Throughout the Christmas-New Year break, The Interpreter will be featuring some of its best pieces from 2015. More to come between now and January 4 when The Interpreter will be back for 2016.
China makes its formal climate-change pledge, by Frank Jotzo, 1 July.
What it means is that China aims to continue until 2030 the rate of decarbonisation targeted for the 2005 to 2020 period — around 4% per year. This target will require strong action to improve energy productivity and shift to zero-carbon energy sources.
Such a pace of cleaning up economic growth has rarely been achieved elsewhere over a significant period of time. The decarbonisation rate in the US since its emissions peak in 2007 is 3.3% per year, and this has included an unprecedented boom in cheap gas. EU carbon dioxide emissions peaked in 2002, and its collective emissions intensity declined by an annual average of 2.2% during the following ten years. The main historical precedent for decarbonisation rates above 4% per year over extended periods of time are Russia and other parts of the Eastern bloc following the 1990s collapse of Soviet-era industrial structures.
Australia's renewable energy wars: How do our targets compare internationally?, by Fergus Green, 7 August.
In terms of absolute renewable energy capacity additions, China reigns supreme, and its additions dwarf what Australia is considering. Whereas Australia wouldneed to build only about 1.4 gigawatts (GW) of large scale renewable capacity per year between 2020 and 2030 to get to 50% renewable electricity (ie. 14GW in ten years), China built more than 20GW of wind capacitylast year alone. China is planning to add another 100-200GW of wind power and another 75GW of solar in the next five years, targets that are likely to be increased and exceeded if recent experience is any guide (see p. 38 of ourrecent Policy Brief). Arecent report by Chinese government energy planning agencies contained a 'high-penetration renewable energy scenario' whereby China would build 2400GW of wind and 2700GW of solar by 2050.
Of course, China's electricity sector is vastly bigger than Australia's, but the point is that we needn't think that 14GW of large scale renewables in Australia over ten years is anything radical. It's the very least we should be doing.
Why we still need UN climate negotiations, by Seb Henbest, 20 August.
But will this be enough? There's a compelling economic case that cheap renewable energy could get us to the 2º target. But even with the cost reductions we foresee, global emissions are likely to continue to rise.
The combination of strong growth in the demand for electricity, abundant low-cost local sources of fossil fuels and a dearth of pollution and emission controls in energy-hungry developing economies will bring a significant amount of new carbon-intensive coal and gas generation into play. In India, emissions from coal-fired power alone may well increase 40% by 2040. In Southeast Asia, emissions could climb 48%, and in Turkey they may rise 28%.
On balance, we don't expect global power-sector emissions to peak until 2029 in the absence of further policy intervention, as the increase in developing-country emissions overwhelms reductions elsewhere. By 2040, emissions will still be 13% higher than today.
In this scenario we are still staring down a climate catastrophe.
What we ultimately need is more emissions controls in developing countries and mechanisms that can bring down the cost of decarbonisation outside the OECD. And for that we need the UN negotiations – and probably many more grandly-named global agreements.
Indian exceptionalism and realistic responses to climate change, by Samir Saran, 10 September.
Prime Minister Modi’s recent statements suggest that he may be such a realist as well. He is promoting an aggressive renewable energy thrust, while being uncompromising on the point that lifeline energy will continue to rely on coal for the foreseeable future. When he takes coal off the discursive table, he is not foreclosing the right to use coal; instead he is sharpening the focus on India’s impressive credentials around green growth. He invokes religious texts, civilisational ethos and clever political word-play as he seeks a leadership role for India in global climate policy, and sets the agenda with ambitious plans for transitioning to a new energy paradigm. The 'house always wins' is a golden Las Vegas adage with a lesson for global politics too: unless we see strong political leadership of the kind being displayed by Prime Minister Modi and President Obama, the house – in this case national officialdom(s) and global bureaucrats – will prevail again. They will construct a new world order with words, commas and full stops, where nothing, not even the climate, can ever change.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Oxfam International.