What is the Paris Agreement: The objective of the Paris Agreement, enacted in 2016, is to limit greenhouse gas emissions by 55% from 1990 levels by 2030 (9 years from now) and ultimately to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial temperatures. As of now the globe has warmed by about 0.8 deg. So, how are we doing since 2016? Not so well, I say. There have been some reductions in emissions, especially in the US and Europe. But in Asia Pacific there has been significant increases in emissions.
Some peculiarities in the Paris Agreement: Each signatory is asked to submit a plan. The “plan” is to specify its year-by-year program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But if a nation does not submit a plan or does not achieve its objectives nothing happens. The plans are not enforceable and there are no penalties for failure.
In the Agreement, developed countries such as the United States pledge to provide funding and technical support to developing countries, such as India, to assist with emission reductions. India has estimated that it would need “at least US $2.5 trillion in aid by 2030 to achieve its emissions reduction targets.” China is also designated as a developing country, believe it or not. How many of the 139 nations categorized by the World Bank as developing countries will want a handout from us to achieve their environmental goals? To date almost 75% of the nations’ pledges are insufficient to achieve even the 2030 target.
China has announced that it will continue to increase emissions of carbon dioxide at least until 2030. It has 34 times the number of coal-fired power plants than we do and between it and India are in the process of building 634 new coal-fired power plants by 2030. China is also building and financing hundreds of other coal-fired power plants in countries such as Turkey, Vietnam, and four other countries. Isn’t it naïve to expect that these countries will begin dismantling their coal-fired power plants right after they complete building hundreds of them? Do we have any leverage to use to get the likes of China and India on board with greenhouse gas reductions?
And all of the above doesn’t even address the need to drastically reduce carbon emissions from transportation.
So, despite the pledges of signatory states, the goals of the Paris Agreement still remain out of reach. The promises that nearly 200 countries made under the agreement are insufficient to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius, scientists say.
Challenges. From my point of view there are two massive challenges to be overcome for the Paris Accord to have any success.
- Reducing greenhouse gas emissions in such a way as to keep global warming consistently below 2 degreees C. and
- In lock step, creating alternative energy capacity that will supply as much energy as is being reduced in Step 1. So far that means wind turbines, solar panels and battery-powered vehicles. I have found no mention in the Agreement of nuclear, hydroelectric or geothermal power.
You can find a lot of discussion about the first challenge and it is heavily political. I want to spend some time on challenge Number 2.
Creating Alternative Energy Capacity. Wind and sunshine are free, but harnessing them certainly is not. The American Wind Energy Association says it takes somewhere in the range of 200 to 300 tons of steel to make a single wind turbine. The steel tower is anchored in a platform of more than 1,000 tons of concrete and steel rebar, 30 to 50 feet across and anywhere from 6 to 30 feet deep. Add 45 tons of non-recyclable plastic blades and two tons of rare-earth elements. Then after a life cycle of 20 years or so, start over. To produce steel for one turbine requires about 150 tons of coking coal and about 300 tons of iron ore, all mined, transported, and probably producing hydrocarbons. Sounds expensive, doesn’t it. Who is going to pay for it?
Worse, cement is the number one carbon contributor in the world. In production one pound of cement also produces one pound of CO2. Then there’s the emissions from all the trucks, trains, ships, bulldozers, cranes, and other equipment involved in turbine construction. One more question: what do we do for power when the wind does not blow or when turbines are incapacitated? Do we have to maintain a fully operational backup power source? Shouldn’t we know the answers to such questions before embarking on any climate change program? When is the government going to tell the American people all of this?
As for solar energy, it turns out that solar power requires even more cement and steel than wind turbines to produce the same amount of electricity. And producing solar panels requires large amounts of silver and indium. Those metals are rare and we’ll likely run out of both. Keep in mind, also, that about 90% of the world’s solar panels are built in Asia on coal-heavy electric grids.
There is a similar story for battery powered vehicles. I wonder how many of the 195 signatories of the Paris Agreement have the resources to do wind/solar/electric vehicles. The answer could be none of them. Why would a developing country make substantial reductions in their current consumption of fossil fuels? Putting energy-starved peoples on an energy diet would trap millions in poverty and slow the march of progress to a cleaner, healthier, more peaceful world. Consequently, developing countries will not consent to implement it.
- The Paris Agreement on Climate Change, to my mind, is a glorified global PR effort with no teeth, no funding, no sanctions for failure. There is zero chance of achieving its aims, or even coming close. It does not make sense to move ahead when there is no chance of success?
- We need a Plan B alternative to the Paris Agreement? I have concocted a Plan B. We can discuss when there is acceptance of the first conclusion.