Fiddling while Rome burns…a new report

"The report asks how we can address the effects of climate change caused by oil, gas and coal, while at the same time satisfying the energy needs of a developing world?"

Hello – ‘Climate Change Bore’ here again.

Forgive me for another blog post about climate change and for sharing my agitation that time is running out for abatement (cutting carbon) while the general focus on adaptation is increasing.

However, yet another report has appeared that explores this issue and I I think it has a special relevance to ABB, our technologies and markets, as it looks at climate in the context of energy.

“Building a sustainable energy future: risks and opportunities”, a collaboration between one of the world’s leading insurers, Swiss Re, and public-private sector partners predicts that the need for adaptation will increase as we are left with no choice but to try to reduce the impact of climate change.  Plans to tackle the root cause of climate change – by eliminating carbon dioxide emissions at source  – seem to be sitting in the politicians’ “too difficult” tray.

Population growth and global economic development over the coming decades will create greater demand for energy.  And with the current and predicted future generating mix, this will result in increased use of fossil fuels, with the inevitable increase in CO2 emissions.

The report asks how we can address the effects of climate change caused by oil, gas and coal, while at the same time satisfying the energy needs of a developing world?  The report, compiled in conjunction with the Scenarios for Climate Change project, presents six scenarios for future power supply mixes in 2050, taking into account financial, political and societal factors.

You can read the report yourself, but here are the headings of the six scenarios from the report, followed by my brief interpretation of what they could mean:

Scenario 1: “GHG emission reduction not pursued.”  The politicians are up to their necks in fixing an ailing economy over the long-term and don’t give the climate priority. Once those politicians have been thrown out of office, it’s discovered that not fixing the cause has resulted in their successors having to fix the effects. Forever.

Scenario 2: “Late and disruptive climate change policy action.”  Policy makers who ‘fiddle while Rome burns’ suddenly realize, oh sh*t, we really should have done something earlier and then proceed to introduce Draconian laws to limit emissions, thus strangling economic growth

Scenario 3: “Slow greening of the economy.” Politicians adopt the ‘all talk no action’ strategy of saying how important a green economy is, while not doing much about it.  Weak incentives lead to only slow growth in low carbon generation, but sensible and clever people in companies invest in greener technologies and sell them to people who want to save money and the planet.  But it’s all too little, too late.  The climate changes and in hot places people leave or fry, and rich people in low-lying places spend every waking hour building sea defenses, while poor people in low-lying places make stilts so they can keep their heads above rising sea levels.

Scenario 4: “Clean technology breakthrough.” Eureka!  Some clever scientists meet some clever engineers, an economist and a good marketing person and they develop a fantastic new green technology that is better value for money compared to fossil fuel technology. Furthermore, it’s an easily manufactured product that generates, transmits or saves energy. Market forces (more bangs for your bucks) ensure worldwide adoption.

Scenario 5: “High fossil fuel prices make the world go green.” Politicians want to ensure continuous access to relatively cheap power, otherwise it’s bad for their election prospects. Large importers of oil are forced to adopt new generation technologies through cost and concerns over energy security. Clean technologies scale up and become cheaper and more available to a wider user base – investing in smart grids and energy efficiency makes even more sense.

Scenario 6: “Policy consensus around climate change.”  Politicians realize when gravity acts on a falling object, the only way to stop it hitting the floor is to catch it.  Major economies experience sustainable recovery and policy-makers accept that they must act.  They collectively ‘bite the bullet’ and commit to binding and aggressive multi-lateral agreements on carbon reduction.  This clear policy signal prompts investment in clean technologies.

So, some interesting ways in which we can limit climate change.

But the bad news is that none of these initiatives will limit CO2 to 450 parts per million (ppm) which is the maximum that will limit the rise in temperature to 2 degrees Celsius.  Rather, we are looking at 550-700ppm and a change in temperature of 3-5 degrees, resulting in severe environmental and social consequences.

Is it already too late? I’d be interested in any comments you have on the report.


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Image credit: Moyan Brenn on Flickr


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About the author

Adam Roscoe

I am the Head of Sustainability Affairs at ABB. In a previous life I trained as a journalist and worked as one for eight years. My interests outside work include cycling, cooking, current affairs, history, Daft Punk and writing.
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