The U.N. Climate Summit at the end of March wasn’t all about back-slapping by world leaders. There were also plenty of discussions among scientists and policymakers about the public relations mess U.N. climate change promises have made.
It was a necessary study for anyone who cares to set realistic expectations and make responsible changes. Here are some of the things scientists and global policy makers must remember:
If you are planning to lower emissions while the Cancun agreement is being implemented, you should expect strict new regulations from the International Trade Commission, new bans on coal in China and India, and more international corporate government approvals of climate-change mitigation regulations.
Renewable energy sources face significant short-term challenges to getting the investment needed to make progress. While other countries subsidize their solar, wind and biofuel industries, the U.S. federal government is not. In 2005, Germany installed more new wind turbines than any other country in the world. Yet the number of Germans who can walk to work has grown by 12 percent.
Even if the U.S. were to introduce laws to support the transition to renewables, U.S. economic and political circumstances will result in major energy and environmental challenges. In no-growth or even a low-growth economy, the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that “the total cost of new electricity, mainly from non-fossil sources, will more than double between 2007 and 2035.”
Growth in total emissions in the U.S. will grow significantly, from 450 million metric tons (469.5 billion tons) in 2005 to more than 675 million metric tons in 2035. A global energy system with a major focus on renewables and nuclear power remains socially, financially and environmentally unsustainable.
People aren’t going to get a handle on what’s happening in global greenhouse gas emissions in the near future. The U.N. sees the problem of climate change as not just another pollution problem like toxic smog or acid rain — it’s a threat to human life, and a direct and potentially existential threat to human civilization. One illustration of what the world can expect over the next few decades is this tweet sent out this week:
The U.N. talks about “rising oceans, heavy downpours, drought, famine, tens of millions of people vulnerable to coastal flooding, and extreme weather events more frequent and intense,” according to climate scientist Mike Hulme. It’s all essentially still happening.
U.N. climate negotiators met again last week in Copenhagen for talks to put together a report on developing a post-2020 climate framework to follow the (narrow-minded) countries’ pledges made in 2009 that will take effect at the end of this year. (These talks were initiated by former Danish prime minister Lars Rasmussen who wanted something more substantive than the short-sighted, toothless promises that were made then to solve global warming. President Obama attended and offered up his Secretary of State John Kerry to act as the U.S. lead negotiator on this issue.)
Scientists, policy makers and society have found it impossible to tame climate change. There are a lot of bumps on the road ahead to get to a successful outcome.
James J. Coughlin, Jr. is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and serves as the President’s Science Advisor and High Representative of the U.S. Department of State on National Security Affairs. He is also the author of Energy Crisis: Natural Gas and the Opening of the Oil Age, co-author of Mano a Mano Latin America and Editor-in-Chief of the journal Enthusiast Investing. James J. Coughlin, Jr. is the founder and host of Energy Crisis on WOR radio AM 540 in D.C. and on the air nationwide on AMERICON University Radio.
James J. Coughlin is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and serves as the President’s Science Advisor and High Representative of the U.S. Department of State on National Security Affairs. He is also the author of Energy Crisis: Natural Gas and the Opening of the Oil Age, co-author of Mano a Mano Latin America and Editor-in-Chief of the journal Enthusiast Investing.