March 10, 2006
Playing the Global Warming Game: Robert Socolow's World Bank Speech
Robert Socolow, the keynote speaker at the Exeter conference Socolow Exeter Speech.pdf and the Director of the Carbon Mitigation Initiative gave a speech yesterday at the World Bank based on his paper with Steve Pacala. Socolow and Pacala, Solving the Climate Problem for the Next 50 Years (full text-subscription req) Their paper was part of a Science special issue. This links you with a review and table of contents of that issue. Not so simple
Socolow invited his audience to play a mind game about how to limit global warming, using their concept of stabilization wedges -- 1 billion tons of carbon per year. His talk identifies and evaluates many carbon stabilization strategies.
[[BTW, there are commercially available Global Warming games -- something to spice up that long class. Keep Cool (there is an American bookstore who distributes it for those of you in the US).]]
Socolow's take home message for the Bank was simple: Mitigating basic human needs has a negligible impact on the climate problem and mitigation must begin now in developing countries.
The gist of his talk (paraphrased and edited from the transcript provided by E & E News) was:
Assume (1) climate change is a real problem and (2) we can't easily displace fossil fuels. These are the most pessimistic and most realistic assumptions.
Assume two options 50 years from now: (1) business as usual, which doubles current emissions in 2055 and (2) cap emissions at the current level - about 7 billion tons of carbon per year -- which triples the emissions in 1955. So at a minimum, we want to beat doubline. Although environmentalists argue that we should try to cut emissions by 50%, we'll be lucky to cap them in the next 50 years and then head downward in the following 50 years. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was about 280 parts per million until the 1800s. Now we are breathing air with 380 ppm, increasing about 2 ppm per year. So we're about a third of the way to doubling. If we wait 50 years and then cap, we would be essentially accepting tripling.
Understand as best you can what is at stake in climate terms, in the environmental impacts terms, of accepting tripling versus beating doubling. There a lot of monsters behind the door. Things that show up sometimes in climate models and not in others, but that are clearly conceivable outcomes, that are nonlinear outcomes; the shutting down of the thermal haline circulation, the gulf stream that warms northern and western Europe, the reappearance regularly of the Sahel drought, which kills millions of people, damaging the Amazon, droughts.
Making a judgment together about whether beating doubling or accepting tripling should be our objective. And I must say, somewhat to my surprise, as the public understands this problem they are saying let's get on with a solution.
What would it be like to beat doubling instead of accepting tripling? What does that entail? I come with a message of optimism. The interim goal, no more emissions 50 years globally -- 50 years from now than today, is achievable for three reasons. The world has a terribly inefficient energy system. Carbon emissions have just begun to be priced. Most of the year 2055 physical plant has not been built, although it is being built, what will be around in 2055 is being built at a large rate all over the world. And so every year 2055 is that much closer.
To stabilize emissions, divide the 7 billion tons of carbon per year into stabilization wedge -- 50 years wide, 1 billion tons high -- so it is 25 billion tons of carbon that have not gone into the atmosphere as a result of some campaign. At $ 100 US per ton, its $2.5 trillion at stake. Well, that's a pretty big business. It's a business opportunity. Many opportunities.
By far the most important are energy efficiency opportunities: Building buildings that are more energy efficient, a more efficient car fleet, more efficient industry, more efficient trucking, all across the entire use of energy we have opportunities for more efficient power plants.
Then, decarbonize electricity and decarbonize fuel. 40% of carbon is from power plants; 60% in vehicles or in stationary sources, like a factory or a home furnace.
It is my view it is harder to decarbonize fuels than to decarbonize electricity. So another wedge is replacing fuel application with a decarbonized electricity application. For example, we have a car that runs on -- a hybrid car running half of the time on a battery and half of the time on the engine -- electricity. Now today that battery is charged from the gasoline engine, but it could be charged at home from an outlet at your home, that's called a plug-in hybrid. If that electricity sector were decarbonized you would be driving your vehicle -- half of the driving would be on the decarbonized electricity and the other half, let's say, on gasoline. Similarly the heat pumped into buildings displaces a gas furnace with an electric system, if this electricity system is easier to decarbonize. That's a class of wedges.
Another opportunity: build up carbon in the forests and in the soils. We reduce deforestation. We re-growth more intensive forest where we have forests now. We bring forests to where we don't have them now. We make grasslands more successful. And we put carbon into soil, building back carbon that's been removed from the soil by agriculture, by deliberate agricultural practices. All of that helps, but only amounts to 1 or 2 wedges from the forest and soil sector.
And there's the other than CO2 wedge -- we can look for a wedge or two in better management of methane, nitrous oxide, and some of the fluorocarbons.
We have wedge technologies somewhere at commercial scale in many instances. And we can beat doubling without relying on any new technology. But you can't get the whole job done by any single wedge technology. You need a portfolio.
Half of carbon is created from three fuels for three functions: gas, oil and coal as the fuel and three functions: generating electricity, transportation, and heating: mostly coal for power, petroleum for transportation, and heating from all fuels. So we have to attack all three sectors: heating, transportation and power.
There will be 2 billion personal transport vehicles in the world in 2055. There are six or seven hundred million now, depending on how you count. So triple of what we have. And if those are going 10,000 miles a year, and they are getting 60 miles a gallon versus 30 miles a gallon, a wedge is at stake. In other words, you've got two billion tons of carbon going into the atmosphere if they're getting 30 miles a gallon and one billion tons of carbon going into the atmosphere per year if they're getting 60 miles a gallon. So that's how you save a wedge. Likewise, if they're getting 30 miles a gallon, but you're driving them half as far, somehow we've reorganized our cities so 5000 miles a year is an average travel. Then you have a half a wedge saved that way. But if you have efficiency and improved use, that's one and a half wedges, not two. Public transport and telecommuting can have a major role reducing vehicle miles travel..
In electricity the power plant can be more efficient. We can have more efficient lighting in buildings and motor controls. And it's very hard to have -- building's data are terrible compared to all other data. How much energy are we using in buildings today? What is it being used for? How fast is buildings -- is electricity load growing because of buildings construction in the new buildings of the developing world? There needs to be a commitment to get a much better handle on this sector. More than half of electricity use in the world is going to buildings today, probably more -- probably a higher fraction than that of the new -- of new kilowatt hours are going to buildings. We need to think of buildings as equivalent to power plants. And we don't. And then when we would, we'd pay more attention to the building sector.
Of course now we can think about decarbonizing electricity. A billion tons of carbon per year are emitted when six -- when 700 modern coal plants of 1000 megawatt size run for the year. So we have 1000 -- our target is to not build seven hundred 1,000 megawatt coal plants. So that by 2055, if those plants don't exist, and something else existed and it's no carbon, we have achieved a wedge. Well one way to have that is to have, by 2055, one million two megawatt windmills on the planet that have been produced instead of coal. That would be a wedge. Those two megawatt windmills, that's about the size of the larger windmills built today. We have already got 50,000 megawatts. We're two and a half percent of the way. And it is growing at thirty percent a year. Nonetheless a million two megawatt windmills is a pretty daunting proposition. And that's one wedge.
One message is that renewable energy has a tough time producing wedges in terms of the scale of the operation compared to what we're used to on the one hand. And on the other, yes, it can contribute wedges by major attention. It doesn't make sense to have inefficient lighting connected to all these windmills or coal plants. So the efficiency coming first and then the renewable energy coming behind it is the way to think about this problem in my view.
Nuclear power is certainly non carbon technology: so 700,000 megawatt nuclear plants displacing coal is also a wedge. Seven hundred thousand megawatts of nuclear power is twice what we have right now, so phasing out nuclear power completely and having coal instead would be minus one half of a wedge. And tripling nuclear energy would be plus one wedge.
If it turns out, and this is not fully decided yet, but it's looking promising, that you can have coal power and still put the carbon dioxide not in the atmosphere, but under the ground, geological carbon sequestration. And 800 of these large coal plants in 2055 with a carbon capture system would be a wedge. Another option is to put it in deep ocean. That's technically possible, but politically, very unpopular.
It's clear that at the individual project level it works. There are two major unsettled questions (1) is there really enough capacity to put large -- the CO2 of large numbers of plants below ground? And the IPCC has just proclaimed that, yes, there is a century's worth of storage with high probability and (2) are we sure it will stay down if we put it down?
[See continuation for more about carbon capture and storage]
If we get to decarbonization of fuels as opposed to decarbonization of electricity, the options are biofuels, something the Europeans and the Americans have gotten rather suddenly excited about expanding on a very large industrial scale to displace some of the gasoline in your gasoline tank or your diesel in your diesel truck engine, with something that grew from the ground. It could be sugarcane in Brazil, which is where this picture is from. It could be corn. It could be many other crops, switch grass. It takes a lot of land to produce the fuel to displace the vehicle fuel that we have at this time, hundreds of millions of hectares. It would be a major commitment of parts of planet Earth to go this way, but it does solve simultaneously some of the concerns about global oil, both the geological dimensions and the geopolitical dimensions and climate change. So it has a lot of appeal. The question is do we really want to develop a technology of this kind at the scale required relative to other things we could do with land? And we may all choose, yes, but we are really just beginning that dialogue.
In competition with that will be one of the things that is most scary from a climate perspective, which is that we'll make synthetic fuels from coal to deal with the limited hydrocarbons below ground. This will be available -- coal is relatively cheap. The technologies of making liquids from coal are there. Let me put it to you this way, a mile of driving or a kilometer of driving with a gasoline that came from crude oil is going to put about half as much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as if that gasoline -- compared to having that gasoline come from coal. It is that carbon wasteful.
That second amount of carbon dioxide is however being emitted at the plant, which is turning coal into synthetic fuel. So it's there to be captured, and so you could break even relative to crude oil if you did capture it. And as I understand that the governor of Montana is saying, okay, we can do that. We'll make that part of the package. And that's -- I'm calling for kind of a covenant among the engineers of this world not to go down the coal to liquids route without a commitment to carbon dioxide capture and storage. And of course policymakers could make a great deal of difference in making that happen.
So I invite you to play a game where you imagine two worlds in 2055 with the same pair of size skyscrapers. One of them emitting 14 billion tons of carbon per year and the other seven, anyway you like. I made myself do it once a while back and I say you can play too. The goal is to decarbonize the future economy. And what is appealing about stabilization wedges? They do not concede that doubling is inevitable. So the politicians who really didn't want to see that happen said, okay, I need to learn more. And it shortens the time frame to 50 years from 100. Business and government horizons are actually, particularly business horizons, 50 years out is not an impossible thing to get a conversation about.
Some of you know that much of the literature on climate change has had a hundred year focus, in which case most people start thinking about well this is a job for 2060 and 2070 and I can pay attention to something else. We're emphasizing that if you want to beat doubling it's a problem for today. It decomposes a heroic challenge into a limited set of monumental tasks. It establishes a unit of action that permits quantitative discussion of costs, pace and risk. And a unit of action that facilitates quantitative comparison and trade off. It creates a dialogue. One of our goals was to get people into the same room who don't enjoy each other, who come at it with favored technologies and say can we work together to get this problem solved? None of us can do it alone.
But I started asking the question what kind of climate impact does basic human needs -- meeting basic human needs have? Assuming that we use fossil fuels to address basic human needs. And identified two of those as the energy component of basic human needs; the electricity with unclean cooking fuels. Maybe there's a third, but those to seem to be the dominant ones. And I say this is clearly political and not technical. Power can be brought to all villages. There are countries which have done so. An indoor air quality catastrophe, I don't think that's too weak a word related to cooking fuels in rural and urban areas, so much public health damage from indoor cooking with low quality fuels. And they can be solved with modern fuels. Modern fuels seem to be basically gases and liquids, typically gases in canisters.
And I say the diesel fuel for village scale engines and the LPG, the propane essentially, and the Dimethyl ether for fuel, for clean cooking fuels, both of which can be in these canisters under compression that are being used all over the world today. They can be produced from biomass, from natural gas, from crude oil, from coal. Largely they're going to be produced from fossil fuels. Let's not be frightened of meeting basic human needs with fossil fuels. Use the right ones, use in the right place. Meeting these needs for all humanity has a negligible effect on global carbon emissions. If that's the cheapest way to do it and gets it done first, it's not the carbon problem that is the basic human needs problem. They almost don't overlap. 1.6 billion people have no access to electricity and 2.6 billion have no access to modern cooking fuels. A billion difference because the urban families are still using poor cooking fuel -- most of the extra billion are urban poor who have electricity but no modern cooking fuel.
Then there's the need to estimate sufficiency. And I took 50 watts per capita, which is a higher number than most of you are likely to use. That of course is 36 kilowatt hours per capita per month, 400 kilowatt hours per capita per year, so maybe 1800 kilowatt hours per capita for a family per year.
Families in many of the developing countries who use these propane canisters use a propane canister per month. And from that comes the need for 35 kilograms of propane per capita per year. Just turn that into carbon units by multiplication. And there's one more number you need to do to go to carbon and that's how carbon intensive is the electricity? Well if it's wind electricity it's zero. But take the world average, let's say some of this gets done one way and some the other, that's 160 kilograms of carbon for a kilowatt hour, carbon, not carbon dioxide. That adds up to 2/10 of a wedge. So it is certainly not the case that meeting basic human needs conflicts with capping emissions. Americans in the energy industries who look at the developing world say we've got all these poor people and when they get carbon we will have a carbon problem. They've conflated developing countries development on the one hand and meeting basic human needs at the very poor on the other.
More generally, what's important to distinguish problems of poverty and problems of modernity. The problems of poverty are largely matters of political will. The most solvent governments are sufficiently motivated to give priority to equity in public health. Problems of modernity are the problems of low cost hydrocarbons, running out of low-cost oil if you like, and the buildup of carbon dioxide. They are really hard. They take more than political will. No country can solve such problems on its own. There's really no country that demonstrates what you need to do at the present time. But there is an immense amount that every country needs to do and can do. And the problems are nearly overlapping -- nearly not overlapping, scarcely overlapping.
It is time to mitigate carbon now: middle class consumption, city building, power plant construction, factories. It is not the basic human needs there we're talking about when we talk about carbon dioxide mitigation. Not letting the developing country's carbon emissions go up any more than letting the carbon dioxide emissions of Europe or the United States or Japan go up. There is this argument coming from the European greens in particular, and less so now than a few years ago, that developing countries should not be burdened with carbon mitigation until significant steps have been taken in industrialized countries. With such friends, who needs enemies?
Much of the world's construction of long lived carbon dioxide is in developing countries. Long live capital stock. That's what I want you to focus on. Buildings, power plants, power plants will be around for 60 years, buildings for 100. Unless energy efficiency and carbon efficiency are incorporated into new buildings and power plants now, wherever they are built, these facilities will become a liability when a price is later put on carbon dioxide emissions. Instead, call for leapfrogging, all of us, the introduction of advanced technologies in developing countries first. Or at least no later than in industrialized countries. Demonstration cities that deal with the air conditioning issue of the tropical cities that are growing with completely innovative methods of building design for example. The laying out of new cities in a sensible fashion. The world learns faster, reducing everyone's costs. Leapfrogging, which is a word I hope all of you know, is a path to globally coordinated mitigation. And there's a banking problem for sure, to compensate those who move first, but it's a separate problem from deciding that you need to do it.
I think there is political content to these wedges. I'm talking to a group of people who know how to think about this better than I do. It's, again, getting people who don't like each other into the same room. And they will agree, I think, that it is already time to act. It is too soon to pick winners. These are the things that they agree upon, even though they disagree about so much. Subsidy at early stages is often desirable, but at later stages markets help to choose the best wedges. The best wedges for one country may not be the best for another. And the environmental and social costs of scale up need attention. The last point, which is that one or two windmills is not the same as hundreds of thousands of them. One or two bio plant -- bio fuel plantations is not the same as hundreds of them. That they have cumulative impacts that are separate from the ones you see one at a time. We have to call that out and pay attention to that issue.
But those are things people agree upon. So there is a potential for early action that is based on dividing the job. And I must say, relative to where the Kyoto structure has been developed, which is a real bipolar world. It's a world where everybody truly has a responsibility. Note for example that national subsidies elicited most of the technologies that I'm allowed to put on the list for available wedges because they are commercialized. They have been commercialized, typically, in one or two countries, typically not because of climate, typically 10 or 20 years ago, usually because of energy security. Nations did experiments and do experiments and then the world learns from those national experiments. So we need to encourage that.
The United States for example has done most of the enhanced oil recovery using carbon dioxide because of a subsidy of domestic oil production in the 1980s, which led to a very large amount of experience with piping carbon dioxide from one place to the next hundreds of miles. And putting it below ground and seeing where it was below ground and handling it. There was a lot of learning. And Norway has joined in that and other countries now of course. But in point of fact this was the US who demonstrated this technology for reasons having nothing to do with climate, but that is really a value to the world.
In wind most of that new learning has been in Europe, which subsidized a lot of wind for a variety of reasons, not only climate. And we are the beneficiaries. We know how to make wind a lot more cheaply than before all of that happened. Nuclear power, various countries subsidized the early stages of nuclear power. They're still subsidizing of course, but there's been a great deal of learning. The Chinese make hydrogen from coal rather than from natural gas as most of the rest of the world does. They use that hydrogen for nitrogen fertilizer, ammonia fertilizer. A lot of the early understanding of coal gasification comes from the Chinese experience. Biofuels in Brazil is of course terribly well known. Wood waste in Sweden has been a pioneering area and in the coal to syn fuels world, because of apartheid rules, it is in the case that South Africa is the country that has pushed coal to syn fuels the furthest. There are others that you can add, but the message is that countries experiment and the world benefits. And that we have to think about that when we think about a World Bank portfolio for example.
So just join me in thinking about what we -- locate one's self in 2055 and say we've gotten the job done. I'm nearly finished. A world with the same total of CO2 emissions in 2055 is today. Have we all had lots of struggle and pain and has it all been uphill? Well not entirely. It would be a world where institutions of carbon management have reliably communicated the price of carbon, something we would all like to see. If there are wedges of nuclear power, strong international enforcement mechanisms to control nuclear proliferation will have been put in place. I can't imagine nuclear power expanding in a world that's on the verge of nuclear war in five or six places. We will have somehow come to terms with that duality. If wedges of carbon dioxide capture and storage are achieved, there will have been widespread permitting of geological storage, which means that the case that you can do it safely will have been made. And that would be -- if that's -- it won't have been made if it isn't a sensible case. So we would presumably be sitting down looking at that and some satisfaction.
If wedges of renewable energy and enhanced storage in forest and soils are achieved there would've been a lot of rural development and extensive land reclamation associated with all of that. There would be a planetary consciousness. We won't get there without thinking that we're on a planet together, as the woman from Norway expressed so eloquently. And that is not an unhappy prospect.
Can we do it? People are becoming increasingly anxious about our limited understanding of the experiments we are performing on the only earth we have and are learning that there are ways to live more cautiously. We should anticipate a discontinuity. What has seemed too hard to do, what has seemed too hard, becomes what simply must be done. Precedents include abolishing child labor, addressing the needs of the disabled and mitigating air pollution. They all looked too hard. And we went through this period of deciding that what seemed too hard becomes simply what must be done.
Let me reiterate my two messages for the World Bank audience that are really for you. Mitigating basic human needs has a negligible impact on the climate problem and mitigation must begin now in developing countries. Thank you.
more on carbon capture and storage
The picture I showed you before I've blown up here to tell you just a little bit about carbon dioxide capture and storage. That picture is of a US Department of Energy demonstration project built in the late 1990s in Indiana, Wabash, Indiana, which is a plant which gasifies coal. And sends that gas to a combined -- a gas turbine and then to a steam turbine, so combined cycle power. It isn't a carbon capture and storage plant, but that first step of gasification is really the critical one to enable this technology to work. And with additional processing you can turn that gas into a mixture of hydrogen and carbon dioxide, before you've burned anything. And then you take the hydrogen to a turbine, so it's hydrogen power. Then you take the carbon dioxide off-site and somewhere else. So the step -- there's an additional chemical step and then a separation step and then the carbon dioxide disposal step. Those three additional steps will bring you from this Wabash plant to a carbon capture and storage plant.
Only two weeks ago British Petroleum announced that it will do a very similar project to this with carbon capture and storage in Southern California, in Long Beach, California. Not using coal, the petroleum coke, which is the bottom of the barrel at a refinery. That's a nasty fuel that has been burned and generally -- in rather -- it is not a very clean fuel. Instead of burning it the way they've been burning it they will -- they and presumably much of the rest of the oil industry and short time, will consider gasification and CO2 capture as part of its handling of that fuel. It's a similar scale to this project. It will look a lot like this, but it will be in Long Beach, California.
The carbon has to go somewhere. And of course this is a serious issue. And the scale -- there has been a -- the very first demonstration project was in Norway, in Norway starting in the mid-90s. And since then, and steadily, they've put one million tons of carbon dioxide below ground. That's about 300,000 tons of carbon, so you need more than 3000 projects of this sort to put a wedge of CO2 below ground. So this is a large amount of carbon dioxide movement and placement that is entailed, a very large industry of simply managing carbon dioxide. Which will only happen, for those of you in policy, if there's a price on putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Otherwise you can always vent it for less or almost always vent it for less. There are some places were carbon dioxide has value, especially something called enhanced oil recovery, but for the most part carbon policy is absolutely essential to bring this about.
And there is a project. Now I want to emphasize the developing world. In Algeria there is a carbon dioxide injection project run by Sonatrach, the Algerian company, along with Stat Oil and BP, that looks like this. That for about a year now, this is all very new stuff, has been putting carbon dioxide below ground that they had to separate for natural gas in order to put natural gas into the European grid through pipelines across the Mediterranean. And so that process, instead of venting the CO2, in order to learn about the technology, develop first mover advantage, these three oil companies are doing that at the present time.
I'm going to skip this one to keep going.
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