We will need in the short term to do far more than just reduce emissions but use technology to provide a solution to the current imbalance in the polluted atmosphere, to achieve a very substantial impact within the next 20years.
Greenhouse gas emissions are destabilising our Earth’s climatic system as evident in increased pollution, more extreme weather patterns and food shortages. Recently the debate in the developed economies turned to appropriate targeted reductions in emissions given widespread acceptance the planet is already effected. That change in sentiment is evident in the USA where successive State Governors are following the lead of governor Schwarzenegger who legislated in California for a required reduction of 50% by 2050.
Most companies and particularly all large scale public resource groups in Australia are urging the current government to implement targeted reductions as outlined in the Stern report and to introduce a carbon trading system. The developed world is advocating targeted reductions of 50 % by 2050, in line with Stern Report but I think such targets will be more than offset by increased demand from the developing world.
China and India who represent 2 billion of the world population (total world about 6.5 billion) have recently rejected any targeted reduction in carbon emissions, believing such measures would impact unfavourably on their development and prosperity. Both argue they should be allowed to catch up with the developed world before considering any targeted reductions in their emissions. It is true their per capita emission rate is well below the developed world but as they embrace modernity so will their reliance on energy and the burning of fossil fuels to accelerate to adversely effect climate.
It is hard for us to imagine the phenomenal growth occurring in developing counties such as China and India. China is currently building 300 new cities, each to house over a million people as it expands to become a modern economy. The cities are required to accommodate the migration from what was an agricultural society to the regional and city centres to mirror modern day economies. As we speak, 50% of its population still remain as peasant farmers engaged in subsistent farming. But within 20 years that is likely to shrink to single digits, hence the need for all of those new cities. In China and parts of Asia those engaged in manufacturing mostly earn less than US $1 per hour, hardly are those folk likely to join the world debate on climate change, or to put pressure on their government representatives as they struggle to exist. This is true of many poor regions around the globe. India is also experiencing similar rapid growth and migration from basic agriculture, underpinned by burgeoning new industries such as IT. Hence the current green house emission targeted reductions would need to be increased substantially to offset the accelerated effect of the developing world.
Bearing this in mind it seems we will need in the short term to do far more than just reduce emissions but use technology to provide a solution to the current imbalance in the polluted atmosphere, to achieve a very substantial impact within the next 20years.
Coal meets 23% of primary energy and 39% of all electricity comes from coal, and 70% of world steel depends on coal feedstock.
It is the world's most abundant and widely distributed fossil fuel source and it is estimated its global use will conservatively increase by 20% by 2020.
However, burning coal releases huge quantities of carbon dioxide each year into the atmosphere, and possibly accounts for one third of the world’s total of CO2 emissions.
Hence the coal industry needs to invest in technology to capture their carbon and eliminate its pollution if it is to survive. The Companies, employers and employees of the major resource groups engaged in coal mining are all urging the government to introduce a carbon trading system and provide industry assistance to underperpin investments in clean coal technology energy solutions.
We have many sites to store the carbon dioxide but inevitably public acceptance and confidence will need to be gained that the storage sites are permanent and safe. In several countries promising developments for "zero emissions" technology has been developed within a reasonable cost basis.
In all transport systems motors can not only be made more efficient but filters can provide an immediate reduction prior to the development of alternative clean energy sources. For instance an efficient diesel engine with a carbon filter can reduce emissions by 80-90% percent and use less than half the amount of fuel of a conventional petrol engine.
We have the option within the next 20 years of nuclear power replacing all of our ageing coal-fired power plants in Australia. Nuclear Power plants already operate successfully throughout the world. The risk of nuclear energy includes waste disposal, its long term storage, accidents and the uranium being turned into bombs.
International safeguards and policing with adequate controls are key elements if it is to be a part of the energy solution.
Alternative energy sources such as solar, wind, wave, hot rocks (geo thermal), bio fuels and artificial tree systems to take in the CO 3 should be pursued with renewed vigour but I think it will take another 20/30 years or more for these renewables start to have a material impact on the world.
Ideally if we all reverted to a more sustainable basic life system our energy usage would soon subside. However for the reasons mentioned, I think this is just a pipe dream, hence I think we will need to adopt, albeit somewhat reluctantly, a whole range of radical measures including nuclear energy, clean coal solutions, filters and alternative energy sources.
It may be that technology got the world into this mess, so technology will provide alternative solutions. The increased cost of technology investment over the longer term is likely to have very little impact economically to growth rates whilst providing large scale reduction in emissions.