Climate Change – Climate Funds gets it wrong

The Green stuff

Big money is on the table with the Green Climate Fund.  In 2016, around two and a half billion dollars is to be disbursed on projects and programs to help countries adapt to climate change and to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases the most dangerous of which are carbon dioxide and methane. The Global Climate Fund therefore has a huge role to play in a global paradigm shift that is changing the way the world uses energy. It’s well underway–or at least it was, until Donald Trump became President-elect of the USA.

But it’s not only Trump that gets it all wrong.  The Green Climate Fund is also having a senior moment. The industries that are operating big, dirty, coal-fired power plants in Asia and elswhere have applied to the Fund for financial support to clean up their act.  And no, they are not going to shut down.

They say they are going to install state-of-the art technology to reduce their emissions of carbon. ‘Clean coal’ is the rallying cry. ‘Low-carbon’ power generation the mantra.  So is the Green Climate Fund going to give millions of dollars in grants and concessional loans to utilities operating dirty, polluting, coal fired power stations?  Apparently yes.

There’s a certain logic. If the mandate of the GCF is to reduce carbon emissions doesn’t it make sense to provide a grant to a dirty, massively-polluting, coal-fired power station to install equipment and machinery that reduces their emissions?

It makes sense if you believe that this is the only option.

A clean machine?

Coal-fired and oil-fired power plants are inherently polluting factories that produce electrical power. Its not just the greenhouse gases that get pumped out into the atmosphere. Large amounts of sooty particulates are dispersed; sulphur compounds producing acid rain are emitted together with toxic trace elements like mercury. These emissions have serious and well-documented health impacts. This is just at the business end.

Go back to the beginning and look at the human and environmental costs of the strip mining, the coal train derailments, the oil rig explosions, the fracking-induced earthquakes, the oil train catastrophes, the pipeline ruptures, and the oil tanker disasters. This is the true cost of getting the fuel to the power stations so that the humming generators keep on running.  Getting the fosil fuels out of the ground and transporting them to power stations carries a massive external cost that is rarely discussed–and never by the companies running the power stations.  They don’t want you to think about all the horrific mess that’s made even before the fossil fuel gets to the power station.

The perversity of power

Paying power stations to clean up their act is the most perverse kind of incentive.  Why should power plant operators invest in modern cleaner technology if the Green Climate Fund will cover the costs?  And the higher the current level of greenhouse gas emissions from the power station, the greater the probability that the GCF will be persuaded to provide funding to reduce the emissions.

The Green Climate Fund is making a huge mistake.  You don’t pay polluters to clean up  their act. You find ways to make them accountable. You find ways to make them internalize their external costs. You put a price on carbon.  You cap and trade.  You get them to understand that this is not the way the world works any more.

Hey big spender

Above all, you finance clean energy. It doesn’t come with the massive environmental burden of the fossil-fuel industry. Solar energy and wind power are right on your door step.  You don’t have to rip up the earth or drill through the ocean floor to get at them. You don’t have to move thousands of tons of carbon-laden fuels across miles of land.  You don’t have to mop up the mess when things go wrong.

You don’t even have to make any noise to use these renewable energy technologies.  This is the new silent spring.

Imagine a world without pipelines, strip mines, and supertankers. Without fouled beaches, and without birds and marine life clotted with viscous black oil.

Clean coal is science fiction. Carbon capture and storage is more science fiction. Never seen or photographed, and at this point in time unkown to mankind. But since when did that stop the oil companies?

Budgeting carbon

Take a look at the numbers.  The Global Carbon Budget group just published their 2016 report. In 2015, CO2 emissions were about 35 billion tons.  As a direct result of these emissions, atmospheric CO2 concentrations rose another 2 ppm. We are now at 400 ppm–a symbolic threshhold that was crossed this year.  The numbers show that to stop CO2 levels constantly climbing, emissions have to be reduced by at least two thirds. They need to be reduced from 35 billion tons a year to around 11 billion tons a year–which is the level at which absorption by land and the oceans would roughly compensate for the emsssions.  Will switching power plants from coal to natural gas do the trick?  If investing in new technology reduced carbon dioxide emissions by more than two-thirds there would at least be a persuasive argument for going ahead.

But data from the internet sites–the EPA for example– make it clear that switching from coal to natural gas cuts emissions by about half.  This is a useful contribution to be sure–but it isn’t enough.

So why spend money on a retrofit that only partially solves the problem when there are other ways of cutting CO2 emissions–not by half, not by two-thirds, but completely.  One hundred percent.

You don’t pay the polluter to clean up his act. And you certainly don’t pay the polluter to only clean up half his act. Clean coal; natural gas retrofits; and carbon capture and storage are the last pipe dreams of the oil and gas industry.

What do they say : Caveat emptor?   Buyer beware.  The Green Climate Fund should be very careful. This will not sit well when the future looks back.


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