September 25th, 2021

Viewpoint: Climate policies

By Larry Samcoe on September 2, 2021.

Bjorn Lomborg in False Alarm believes that climate change is real, that Earth is not on the verge of its demise and that the world leaders are promoting expensive and mainly inefficient policies. His assessment has been developed with the assistance of the Copenhagen Consensus Centre and of numerous prominent economists.

Thirty years after the 1992 Rio Climate Conference, climate change policies have been a failure. The 2015 Paris Agreement is probably the most expensive pact in history at an estimated cost globally by 2030 of at least $1 trillion annually.

If all nations meet their promised targets through 2030, UN organizers estimate a 64 Gt [gigatonne] reduction of CO2. At 0.44°C reduction per 1,000 Gt of CO2, 64 Gt would reduce temperature by 0.028°C, a minimal impact in solving global warming.

The IPCC Sixth Assessment Report summarizes the previously published reports and restates that global warming is a problem. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reacted with the apocalyptic narrative, the opening for the next climate conference in Glasgow.

Professor William Nordhaus of Yale University, a 2018 Nobel Laureate in economics, has modeled estimated costs of climate change at different levels of CO2 emissions, temperature, economic development and adaptation. The findings have been tested and peer reviewed over decades.

The best estimate even with an additional 25% found that the total costs of climate change by 2100 at about 4% of the global GDP. It is larger than the 2.6% projected by the 2018 UN climate panel report. This figure is important for adjusting the GDP of different economic plans.

In 2017, UN researchers drafted five pathways up to 2100 with two prominent ones – the Green Road and the Fossil-fueled Development. The Green option may be appealing, but the fossil-fuel scenario has a better outcome. Governments invest more in education, health and technology for the world to become better off with less poverty and inequality.

The fossil-fuel path will have a temperature rise of 8.7° F [4.8° C], the damage at the end of this century will be about $11,000 per person annually and will reduce the expected GDP of $172,000 per person. This option exceeds the green way by $69,000 per person. Future generations will have more opportunities and more help for the world’s poorest, and additional smarter climate policies should be implemented.

A market-based solution to reduce CO2 emissions is for all countries to have the same level of tax on these emissions, but it is very unlikely. The Nordhaus climate-economic model projects an optimal scenario, an increase in the average global temperature of 6.75°F by the end of the century. The total costs of climate change policy and damage will be about $122 trillion, 2.6% of the total GDP with the balance for other spending.

The global economy should be focusing more on finding and creating alternatives to fossil fuels. Solar and wind power have huge political support, but the International Energy Agency estimates that by 2040 these alternatives will deliver only less than 5% of global energy.

Research and Development in new technology could result in more cost-effective alternatives to fossil fuels: energy storage excluding batteries, nuclear energy, carbon dioxide capture and fusion power. R&D is using carbon dioxide as a raw material. The Universities of Chicago & Northern Illinois have electrochemically converted CO2 and water into ethanol, an additive in nearly all U.S. gasoline. At the University of Calgary, research has turned greenhouse gases into carbon nanofibres. These fibres have potentially multiple industrial uses, for example, replacing metal. New innovations will require additional research investment to become more marketable alternatives.

The changing climate will require human ingenuity for innovation and adaptation. For example, the Netherlands had a devastating flood with the loss of 1,800 lives in 1953. The Dutch government invested in flood prevention in a system of dams and storm-surge barriers. It cost $11 billion, but the country had, since 1953, only three floods and one related fatality.

Southwestern United States has experienced severe droughts. It is puzzling that desalination of Pacific waters has not been implemented to replenish its aquifers. Yet, in the Middle East this process is an important source of water, and solar is used to reduce the cost considerably.

Prosperity is also a climate change policy. Nobel-prize winning economist Thomas Schelling suggested “getting richer is likely to be the better way to help people, even those faced with climate problems.”

The wealthier developed nations tend to ignore that the more important option for the world’s poorer nations is development to escape poverty rather than climate change.

Our federal government has approved climate policies which have had an adverse economic impact on regions of our country. Other climate policies exist which will require different leadership, emphasizing more co-operation. Do we as a nation have the interest and will for a different way?

Larry Samcoe is a Medicine Hatter

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