The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a summary Friday of its latest report on global warming. The report, gleaned from the help of 2,000 scientists, calls for the world to cut emissions of CO2 and shift energy sources to renewable fuels.
The report also calls for the stabilization of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by 2015 to the level of 445 parts per million, which scientists say will keep global temperatures from rising high enough to cause environmental and economic chaos. In addition, the IPCC has set a goal to reduce emissions between 50 and 85 percent by 2050.
The writers of the report warn that failing to keep greenhouse gas emissions under strict control through the use of biofuels, better fuel efficiency, and increased use of renewable power like solar and wind will result in a global temperature climb of 2 degrees Celsius or more over pre-industrialized levels, leading to widespread environmental disasters.
The report is the third in a series by the IPCC. The first focused on confirming that global warming was indeed occurring, and the second focused on the impact to people and the environment. The third focuses on economics and technological solutions.
Technology to the Rescue
The IPCC notes that the technology to reduce greenhouse gases and generate power via renewable resources is currently possible and affordable.
“In the U.S. over the last several years, we’ve put up a couple thousands of megawatts of wind turbines a year, and globally, it’s been in the tens of thousands of megawatts, so it’s possible to put in significant amounts of wind capacity in a short period of time,” Chris Namovicz, an operations research analyst for the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Office of Integrated Analysis and Forecasting, told TechNewsWorld.
“There are some indications that we’re straining the productive capacity in the wind industry, but that capacity isn’t static. If there’s long-term demand, it would encourage industry to invest in building new factories and to train engineers to run these things,” he added.
Willing to Pay?
The key problem that critics raise, however, is the cost.
“They think we can level emissions by 2015? Have they not looked at China’s reporting, that by the end of the year they are going to surpass the U.S.? I did not see any place where they said that China was not going to build a coal-fired power plant a week for the next five years,” H. Sterling Burnett, a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis, told TechNewsWorld. “I didn’t see that in the report. I didn’t see where they said India was going to halt development. And I didn’t see where they said in the U.S. that the next presidential candidate was going to run on a platform of zero [economic] growth.
“And that’s the only way you actually stop emissions growth … is stopping economics growth,” he continued. “They are wrong — we don’t have the technology today to separate energy use from economic growth. And if you can’t reduce it, you can’t reduce greenhouse gases in the time frame they are talking about.”
The key problem in reaching the IPCC goals, Burnett noted, is that the world would not only have to build new, cleaner energy plants to meet new energy demands, but it would also have to replace existing plants.
“It defies reality,” he said.
“The U.S. has been saying all along … that if humans are the cause of global warming, the only way to solve it is through technological change and innovation. It’s not technology we have today, it’s the technology of the future,” Burnett explained.
“We need to pour money into that technology and then disperse it into developing countries where you can get the most bang for the buck,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense to replace coal fired plants in the U.S. with new technology, but it does make sense to not build dirty coal-fired plants in China and instead build with new technology.”
If the technology is indeed present and capable of being leveraged by 2015, the issue becomes political because it turns into a question of what technologies the world’s population and governments are willing to invest in. Wind power, for example, runs into problems because energy is only generated when the wind blows, making it much more difficult to control or store.
“It all comes down to cost,” Namovicz said.