approach the thermodynamical limits in many process).

    Fortunately, a large part of climate mitigation will come from gain in energy efficiency with ambitious policy. But it leaves the problem of substituting efficient energy by less efficient ones (biofuel versus oil, solar PV versus coal, etc.), and producing a sufficient total amount for all human needs, even in an HDI-approach. If Ayres and Warr are correct (that I don’t know, but I mention this kind of debate in economy-energy literature), energy change is not just a ‘static’ affair of 2 or 4 points of GDP, but a core factor of economy dymanics on long term.
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  40. skept.fr @38:

    1) Let me congratulate you on your command of English. Although you claim not be be fluent, your literary prose is indistinguishable from a native speakers, and considerably better than many native speakers who have graced this site. Further, your command of technical language shows you to be extremely well read in English as well.

    2) With regard to the purely pragmatic issues of biofuels, as a solution to stationary energy supply they are abysmally inefficient. However, they are potentially an important interim step in reducing CO2 emissions from transport (through ethanol blends), and potentially crucial to reducing CO2 emissions from rapid air travel.

    3) The current cost of energy includes capitalization of the entire energy infrastructure over an approximately 30 year time frame. That being the case, substituting low emissions energy sources for high emissions sources can be done for little more capital investment than is currently involved in maintaining present infrastructure and replacing obsolete power stations.

    This is in fact one of the major reasons why an immediate response to climate change is the best option. Assuming we need to reach zero emissions by 2050, and begin replacing existing power stations as they near obsolescence with low emission sources. over the next 38 years, nearly all power plants will be replaced in this way at an effective cost of the difference between the new low emissions power plants minus the cost of a replacement plant using a high emissions technology. That cost is not an additional cost because we would needed to have paid for it in any event. There will be some additional costs in switching to a smart grid, etc, but there are additional economic benefits from that, and it represents a small portion of the total capital cost.

    In contrast, if we wait until 2030 before taking action, we need to replace power stations as an effective cost of the cost of the new low emissions power plant minus half of the cost of an equivalent substitute high emissions plant. The reason for the higher cost is because we are replacing plants which are a long time from obsolescence, and consequently losing the capital invested in those plants.

    This fact, by the way, is reinforced by Vaclav Smill's research. If energy infrastructure transitions take decades, and we need such a change of infrastructure, then only by beginning early do we have time for such a transition. (As a side note, Smill's conclusion says little about how quickly such a transition can be made as a result of a deliberate program, rather than just leaving things to the market.)

    4) Your consequentialist arithmetic leaves something to be desired. Let's assume a transition to purely renewable energy sources is made, using the central estimate from the WG3 SRREN 2011 report. ON that basis, by 2050, world energy production will be 248 *10^18 Joules per annum, or 27.56*10^9 Joules per capita per annum for a population of 9 billion, or 7,650 kwh per capita per annum. For comparison, if you consult the chart in my 16 you will see that that is above the mode of per capita energy usage for OECD nations, coming somewhere between the usage by Japan and Australia. Given that any additional anergy above 4000 kwh per capita makes minimal difference to HDI, a conclusion that nearly double that represents a major risk to human well being is hardly justified.

    Even worse is your consequentialist dilemma. Given a choice of stabilizing climate change with a 2 degrees C (thus minimizing loss of agricultural productivity, and preventing the otherwise highly probable complete collapse of global fisheries, or allowing global energy consumption to exceed 450*10^18 Joules per annum (=13,900 kwh per capita, or significantly more than US per capita energy consumption in 2000) you would choose the collapse of food production.

    Simply discovering a connection between energy use and human well being (which undoubtedly exists) is not sufficient to justify your policy paralysis.
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  41. skept.fr @40, while I agree with Ayres and Warr that improved exergy is an essential ingredient in improved human well being, it is not the only such factor. Even more important is the improvement in agricultural productivity. Other important technological revolutions that have improved human well being include the medical revolution, the revolution in trade and commerce including (like it or loathe it) globalization, the manufacturing revolution lead by Henry Ford, the materials revolution that has given us plastics and semi-conductors, and certainly not least the ongoing communications revolution that is bringing us this debate.

    All of these are interrelated in various ways, and energy production is amongst the most important of them - probably the third or fourth most important (behind agriculture, medicine, and possibly education). What is more, the early stages of the energy and agricultural revolutions where essentially coupled. But any analysis that focuses on just one of these various areas will be seriously distorted.

    More importantly for this discussion, the importance of a factor for human well being is not the relevant consideration from a pragmatic view point. Air, for example, is fundamental to human well being, but excluding a few niche markets (medical oxygen, scuba gear, faddish cafes) is essentially cost free. The cost of supply of a product depends not only on how much it contributes to well being but also on its availability, and specifically how many resources need to be dedicated to obtaining a particular level of it. Consequently, even if energy availability was the sole determinant of human well being, the effect of transitioning from one energy source to another is fully integrated by the change in expenditure as a percentage of GDP in doing so. That is the cost in other resources for the transition, and hence the only relevant cost from a pragmatic policy perspective.
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  42. Tom,

    I agree with most of your points except the following precisions.

    ‘Simply discovering a connection between energy use and human well being (which undoubtedly exists) is not sufficient to justify your policy paralysis

    No paralysis in my mind, energy transition is necessary for diverse reasons. I mainly discuss its reasonable pace and better instruments. There are many places where wind turbine, thermal solar, concentration solar, geothermia are of interest. Nuclear is of course a mature technology. Same is true for more drastic norms on energy efficiency in transport, building, and so on. Furthermore, a carbon tax (or any attribution of a cost to carbon) is basically needed... for pragmatic and ethical reason (polluter pays principle)! All that is of interest now, not in a vague future.

    ‘Your consequentialist arithmetic leaves something to be desired. Let's assume a transition to purely renewable energy sources is made, using the central estimate from the WG3 SRREN 2011 report. ON that basis, by 2050, world energy production will be 248 *10^18 Joules per annum, or 27.56*10^9 Joules per capita per annum for a population of 9 billion, or 7,650 kwh per capita per annum. For comparison, if you consult the chart in my 16 you will see that that is above the mode of per capita energy usage for OECD nations, coming somewhere between the usage by Japan and Australia.’

    Your arithmetic is correct… but your figure in #16 in uncorrect. If you prefer kWh to joules, mean kWh/capita consumption in the World was 21,871 in 2008. Your number of 7,650 kWh/hab/y is in the order of magnitude of Africa consumption (7,094 kWh/hab/y) but very far from EU (40,240) and of course USA (89,021).
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_energy_consumption

    The source of your #16 figure is a Stephen Benka 2002 paper, adapted from Pasternak 2000 (links therafter). It deals with electricity consumption and real numbers for total energy consumption per capita are far higher. Pasternak 2000 doesn't stop his analysis with electricity consumption as you can read in his chapter ‘Implications for Total Primary Energy Consumption: The Ratio of Total Primary Energy to Electric Energy’. His scenario for human development concludes for a 2020 need of ‘976 to 1,089 exajoules’ for global primary use, very far from the 248 exajoules RE supply in 2050 from median SRREN scenario.
    http://www.fisica.unipg.it/homes/sacchetti/matematica/energia-1.pdf
    http://www.terrawatts.com/HDI.pdf

    ‘minimizing loss of agricultural productivity, and preventing the otherwise highly probable complete collapse of global fisheries’

    Hem, do you have any source fort this ‘highly probable’ and highly frightening total collapse of global fisheries ? I read in IPCC AR4 WG2 SPM : 'Globally, the potential for food production is projected to increase with increases in local average temperature over a range of 1-3°C, but above this it is projected to decrease.'

    Of course, if you overestimate costs of AGW and understimate costs of low-energy scenario (or probability of risk in each case), your consequentialist choice will differ from mine! But that's a real problem for me, CB analysis are poor in the IPCC report, and divergent elsewhere.
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  43. We will only achieve the target of limiting global warming to safe levels if carbon dioxide emissions begin to fall within the next two decades and eventually decrease to zero. That is the stark message from research by an international team of scientists, led by the University of Exeter, published today (20 November) in the journal Nature Climate Change.

    The research focuses on the scale of carbon emission reduction needed to keep future global warming at no more than two degrees Celsius over average temperatures prior to the Industrial Revolution. This target is now almost universally accepted as a safe limit.

    The team examined the extent to which carbon emissions should be reduced, how steep this reduction needs to be and how soon we should begin. They used mathematical modelling techniques to construct a number of possible future scenarios, based on different assumptions on emissions reduction. They accounted for a likely range of climate sensitivities: the amount of warming for a given increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

    The research shows how quickly emissions need to drop in the next few decades. It also highlights how remaining emissions could cause the two-degrees target to be exceeded in the long term, over the next few hundred years.

    Source: “Limited options for meeting 2°C warming target, warn climate change experts” Eureka Alert, Nov 20, 2011

    To access the article in its entirety, click here
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  44. A new study led by University of British Columbia researchers reveals how the effect of climate change can further impact the economic viability of current fisheries practices.

    "Fisheries are already providing fewer fish and making less money than they could if we curbed overfishing," says Rashid Sumaila, principal investigator of the Fisheries Economics Research Unit at UBC and lead author of the study. "We could be earning interest, but instead we're fishing away the capital. Climate change is likely to cause more losses unless we choose to act."

    Partly supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts, National Geographic, the World Bank and U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the study is a broad view of the impact of climate change on fisheries and their profitability. It is published online today in the journal Nature Climate Change.

    Source: “Effects of climate change to further degrade fisheries resources: UBC researchers” Eureka Alert, Nov 20, 2011

    To access the article in its entirety, click here
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  45. Climate change effect on release of CO2 from peat far greater than assumed Drought causes peat to release far more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than has previously been realised.

    Much of the world's peatlands lie in regions predicted to experience increased frequency and severity of drought as a result of climate change- leading to the peat drying out and releasing vast stores of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. It's the very wetness of the peat that has kept the air out, locking in centuries of carbon dioxide that would normally be released from the decomposing plant materials in the peat. Now scientists at Bangor University have discovered that the effect of periods of severe drought lasts far beyond the initial drought itself.

    Writing in Nature Geosciences (doi 10.1038 NGEO1323), Dr Nathalie Fenner and Professor Chris Freeman of Bangor University explain how the drought causes an increase in the rate of release of CO2 for possibly as long as a decade. It was originally assumed that most of the CO2 was released from the dry peat. Now scientists realise that the release of CO2 continues, and may even increase, when the peat is re-wetted with the arrival of rain. The carbon is lost to the atmosphere as CO2 and methane and to the waters that drain peatlands as dissolved organic carbon (DOC).

    Source: “Climate change effect on release of CO2 from peat far greater than assumed” Eureka Alert, Nov 20, 2011

    To access the article in its entirety, click here
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  46. Hartz #44 : unfortunately, Sumaila paper on fisheries is not for free. It would have been an interesting example for a discussion on following questions : what are the (present and future) costs of AGW on fisheries? How does it compare (and potentialize) with overfishing, pollution, habitat degradation costs? What do we know about tipping points that could change a decreasing slope of productivity to an eventual disrupting one? What are the results for scenarios with different options for mitigation and adaptation (or for that purpose different levels of GW/preindustrial, 1,5 K, 2 K, 2,5 K, 3 K)? What are the options for global level of fisheries production projected in the future? Which energy sources can support a given level of production and with which realistic intensity at a given year in the future?

    We agree it's time for action, but that does not mean every action is wise nor every objective reachable. Grossly put, we can imagine reforms that rapidly (one or two decades) decrease CO2 emission by 20% or something like that. But the real difficulty is probably to maintain the slope, and to decrease further by 40%, 60%... Sven Teske (scientific coordinator of the scenario [r]Evolution) has criticized the IEA scenario on this point : 2030-2035 is a too short projection, we need to know if at least the scenario has realistic options for 2050 (on billion human more), and after that for long term stabilization at 450 ppm (or even decrease to 350 ppm as some researchers think it would be necessary).
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    Moderator Response: [John Hartz] Please provide a a citation/link to Teske's analysis.
  47. John : here it is (pdf), not a "scientific" link (but Teske is a scientist of course, and lead author of IPCC SREN 2001). For the quote, Teske wrote in this document (p. 1) : "Both, the 550ppm and the 450ppm [IEA] scenario end in 2035 – for long term climate impacts the projection must go to 2050 at least." I agree with Teske on that, also on other arguments like the quite unrealistic (or very unlikely) case for CCS in IEA Scenario.
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    Moderator Response: [John Hartz] CCS=carbon capture and storage
  48. GENEVA — Global warming gases have hit record levels in the world’s atmosphere, with concentrations of carbon dioxide up 39 percent since the start of the industrial era in 1750, the U.N. weather agency said Monday.

    The new figures for 2010 from the World Meteorological Organization show that CO2 levels are now at 389 parts per million, up from about 280 parts per million a quarter-millenium ago. The levels are significant because the gases trap heat in the atmosphere.

    WMO Deputy Secretary-General Jeremiah Lengoasa said CO2 emissions are to blame for about four-fifths of the rise. But he noted the lag between what gets pumped into the atmosphere and its effect on climate.

    Source: “UN: Global concentrations of carbon dioxide at record level, exceed worst-case projections” Washington Post, Nov 21, 2011

    To access the entire article, click here.
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  49. @skept.fr #47:

    Thank you for the link to Sven Teske's paper, "Energy [R]evolution vs. IEA World Energy Outlook scenario 2011."

    To provide context for others following this discussion, Sven Teske is the senior energy expert Greenpeace International.

    Greenpeace, the German Space Agency (DLR), and the European Renewable Energy Council joined forces in 2007 to produce global, regional, and national “Energy [R]evolution scenarios”. Each dives deep into an entity’s current energy demand and supply structure and develops a renewable energy strategy, unfolding in 10 year steps up to 2050.

    As documented in the paper cited above, Teske has been highly critical of the World Energy Outlook scenarios generated in recent years by the IEA. In addition, as evidenced by the following quote, Teske is highly critical of the IEA.

    “IEA has been driven by political agendas to keep a prominent role of nuclear power and CO2-capturing coal power plants in its scenarios, despite their obvious failure to deliver against false expectations. Although since past four or five years, each new WEO edition somewhat increases its projections for renewables and downscales its projections for “false hope technologies” such as CCS and nuclear, it still plays the tune of unrealistic nuclear growth scenarios and unjustified horror scenarios of increased costs and greenhouse gas emissions in the case of a nuclear phaseouts”, says Sven Teske, senior energy expert Greenpeace International.
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  50. John : I totally agree with your contextualization. And I must add for a broader context: the 164 scenarios run for the IPPC report on renewable energy (SRREN 2011), including Teske model [r]Evolution and IEA WEO2009 as the baseline, disagree quite strongly with each other concerning the sustainable level of RE in energy mix for a 450 ppm scenario in 2050. This can be observed in page 19 of the Summary for Policymakers (approx. factor 4 of total dispersion for what we can supply with RE alone, around a mean value of 248 EJ/y). The Sven Teske model [r]Evolution has by far the most ambitious RE production, 428 EJ/y in 2050, but far away the median value and out the inter-quartile range (25th to 75th percentile). So we must suppose some experts are very critical of Teske model, as well as Teske himself is very critical of IEA model (your quote).

    That is to say : there is no consensus among economy-energy experts for the definition of solutions (as opposed to the consensus among climate experts for the definition of the problem). Of course, part of this dissensus is political by nature – as for example the well-known Greenpeace opposition to nuclear. But for the moment, it is not clear if the are also 'technical' dissensus among experts. The problem of an energy-economy model is not just to produce energy, because hypothetical limits on Earth are far greater that what we consume now, but to produce energy a) in a sustainable way from known technologies ; b) so as to meet basic needs in all sectors of activity ; c) in a given hypothesis of demographic and economic growth.

    As all citizens of one of the most experienced region in decarbonization (European Union), with Kyoto Protocol and the 20-20-20 Climate-Energy Plan for 2020, I observe the complexity and difficulty of such a transition in a large scale. For exemple, Peters et al 2011 have shown that EU met the (very modest) Kyoto targets only if the 'grey energy' from trade (imports) is excluded of the budget.
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