Monday, November 05, 2012

The world is heading for a ”carbon cliff” - PwC

PwC's Jonathan Grant
PwC's Jonathan Grant says "we are heading for a carbon cliff" unless habits are changed.
PwC is warning today that the world is heading for 6°C warming unless emissions of greenhouse gases go into reverse.

The annual rate of reduction of carbon emissions per unit of GDP needed to limit global warming to 2°C has passed a critical threshold according to new analysis in the PwC Low Carbon Economy Index, published today. This measures developed and emerging economies' progress towards reducing emissions linked to economic output.

It demonstrates that at current rates of emissions growth, at least 6°C degrees of warming could be possible by the end of the century, which would result in large parts of the world becoming uninhabitable.

While last month, Britain topped a European league table for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, it is by no means clear that this reversal will continue, as Government policy is to maximise oil, gas and coal extraction, and to build a new generation of gas-fired power plants.

The PwC report

The PwC report shows that to limit global warming to 2oC would now mean reducing global carbon intensity by an average of 5.1% a year, a performance never achieved since 1950, when these records began.

PwC's director of sustainability and climate change, Jonathan Grant, says that "we are heading for a carbon cliff" unless habits are changed. "Even doubling our current annual rates of decarbonisation globally every year to 2050, would still lead to 6oC, making governments’ ambitions to limit warming to 2oC appear highly unrealistic.”

Andrew Sentance, PwC's senior economic advisor, says that "Government policies must radically change", and that for business this "represents an opportunity as well as a risk".

“The challenge now is to implement gigatonne scale reductions across the economy, in power generation, energy efficiency, transport and industry, as well as REDD+ in forested nations,” added Grant.

With less than four weeks to the UN Climate Summit in Doha, the analysis illustrates the scale of the challenge facing negotiations. The issue is further complicated by a slow market recovery in developed nations, but sustained growth in E7 economies which could lock economic growth into high carbon assets.

Emerging markets’ previous trends on carbon emissions reductions linked to growth and productivity have stalled, and their total emissions grew by 7.4%.

By contrast, the UK, France and Germany achieved record levels of annual carbon emissions intensity reductions, but were helped on by milder winters.

Examining the role of shale gas, PwC’s report suggests that at current rates of consumption, replacing 10% of global oil and coal consumption with gas could deliver emissions savings of around 3% a year (1gt C02e per annum).

However the report warns that while it may “buy some time”, it reduces the incentive for investment in lower carbon technologies such as nuclear and renewables, and could lock in emerging economies with high energy demand to a dependence on fossil fuels.

America has been exporting the coal it would have burnt had shale gas not displaced its domestic use, so, globally, a shift to shale gas in one country alone makes little difference to overall emissions.

This underlines the importance of reaching a global deal at Doha, PwC says.

UK oil, gas and coal extraction

At home, British policy on reducing carbon emissions no longer appears as consistent as it did until recently.

On 25 October, Energy Minister John Hayes announced 167 new North Sea oil and gas licences, saying that every last economic drop of oil and gas from the North Sea will be extracted.

In answer to a question from Green MP Caroline Lucas last Friday, about whether the effect of this on achievement of the UK's domestic carbon budgets had been calculated, he gave no indication that it had, instead repeating that the Government “aims to secure over time the maximum economic recovery" of the "20 billion barrels of oil equivalent left on the Continental Shelf".

If all this were to be burnt, it would lead to the emission of 872 trillion kgCO2.

Meanwhile, despite a decline in the demand for coal caused by six British power stations having to close by 2016, the coal industry, through CoalPro, their producer’s association, hopes that the industry will be able to maintain a total of approximately 36 working surface mines across the UK, according to the Loose Anti Opencast Network (LAON).

LAON’s latest review of the stage at which 22 current and possible opencast planning applications across the UK have reached, has just come out.

LAON is calling on the Government to align its planning policy with its energy policy. Steve Leary, its coordinator, says: “It is the Government's intention to phase out the use of coal for power generation purposes, leading to a 75% decline in the use of coal for such a purpose over the next 10 years, whilst at the same time, through provisions in the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, it is possibly making it easier to dig the coal out".

He says this coal would probably be exported if not burnt at home.

This morning, activists from the No Dash for Gas campaign who have been protesting at the Government's policy to build a new generation of 20 gas-fired power stations, are ending a seven day occupation of the 300 foot high chimneys of EDF's West Burton 1,300MW Combined Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT) plant, currently under construction in Nottinghamshire.

Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Ed Davey, has guaranteed that if built, these stations will be exempted from emissions regulations and can continue emitting CO2 unabated until 2045.

Call to decarbonise
In a timely move, the Carbon Capture and Storage Association, the Nuclear Industry Association and RenewableUK have today issued a joint call to Energy Secretary Ed Davey to largely decarbonise the power sector by 2030.

The three associations, representing over 1,000 corporate members, make the request  in a letter  copied to the Chancellor, Prime Minister, Business Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of State at the Cabinet Office.

The letter states that including a reference to the objective to largely decarbonise the power sector by 2030 in the Bill would reassure potential investors by lowering political risk and bring the cost of capital down for lower carbon generation.

The organisations stress, however, that any target set in legislation should serve a specific and necessary purpose and not contribute to so-called "target fatigue" in the energy sector; and it

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