We’re already being told what a great triumph COP26 is and it’s not over yet. Countries are making pledges left, right and centre which will supposedly slow global temperature rise, phase out fossil fuels and prevent planetary destruction. What a relief!
Mind you, that’s exactly the outcome of all the previous COP summits so if they’re such a huge success why do they need to hold them annually and then tell us how disastrous things are compared to last year? Maybe the “promises” are too good to be true.
Here are a couple of “promises” made up to now in Glasgow and [my interpretation of what they really mean].
- Pledge to protect the world’s forests by ending deforestation - Indonesia, the leading producer of palm oil, has signed up but then qualified its commitment by saying “it only agreed to keep its forest cover steady over the period — meaning trees could still be cut down and replaced”.....[by anything they want, including palm trees]. Brazil, with most of the Amazonian rainforest, also signed the pledge but qualified their support with “it would only target illegal deforestation”....[the Brazilian delegate had to hastily return to Rio on his private jet to draft a bill making illegal deforestation legal].
- Pledge to end all coal use - Again Indonesia, one of the world’s biggest coal exporters, was a signatory but the detail shows it can continue to build coal power stations at home and burn its own coal. [Forget renewables...build as many coal stations as we can so we have affordable and reliable power and we can keep attracting most of Europe’s and the UK’s industries which can’t afford their own skyrocketing energy prices]. Poland, one of the main coal users in Europe, also signed but on condition that they will phase out coal in the 2040’s, [I suspect 2049 is the year they have in mind], exactly what they had already pledged in a previous agreement [keep promising the same old promises until we have to promise new ones that extend it out further]
After 25 years of promoting and subsidising wind and solar energy, they still only account for about 2% combined of all global energy demand. There’s a very simple reason for that. They don’t work nearly as well as their conventional counterparts. If they truly represented a viable replacement for fossil fuels (and most greenies would also want nuclear gone too) then countries would have adopted them on a much larger scale by now.
That’s fortunate for the environment, because to build the hundreds of millions of batteries required for wind and solar power storage it would necessitate starting up a huge number of new mines to produce the heavy metals and lithium required. Not to mention the rare-earth mines for the solar panels. Known global reserves of some key metals are way short of what you would need for large scale transition. You would still need a lot of coal, oil, iron ore and cement to build the main components and they need replacing much sooner than conventional stations, having only half the lifespan. Then you have a massive environmental waste problem at the end.
Only a few countries in the West have invested heavily in wind and solar, particularly Germany, the UK and some smaller countries like Denmark. As they shut down their coal, gas and, in the case of Germany, nuclear stations and replace them with renewables, their power grids have become increasingly fragile and unstable. They have to be able to import power at very short notice from their neighbours to balance the grid, but that won’t work when everyone has “done the right thing” and converted to renewables. The cost of power has increased hugely because far more raw materials are needed per unit of power to build renewables, due to their low energy density, and operational and maintenance costs are also very high, particularly with offshore wind.
If the UN and all the 30,000 attendees at COP26 were serious about reducing carbon emissions they would adopt a completely new strategy, using the laws of physics, and built on reliability and economic sustainability. Nuclear energy combined with natural gas.
Nuclear is the most energy dense form of power generation and is emissions free. To put it in perspective, fossil fuels are 3-4 times more energy dense than renewables, but nuclear is 3 million times more energy dense than fossil fuels! Tiny amounts of uranium are needed to generate the equivalent amount of conventional power. The new generation of nuclear reactors, called small modular reactors, are incredibly safe because they have such a small amount of fuel, and they can be easily stacked to meet increasing power demand.
Natural gas is the lowest emissions fossil fuel. It also burns clean with no particulates. The only country in the world to significantly reduce its emissions in the last 5 years has been the USA, due to the development of its shale gas reserves which then replaced coal generation and made the US self-sufficient in energy. Paradoxically, the Biden administration is in the process of reversing this policy for no good reason other than Trump enacted it. Global reserves of shale gas make exploited and future conventional oil and gas resources look like small fry. You don’t have to worry about running out of hydrocarbons any time soon.
When the only UN sanctioned course of action open to governments for reducing emissions is wide scale adoption of generation techniques that are unreliable, intermittent, expensive and not even very green, then the whole exercise is doomed to failure. And ultimately, that is why promises made at COP summits are not worth the paper they are written on. They are typically non-binding, full of conditions and vague on the implementation date.
What do they say? The definition of insanity is doing the same thing but expecting a different outcome. Well, the current strategy has had 26 years to prove itself and it has failed miserably with emissions rising steadily during this time. That’s what happens when you don’t live in the real world but believe the junk outputs from your computer models.
Climate promises...what are they good for….absolutely nothing….say it again!
Derek Mackie is a geologist with a keen interest in current affairs.