Only Five Years Left to Make Transition to Low-Carbon Infrastructure


10 Nov 2011

The infrastructure built over the next five years could “lock in” enough emissions to push the world past its target for limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius, according to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) latest annual update of energy trends, World Energy Outlook.

The Agency is “increasingly pessimistic” about the prospect for dealing with climate change, said deputy executive director Richard Jones.

To stay below 2 degrees Celsius of warming, the world has a budget of greenhouse gases it can emit, equal to about 1 trillion tons of CO2. Infrastructure already in place, or in the process of being built, will emit about 80 percent of that, the IEA estimated.

Unless there is a binding international agreement soon to ensure a swift transition to low-carbon infrastructure, “the door to 2 degrees will be closed forever,” said IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol. So, investment in cleantech can’t wait until economic good times, argued the Guardian’s Damian Carrington.

This transition away from fossil fuels will require that annual subsidies for renewable energy continue rising, reaching $250 billion by 2035—four times today’s level—the IEA estimated, but this would still be considerablyless than today’s fossil fuel subsidies.

The IEA foresees oil prices remaining high for decades to come, with a tight market with risks of price spikes if there is a cut-off due to war or soaring prices if there is insufficient investment in oil fields.

Because of these climate and security risks, Birol argued, “We have to leave oil before it leaves us.”

Solar Trade War?

The boom in Chinese production of low-cost solar panels has hit U.S. manufacturers hard, making it difficult for them to compete.

Subsidies for renewable energy in China have sparked accusations of atrade war with the United States, prompting a U.S. Department of Commerce investigation.

Some U.S. manufacturers launched an official complaint against China, and have called for a duty on Chinese panels imported into the U.S.

Another group of U.S. solar manufacturers and installers banded together to form the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy to oppose the complaint. This led China’s largest solar power plant developer to shelve plans for a $500 million U.S. project.

Despite China’s large exports of solar panels, they’re also using many at home—and may install as much solar capacity as the U.S. this year.

Carbon Tax Approved

Australia will impose a large tax on carbon emissions, after the country’sSenate passed the legislation. The tax will kick in next July, and the country is pursuing linking its carbon market with others in New Zealand and Europe.

The system will be tax-and-dividend in which households will be compensated for higher energy prices, with payments of about 10 Australian dollars per week scheduled to start in May, before the tax hits.

Pipeline Controversy

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline to carry tar sands from Canada to Texas faced its biggest opposition yet with a revival of protests in Washington, D.C., in which thousands of protesters encircled the White House.

Canada is also considering another tar sands pipeline called Northern Gateway to reach a port on the Pacific coast, sited for export to Asia.

Oil historian Daniel Yergin argued opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline is misguided because if the U.S. doesn’t buy the fuel, China will.

Either way, the large store of tar sands in Canada could reshape world oil markets, said the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which represents large exporters such as Saudi Arabia, but does not include Canada.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. Written by Mason Inman, it is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

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bookshelf

books I've read on failure & grace

The World Without Us
The Last Oil Shock: A Survival Guide to the Imminent Extinction of Petroleum Man
Zeitoun
A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster
Hell and High Water: Global Warming--the Solution and the Politics--and What We Should Do
The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl
The Tipping Point
Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace... One School at a Time
The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity and the Renewal of Civilization
Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail
The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History, 1300-1850
Confessions of an Eco-Sinner: Tracking Down the Sources of My Stuff
Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future
The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World


Mason's favorite books »

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