Why Sign On To A Pointless and Unachievable Goal?

The annual Conference of Parties (COP) climate change conferences have been unfolding through a series of gigantic gatherings around the world every year since 1995. But, despite almost 30 years of talking, there has been absolutely no impact whatsoever on the upward trajectory of atmospheric CO2 concentrations, as shown in Figure 1 below. So why should we expect the outcome of the latest 26,000-attendee COP26 meeting, commencing in Glasgow this Sunday, to be any different?

Figure 1

Across the globe there are still billions of people without access to reliable electricity, and they certainly can’t afford the luxury of risking trillions of dollars on completely unproven technologies to solve a ‘problem’ that most people in the world are just too busy to even notice because they are far more concerned with simply trying to survive.

Earlier this week Emeritus Professor Aynsley Kellow, in an article for the IPA,  explained the political origins of the goal of Net Zero by 2050, which would, if achieved, allegedly be able to tune the climate so that global warming would be limited to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. Working for the moment with that assumption, we can see from the 2021 UNEP Production Gap Report that global fossil fuel use is increasing with no sign of any reversal, and nothing that happens at Glasgow will change that.

Figure 2, below, from that UNEP report, demonstrates the enormity and almost certain impossibility of the task of achieving Net Zero by 2050. The impact of the various pledges made by different countries (and Australia seems to be one of the few countries to take its pledges seriously) is negligible compared to what would be required. The radical change in fossil fuel use implied by “Production consistent with 1.5C” would require the successful development of an array of still-unproven technologies in a mere 29 years. The mooted new technologies have so far never been implemented at the enormous scale required to transition the energy currently being supplied using fossil fuels, which is 83.1 per cent of the world’s total according to the 2021 BP Statistical Review of World Energy.

Figure 2:

Most countries outside the Anglosphere and Europe are still expanding fossil fuel use — not reducing it. But even the biggest emitters most concerned about ‘climate change’, such as the USA under Biden, are still expanding oil and gas production. If you can believe the quite likely conservative estimate of Time magazine, China is currently building at least 43 new coal fired power plants, and according to the Global Energy Monitor, they are planning to add about 200 GW of coal-fired generating capacity by 2025. A recent article in The Guardian claims that 80% of new coal plants are in just 5 countries in Asia, totalling around 600.

Not surprisingly, therefore, UNEP finds the “production gap” virtually unbridgeable across all the major fossil fuels: coal, oil, and gas, as shown in Figure 3 below for each country’s production outlook up to 2040 (the coloured layers shown being the major producing countries and regions). The outlook for China’s contribution to global coal production is enormous. It dwarfs all other nations, as shown by the large orange-coloured area in the coal panel at left. Australia’s outlook (the pale blue layer near the top) is only a fraction of China’s and roughly comparable to Indonesia, Russia, and India. According to the UNEP report: “today’s largest producers will continue to dominate global total cumulative production between 2019 and 2040. Between one and four countries will account for around half of the projected global total of each fuel: China for coal; the US, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Canada for oil; and the US, Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia for gas.” Australia’s contribution does not even rate a mention in this global context.

So why has Australia been fingered as dilatory in the lead up to COP26, and placed under enormous pressure to commit to a Net Zero by 2050 target, when many of the major fossil fuel producers listed above have made no commitments at all, and China, by far the biggest coal producer, has given itself a Net Zero free pass until 2060?

Figure 3:

Most of the coal-fired power stations in Asia are less than ten years old and there is no possible way the developing nations running these could be expected to just turn them all off decades earlier than their planned lifespans of 40 or 50 years. They simply could not afford to do this because it would destroy the future economic prosperity of hundreds of millions of people. That is why Australia’s coal exports are secure for decades. To prematurely shut down our coal industry and put other peoples’ electricity supplies at risk is completely unthinkable.

The mainstream media fills our heads with blue-sky propaganda about:

  • billions of tonnes of ‘green’ hydrogen produced by the electrolysis of water using electricity from solar panels and wind turbines;
  • massive multi tens-of-billion-dollar undersea power cables for exporting our ‘green’ electricity; and
  • completely unproven and uncosted schemes involving the use of billions of tonnes of hydrogen to manufacture billions of tonnes of ‘combustible’ ammonia — with the need to also completely re-engineer and replace everything that would ever be used to both transport and utilise these new ‘green’ fuels.

Similarly, ‘carbon capture and storage’ (CCS) technologies and associated captured CO2 transport and burial are entirely technically unproven and uncosted at the required scales. These mad schemes, which also include electrifying the entire global transport fleet (electric cars and trucks), and electrifying all building heating (heat pumps), are being pushed by people with not even the slightest idea of the engineering challenges that need to be overcome in just a few years to make them work on the scale required and, of course, the less one knows about even an impossible task the easier it seems to accomplish.

What is the size of the global Net Zero by 2050 challenge and how much might it cost? According to a recently published thematic research report from the Bank of America, summarised here, the main points are as follows:

  • Is Net Zero even possible? — “Yes but required this decade to achieve: a 50-80% reduction in CO2 by 2030 (vs. 2020); and 100% by 2050 in all sectors.” (Remember this is according to the Bank of America.)
  • How much renewable energy would be needed? — “9-14 times 2020 levels, or 27-42TWh capacity globally in 2050.” (Unclear if this considers the electricity needed to electrify all transport and building heating, as well as increasing demand due to economic growth in developing nations — probably not!)
  • How many electric vehicles and batteries? — “85-100% of all road transport vehicle fleet by 2050 requiring up to 88x current battery manufacturing capacity (14TWh).” (NOTE: that this does not include the enormous grid-scale battery storage that would be required to reliably support an entire global renewables-based electricity grid, and also: where are all the still-undiscovered enormous deposits of the battery materials required to be mined located?)
  • How much will it cost? — “Five trillion dollars a year for over 30 years (150 trillion dollars), at $150/tn of CO2 emissions saved.” (This is probably still a gross underestimate.)
  • Will a carbon tax be required? — “Yes, an average of $150/tn expected over 20 years to achieve required emissions reductions, with 2040-50 price influenced by carbon capture effectiveness.” (No doubt this is also still a massive underestimate because of the huge uncertainties in the actual costs of the unproven technologies.)

Will common sense save us from this fate? Hopefully, over time, more people will start to ask why we are doing this and demand the actual evidence in support of the idea that we face an existential climate emergency due to CO2 in the first place and discover, as I have, that there actually isn’t any such evidence at all — not even in any of the six multi-thousand page IPCC Assessment Reports that have been published since 1990.

Arthur Day is an earth scientist with a PhD from Monash University in the formation of volcanic rocks, who for many years worked on the Synroc research program at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation. He is the General Editor of the series of Fact Sheets being produced by the IPA.