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Posted by: David Hone

Durban - Success, Failure or . . . . ?

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After two busy weeks, the Durban COP was extended by a full day and then went well into a second, with long nights of negotiation along the way. Eventually a deal emerged which has polarized both the media and blogsphere between being the salvation of mankind or the quick route to runaway warming. In reality it is neither, but if that is the case then where are we?

First the good news. After years of discussion, stalling and negotiation the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) is now able to accept Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) projects. This important technology now has the opportunity for global use under a clear set of rules that all countries have sanctioned. Of course there remains the ongoing issue of the low price of CERs, largely driven by the weakness of the EU-ETS, but at least the CDM will continue to exist thanks to a Durban agreement on the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol, albeit with a limited set of players. If nothing else, the “CCS in CDM” agreement puts CCS properly on the radar and hopefully paves the way for implementation through other means, such as via the Green Climate Fund. 

In addition to the move on CCS, the Green Climate Fund and Technology Mechanism both made useful progress. In comparison to expectations going into Durban, the COP could be regarded as something of a success. But these are small steps to take for a two week conference which attracts some 10,000 people (including observers). Of course the real objective is to make a major step forward and agree a way for all parties to begin rapidly reducing emissions.

What then of the agreement in Durban to negotiate a new protocol (or another legal instrument or a legal outcome) by 2015 at the latest, for implementation by 2020? From the perspective of large scale mitigation action involving all the major emitters, this is good news, but given the reality of the rate of increase in the level of CO2 in the atmosphere, the story is really very different.

In a 2009 posting, I discussed the issue of a 2°C objective on the basis of CO2 behaving like a stock pollutant in the atmosphere (Allen et al, Nature, April 2009). For a 50% chance of limiting the global temperature rise to 2°C, the stock of CO2 should not rise above 1 trillion tonnes of carbon (or 3.667 trillion tonnes of CO2). This provides a useful way of assessing the impact of the “Durban Platform for Enhanced Action”. Consider four cases;

  1. The “do nothing” base case which sees emissions continue to rise at the rate of 2% per annum (global emissions increased by 2.5% p.a. over the period 2000 to 2009 – IEA) and accumulate in the atmosphere. This sees the trillionth tonne emitted in 2044 with continued rapid accumulation in the decades following.
  2. A dramatic (but of course hypothetical) deal in Durban which sees global emissions peak immediately and begin to fall at 1.7% p.a., the same rate of decline as currently built into the EU ETS. In this case the trillionth tonne is emitted just after 2100, but emissions are very low by this time and still falling, so the 2°C limit is effectively met.
  3. Business as usual continues until 2020, but the “Durban Platform” acts aggressively on global emissions post-2020, with emissions peaking in that year and then falling. To achieve the same outcome as Case 2 the annual rate of decline must now be 3% p.a.
  4. Business as usual continues until 2020, with the “Durban Platform” resulting in a global plateau in emissions from 2020 to 2030, then falling after that. Now the rate of decline must be over 4.5% p.a. to achieve the same outcome as Case 2. 

While the agreement to start negotiating again with a view towards implementation of a global plan from 2015/2020 must be seen as a positive development, the time lag now built into the process must equally be a cause for concern. There is nothing easy about emissions and the future, but starting the job today is an essential requirement for meeting the 2°C goal – this was also the clear message from the IEA (International Energy Agency) going into COP 17. A theoretical global decline of 1.7% p.a. is at least still within the bounds of technical (but clearly not political)plausibility, although only just, but arguably a reduction rate of 3% or 4.5% is beyond an achievable outcome. Even the financial crisis only managed to deliver a 1.4% reduction from 2008 to 2009 before emissions bounced back in 2010. A 3% p.a. decline from 2020 requires more than a billion tonnes per annum of reduction – or the startup of at least 130 very large CCS facilities that year and then each year after that. A 4.5% p.a. decline is considerably more difficult to achieve.

The above cases 3 and 4 which both represent a robust deal coming from the “Durban Platform” are also very optimistic given the track record of the UNFCCC negotiations and perhaps of greater concern, the track record of national implementation of agreements made.

Nevertheless, Durban may well be seen as a landmark COP and it may just mark the point at which attitudes change, but the shape of the outcome also makes the challenge ahead that much greater.

Authored by:

David Hone

David Hone serves as the Chief Climate Change Advisor for Royal Dutch Shell. He combines his work with his responsibilities as a board member and Chairman of the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA). Additionally, he works closely with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and has been a lead contributor to many of its recent energy and climate change ...

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December 18, 2011

Willem Post says:


Your analysis is correct, but not realistic because of the decades it takes for nations to allocate the funds and implement the fuels shifts, energy efficiency measures (a sure way to reduce CO2) and build out non-CO2 emitting facilities, such as about 1,000,000 MW of nuclear plants at a cost of about 3-4 trillion dollars to produce about 50% of the world's electrical energy (assuming very significant worldwide EE measures) by say 2060.

That means bringing on line 1,000 MW plants at a rate of 25/yr for 40 years. It takes about 8 years to build such plants, so the first ones would start producing energy in 2021, etc.  

This could not be done with utility-scale wind turbines; the world would look like a porcupine.

To assume, as some people do, that renewables will supply such a quantity of energy is beyond mere dreaming. 

There are serious doubts about wind energy reducing a significant percentage of CO2/kWh. See below 5 articles.


Inadequacy of GW Prediction Models: The two most recent warming periods are the MWP and the PWP; the first one was slightly warmer and had a CO2 of about 280 ppMv, whereas the second has 388 ppMv at present. 


To further complicate matters, satellite-based temperature measurements since 1979 showed a slight 12 to 15 year COOLING trend from about 1997 to the Present while the CO2 ppMv was increasing which was also not predicted by the GW models. 


The temperature discrepancies could not be duplicated by the GW prediction models which calculated the world average temperature would increase by several degrees Celcius due to the present CO2 ppMv being higher than it had been for at least a million years. The implication was a doomsday scenario was about to impact the world. 


At first IPCC scientists tried to explain the discrepancy by dismissing the MWP as a local, not a world event, but the MWP dismissal was not upheld by the data from other parts of the world. 


Then came the unauthorized release of emails showing that there had been an IPCC conspiracy to keep the doomsday scenario alive by denying the existence of the MWP. This ultimately led to Climategate I and II. 


It apppears an upgrade of the models is in order. However, such models may never be able to duplicate the past variations in climate and predict future ones; the world’s climate, influenced by man-made activities, is just too complicated.


The doomsday scenario was used by renewables promotors to scare people away from using fossil fuels. Also, they used the Fukushima event to scare people away from using nuclear energy. It served their business interests.





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December 19, 2011

David Hone says:


Thanks for the comment. I agree that such a deployment isn't realistic, the anlalysis was more to highlight the plight that comes from a further delay of 10 years.


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December 19, 2011

Willem Post says:


I understand your aim, but CO2 has not varied much during the past 10,000 years and yet we have had the Roman Warm Period, the Medieval Warm Period, the Little Ice Age and the Present Warm Period which is still operative.

Some studies estimate about 50% of the GW since the end of the LIA has been due to the recovery from the LIA and the rest from manmade effects, such as deforestation, urbanization, pollution and aerosols. The latter two, plus increased cloud formation, appear to have overwhelmed any GW effect from the rising CO2 ppMV since about 1900, i.e, based on CO2 ppMv, we should be frying, but we are not.

Also, GW is strictly a Northern Hemisphere phenomenon; it is least in the antarctic and equator latitudes, and most in the arctic latitudes. Most of the landmass, people, deforestation, urbanization, pollution and aerosols are in the Northern Hemisphere.

In general, cloud formation increases as the world average temperature increases; some areas, such as New England, have more of an increase than others.

We may want to decrease CO2 emissions for various reasons, but GW appears to be not one of them. I think more and more people are beginning to realize this and as a result the GW meetings produce little results, except to talk further, i.e., wait and see.

There are people who have an interest in scare-mongering, because they have been told by renewables promotors the end is near, etc., for business development reasons.

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December 19, 2011

David Hone says:

I won't argue the issue here Willem. I take the view that CO2 in the atmosphere has been shown over and over again to be primarily responsible for the difference between this planet being close to a snow ball (-15 deg.C) and something habitable (+15 deg.C). There is no disagreement, that I am aware of, that it is important in this regard. As such, we should be very cautious about the impact of suddenly and artifically pushing up the level to double that which the existing equilibrium had settled at.

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December 19, 2011

Willem Post says:


Cautious, is correct, but pollution, aerosols and increased cloudcover are here and not going away. The evidence shows, they mitigate the effects of rising CO2 ppMV.

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