Two major reports on climate change and the progress being made to lower global emissions have been published in recent weeks, with predictable results. Climate Transparency’s “Brown to Green” report found that Group of 20 nations are facing major difficulties in meeting the Paris agreement’s carbon emissions targets, while the U.S. government’s “Fourth National Climate Assessment” paints a bleak picture of our future if emissions don’t rapidly decline in the coming decades.
Regardless of one’s political views, the hard truth is that both the left and right must acknowledge the current reality before sustainable, meaningful progress is made on climate issues. And the reality is that while a migration away from coal energy has begun for much of the developed world, including the United States, the global process will be measured in decades, not years. Opponents of coal must realize that it’s not an overnight process to reverse a major driver of energy production and economic contribution. Coal, for better or worse, is going to be with us for a long time to come.
To illustrate the difficulty of weaning reliance on fossil fuels, China provides a useful example. Between 2004 and 2015, China increased investment in renewable energy by 3,400 percent and today invests the same amount as the United States, Europe and India combined. Yet China, a nation that has clearly committed to investing in renewables, is on pace to see its largest growth in carbon emissions in seven years. Furthermore, the difficulty in charting a new course in energy production is also made clear by poorer nations such as South Africa, whose deputy energy minister recently defended coal use as a way to reduce poverty.
By accepting that fossil fuels will not simply cease to be a factor in energy production, global political and policy leaders can begin to work toward solutions that dramatically reduce carbon emissions while continuing to scale up development and production of renewable and clean energy sources. Yet this requires a political will that many nations and organizations such as the United Nations and the World Bank have shown little stomach for to date.
Specifically, global implementation of carbon capture and storage technologies, which capture carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants and prevents them from reaching the atmosphere, can be a critical component in reducing CO2 levels. When combining CCS with technologies like high-efficiency, low emissions coal plants, CO2 emissions can be cut by 90 percent.
Yet while CCS is a currently viable technology, it’s barely a blip on the radar for many governments and world bodies, although it is essential if governments are to meet their emissions targets in the coming years. In fact, a model developed by the International Energy Agency, designed to be cost-effective as well as sustainable, reveals that 14 percent of cumulative emissions reductions should come from CCS in order to limit the maximum global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius by 2060. Put bluntly, the trend of pretending there’s a simple “off switch” for coal usage must be put to rest before impactful emissions solutions become reality.
With that in mind, world leaders must get over their political aversion to fossil fuels and make the investments necessary to quickly adopt CCS on a global scale. To date, CCS investments have been largely from the private sector and pale in comparison to those made in renewable energy. Governments must realize that a parallel track of speeding up both renewable and CCS technologies is a win-win solution for developed nations and the developing world alike: It allows private industries to prepare and plan for the future while also significantly reducing CO2 levels.
As it becomes clear that investments in renewable energy alone will not meet emissions targets, so does the choice for governments to pursue CCS. Not doing so does nothing to limit carbon emissions and merely hastens the bleak future predicted by those who claim to care most about climate change.
Demetrios Karoutsos is a political and public affairs strategist who has worked on a number of congressional, gubernatorial and Senate campaigns.
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