The Road to Nowhere

By Keith Kloor | November 21, 2011 10:35 am

Governments of the world’s richest countries have given up on forging a new treaty on climate change to take effect this decade, with potentially disastrous consequences for the environment through global warming.

Ahead of critical talks starting next week, most of the world’s leading economies now privately admit that no new global climate agreement will be reached before 2016 at the earliest, and that even if it were negotiated by then, they would stipulate it could not come into force until 2020.

Nobody wants to say this for the record, of course, but in order to keep up the charade, representatives of “those richest countries” will probably feign surprise at this Guardian piece and publicly respond, Not us. We’re on board. Let’s keep at it!

  • Jarmo

    The politically correct framework of fighting climate change (rich countries cut emissions, poor countries cut emissions if rich countries pay for it) is somehow objected by the rich bastards.

    China has only reached per capita carbon parity with some EU countries. OK, China’s and India’s middle classes probably have carbon footprints close to the US average.

    Even Europeans are turning into bastards, being stingy with the Chinese:

     http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/nov/09/green-group-china-climate-blackmail

  • Pascvaks

    The “Environmentally Friendly Politicians” on the planet will be going down with their Ships of State in short order (Hallllllooo Australia, got yer ears on Mate?).  When everyone is fat and feels guilty about their plight, they’re into things like the Environment.  When people are out of work and down on their luck, they only care about feeding the kids and paying the bills.  The Global Economic Morass is a REAL gamechanger. 

  • harrywr2

    A time-frame of 2020 seems about right to me.
    It’ll be 2016 before India and China have the necessary industrial and professional capability to significantly expand their nuclear power build programs at the earliest.
    It’s a long road from ‘technically feasible’ to practical at scale.
     

  • Alexander Harvey

    Connie Hedegaard, EU climate commissioner and host of Copenhagen 2009, has put her name to this, so it is not really off-record.

    Once a delay is perceived to be necessary, is this long enough? It is only four years, not much happens in four years.

    Will people feign surprise? Not if they can get their acts together and all come down with the same message. There is always a chance.

    I think that four years is about the worst, neither short nor long.

    If the nation states can get their acts together it might just engender some long term thinking and public discussion, and I do mean long term: beyond China and India.
     

    Alex

  • Eric Adler

    Given the severe problems facing the economies of the developed world, especially Europe and the US, one would expect that political leaders wouldn’t have the “band width” to deal with Climate Change which will happen decades from now. This is a natural human reaction, even in countries where  AGW denialism is less prevalent than in the US.
    This is not good for the planet.
    Hopefully, China will lead the way in developing sustainable energy technologies. They seem to be doing a lot with commercializing solar and wind, and are working on  nuclear reactors using thorium.
     

  • harrywr2

    #4,

    Once a delay is perceived to be necessary, is this long enough? It is only four years, not much happens in four years.
    China 2050 by LBNL -

    http://china.lbl.gov/sites/china.lbl.gov/files/2050_Summary_Report_042811_FINAL.pdf.

    A combination of factors occur…saturation point on some things occurs(I.E. everyone in China has a TV and a Fridge)…industrial expansion to build something other then coal fired plants occurs..

  • EdG

    Wow. That Guardian piece has so much spin that I’m dizzy. And, of course, it quotes all the usual suspects.

    “The Alliance of Small Island States, which represents some of the countries most at risk from global warming…”

    Even though we all know that these ‘disappearing’ islands aren’t disappearing after all, they are still flogging this extortion attempt.
    Now that’s genuine denial.
    “Postponing an operational agreement until 2020 would be fatal to hopes of avoiding catastrophic climate change, according to scientists, economists and green campaigners.”

    If one didn’t know better they might think that all scientists and economists think this. Or not realize that the ones that do say this are indeed mostly also “green campaigners.”

    “Fatih Birol, chief [IEA] economist… told the Guardian: “If we do not have an international agreement whose effect is put in place by 2017, then the door to [holding temperatures below 2C] will be closed forever.”

    Alrighty then. We’re doomed. Economists are always right.
    “Lord Stern, author of a [debunked and absurd] landmark review of the economics of climate change, said… “It’s not fast enough ““ this is a collective failure, and [leaving agreement to] 2020 is taking considerable risks with the planet.”

    Buy this used Lada now!

    “Sir David King, former UK chief scientist, said: “[A date of 2020] for an agreement is absolutely to be expected, and I am not at all dismayed by that.”"

    To paraphrase: ‘We always knew this would happen. And we predicted the recent flattening of temperatures too. We are always right.’

    “Scientists say the only way to avoid catastrophic and irreversible climate change is to hold temperatures to no more than 2C above pre-industrial levels.”

    Which scientists say this? Apparently all of them, according to this. The Guardian’s nose grows longer.
    “The new delay comes as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned on Friday of mounting evidence that global warming was leading to more extreme weather events…”

    Too bad that mounting evidence is not found in the real world.

    “Last year, global carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels rose by more than 5% despite the worst recession for 80 years, according to the IEA.”

    That’s odd. They forgot to mention the source of those increased emissions. Oh, that’s right. They couldn’t, lest that spoil their Western guilt trip argument.
    “Connie Hedegaard… EU…”

    Enough said.

    “The UK’s negotiators are now fixed on 2020, and the US is understood to expect a similar trajectory.”

    Another false trajectory from the folks who brought you the disappearing island and polar bear population trajectories, and all that.
    “Christiana Figueres, the UN’s top official on climate change… Ruth Davis of Greenpeace”

    No point pretending that these are two separate organizations. One plays good calm cop while her partner screams fire. 

    Greenpeace Ruth explains that if we do not “agree to sign a binding global deal no later than 2015… we risk sliding rapidly from climate crisis to climate catastrophe.”

    In other words, give us money or the planet will die! They’re makin’ us an offer we can’t refuse!

    Sorry, but crying wolf has had its inevitable consequences, and now the ‘emporer with no clothes’ parable has taken effect.

    That said, this road is not blocked by any means. Way too much money and power at stake. The only way to effectively drive ‘green’ energy now is via economics. That is, higher prices for fossil fuels – oil in particular – versus alternatives. Hmmm. Is there any way to make those energy prices skyrocket (to paraphrase Barry) despite the Great Recession? I wonder if bombing Iran would help their cause? By golly, I think it would.

  • Nullius in Verba

    They gave up in the run-up to Copenhagen. The last-ditch chance was the last-minute agreement at Bali that the developing world would get emission reductions too (the climate doesn’t care where the CO2 came from), but that hope was dashed when the Chinese announced that they only meant carbon intensity reductions (i.e. no reductions at all) in exchange for piles of money from the West, and not even Captain Hopenchange himself would sign up to that.

    They were already busy managing expectations in the run-up to Copenhagen, and the subsequent meetings I think have been held only because they’d already booked the conference centres, and they had all these negotiators that they didn’t want to chuck out of their jobs. Nobody expected them to produce anything. Nobody was interested any more. Son-of-Kyoto is dead.

    I think this article is a combination of more expectation management for Durban, along with a forlorn hope that maybe announcing its death might spur people to more heroic attempts to resucitate. No, sorry, it’s dead. Passed on. Ceased to be. Expired and gone to meet its maker. A stiff. Bereft of life. Rests in peace. etc.
    It’s just going to take a little while for those people who have nailed their political trousers to the mast of the good ship Climate Change to find a way to abandon ship gracefully.

    The usual way scares end is that the media simply stop talking about it, and after a while the general public simply forgets it ever happened. Don’t worry, there’ll be another one along soon.

  • EdG

    #8 – I don’t think they had given up before Copenhagen, judging by the ramp up of hysterical propaganda leading to that (not to mention their kiddy-shock film used as the intro to that Watermelon Festival).

    Looks to me like the miraculously timed release of the Climategate files was the critical tipping point that popped the balloon. Balloons that big do take a while to lose all their air.

    By the way, belated Happy Climategate Day (Nov 19)!

  • Nullius in Verba

    #9,
    Yes. The media and the environmental activists hadn’t got the memo yet, but the politicians and negotiators were busy downplaying it.

    And a Happy Climategate Day to you, too!

  • harrywr2

    #7 Guoting the Guardian
    Postponing an operational agreement until 2020 would be fatal to hopes of avoiding catastrophic climate change


    I don’t know about the climate end of the deal. I follow coal.
    The price of coal had been declining for a good 20 years between 1980 and 2000. Coal has it’s ‘ups and downs’ in price…so the idea that the 20 year trend had somehow changed didn’t become even ‘speakable’ until 2006 or 2007. Anyone pointing out at a change in the historical trend had occurred would have been branded ‘insane’.
    We now have a good 10 year upward price trend. Why do we need a global treaty to increase the price of coal when the price of coal is increasing absent the treaty?
    In most of the world windmills and nuclear power plants are already cheaper then burning coal. (Australia and the US being exceptions).
    Just as it takes 10 years to recognize a ‘trend’ in coal prices it takes another 10 years to begin transitioning.




  • Alexander Harvey

    harrywr2:

    Thanks for the link (BTW It has an extraneous “.” at the end)

    From the Conclusions:

    “It is a common belief that China’s CO2 emissions will continue to grow throughout this century. We believe this is not likely to be the case for the following reasons: appliances, residential and commercial floor area, roadways, railways, fertilizer use, etc. will saturate in the 2030 time frame; urbanization will approach peak after 2030 or 2035; exports of energy-intensive industry will decline; and low population growth.”

    The trajectories all seem lower than were achieved be the earliest developing nations, which would be expected. If they can meet the goals in their plans, which I expect they can, and achieve what LBNL think they are capable of in terms of efficiencies. They look to be in a good place, both economically, and in terms of a bargaining position regarding emissions.

    Alex

  • hunter

    By 2020 AGW will join the 1970′s ice age down the memory hole, and those suffering form apocalyptic cult syndrome will have found a new end of the world scare.
     

  • Bill

    CAGW finally goes into the same grave as Acid Rain, Ozone Hole, Club of Rome, Nuclear Waste, New Ice Age, GMO’s and the Pesticide Peril.

    (And Piltdown Man, of course).

    It’s a happy, happy day!

    Next bogeymen – Ocean Acidification

  • http://planet3.org Michael Tobis

    You guys really expect this to go away. Wow. Well, you win for now.
    We get to test the hypothesis. Hang on to your hats, is all I can say about it.
     

  • Menth

    Over 182,000 (I googled it) people die each year from war. What humanity NEEDS is a global treaty banning war, think about it: we could save 182k lives!

  • cagw_skeptic99

    MT. I once asked on your blog if spending money to study the impact of natural variation in climate would improve the credibility of the tribe you belong to. Your answer was essentially that studying natural variation was a complete waste of time and money. I think I am banned from commenting on your blog, but wonder if you still think knowing more about the effects of ‘natural variation’ is a complete waste of time.

  • Bill

    MT you were supposed to “test the hypothesis” before you asked people to spend trillions of $ on it.

  • OPatrick

    Bill, I have a sneaking suspicion you are not actually being ironic when you write that.

  • hunter

    Here are the driving directions on the road to nowhere, as instructed by the climatocracy:
    http://tallbloke.wordpress.com/2011/11/22/breaking-news-foia-2011-has-arrived/#comment-9470
    Question for believers: How do you like getting tooled and used by those you have put your faith in?
     

  • hunter

    MT,
    It is beyond arrogant to claim, after over 20 years and nearly unlimited funding and zero accountability in the AGW community that we skeptics are the ones who need to hang on and let you test your hypothesis. Your IPCC is a transparent political machine, not one of your conferences or treaties has accomplished anything, and anyone who agrees with you is able to call themselves a climate expert.
    I think you guys have had plenty of time. More time is just going to be more of the same, or worse.
     

  • Anteros

    MT & Menth @17&16 -

    It is true that many people die in wars each year – such is the way of the world, but more people (by an order of magnitude – >3 million, mostly children) die from diarrhoea  and malaria. These deaths are eminently preventable.

    It is ironic that worriers and doomsters concern themselves with the vague speculation that there may be more ‘windiness’ or more ‘raininess’ at some point in the future. They are seemingly ‘concerned’ about how some people [whose parents have not even been born yet] may be ‘affected’ by such ‘raininess’ and ‘windiness’, especially because it may be the poorest of these yet to be born people who will allegedly be noticing this change in windiness and raininess.

    I contend that this hysteria is nothing to do with ‘concern’ for these people, it is just hysteria – and maybe flavoured with a little modern misanthropy.

    If a fraction of the energy and money behind this hysteria were directed towards the real world maybe something could be done about a genuine catastrophe [10,000 die every day, needlessly] rather than a non-existent one lurking in peoples imaginations

    I think it is you MT who needs to keep his tinfoil hat on, as well as fingers in your ears lest you are distracted from your certainties about the future to the real problems of today.

    I recommend you all have a read through the new tranche of emails kindly provided by FOIA to see the effort and distortion of science that goes into propping up this CAGW fiasco.

    Welcome to climategate part 2

  • hunter

    harrywr2,
    Please show any stats where the non-rate subsidized cost of actual delivered wind or solar is cheaper than coal.

  • Jarmo

    Looks like commenting will be light…. I guess many want to read those Climategate 2 mails.

  • OPatrick

    Anteros: I contend that this hysteria is nothing to do with “˜concern’ for these people, it is just hysteria ““ and maybe flavoured with a little modern misanthropy.

    And I contend that this shows utter contempt for groups like Oxfam who are working hard to raise awareness about the impacts of anthropogenic climate change and the need to provide help for adaption to the most vulnerable. Are they just modern misanthropes?

  • harrywr2

    #23
    I didn’t mention solar.
    US Levelized costs using various technologies.
    http://www.eia.gov/oiaf/aeo/electricity_generation.html
    Coal has an average LCOE $94/MW, Wind $97/MW and nuclear is $113/MW
    That is using US prices for coal which average $2.24/MBtu.
    China and India are both coal importers.
    The cost of  the boat ride for a ton of coal from vancouver BC to China is $35. THe cost of the train ride from Wyoming to Vancouver BC is 2-3 cents/ton mile and the distance is roughly 1,000 miles. So another $20-$30/ton for the train ride.
    Wyoming coal has 17 MMbtu’s and costs $15/ton. So the total cost delivered to China is in the range of $70-80/ton for a minimum cost of $4.11/MMBtu.
    So the cost of using ‘imported coal’ for the Chinese is $1.87/MMBtu more then the US average.
    In a 35% efficiency coal plant 1 MMBtu produces 102 KWh of electricity. So the extra cost of the coal adds $18 /MWh to LCOE of coal. $94+$18 = $112. A dollar difference per MWh.
    I didn’t include the cost of transporting the coal from the Chinese port to the power plant. I also didn’t adjust for the fact that construction costs in China are substantially less then construction costs in the US, or allow for the fact that North American Pacific OCean coal export facilities are at 100% capacity.
    Australian coal costs $125/ton ‘on the boat’ in Australia. It has a BTu content of about 25 MMBtu/ton. So importing Australian coal costs north of $5/MMBtu.
    Or we could do the math another way.
    1 MMBtu produces about 102KWh in a 35% efficient coal plant. At $4.11/MMbtu that gives a fuel cost of 4 cents/KWh. A 1000 MW nuclear plant produces 1 million KW per hour.
    So it displaces $40,000 worth of coal per hour and if it runs 8,000 hours per year displaces  $320 million worth of coal per year. In China a 1,000 MW nuclear plant costs about $3 billion to build, the fuel cost is in the neighborhood of $40 million per year. So a savings of $280 million per year. A 30 year loan at 8% interest makes a loan payment of $264 million per year.
    Long story short…the transport costs of coal make importing coal expensive.
    The coal shills and climate activists like to point to how much coal costs in Wyoming and then project what will happen based on those costs.
    When you look at how much coal costs at the place it will be burned the picture is different unless you plan on burning it in Wyoming.
    The Chinese were paying $133/tonne for 5500 kcal/kg(About 22 MMBtu/tonne) imported coal a week ago. $6/MMBtu.
    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-11-14/china-s-power-station-coal-price-declines-for-first-time-in-three-months.html#

  • OPatrick

    I recommend you all have a read through the new tranche of emails kindly provided by FOIA to see the effort and distortion of science that goes into propping up this CAGW fiasco.

    And are you really so blindingly stupid that you can’t recognise the extraordinary selectiveness of the quotes that are already circulating? You try to give the impression of having a balanced view on these issues yet time and again you show this sort of blinkered credulity.

  • BBD

    OPatrick

    And are you really so blindingly stupid that you can’t recognise the extraordinary selectiveness of the quotes that are already circulating? You try to give the impression of having a balanced view on these issues yet time and again you show this sort of blinkered credulity.

    Yup, they really are that blindingly stupid.

    The yapping and yelping from the contrarians is going to be loud and long. And the next few days (weeks? months?) are going to be very hard work for the rationalists amongst us.

  • Dean

    Michael T – Threads like this one bring them out of the woodwork. We will apparently (i.e. because apparently we won’t be doing anything serious about it) get to see them proven wrong. But most of them will still find a way to blame the IPCC and company for how they were wrong. If only they hadn’t been so (arrogant | political | biased | unfair | ??), then they would have seen the real science. Blaming the messenger is always popular.

  • BBD

    hunter @ 21

    It is beyond arrogant to claim, after over 20 years and nearly unlimited funding and zero accountability in the AGW community that we skeptics are the ones who need to hang on and let you test your hypothesis.

    The warming begins slowly. Then it gets more pronounced. So right now we are still getting going. This is in all the little science bookie-wooks that you won’t read because you are too arrogant.

  • http://initforthegold.blogspot.com Michael Tobis

    #17 “MT. I once asked on your blog if spending money to study the impact of natural variation in climate would improve the credibility of the tribe you belong to. Your answer was essentially that studying natural variation was a complete waste of time and money. I think I am banned from commenting on your blog, but wonder if you still think knowing more about the effects of “˜natural variation’ is a complete waste of time.”

    I really doubt I deliberately said or implied anything like this and I insist on a direct quote before making further comment. 

    Nobody is banned from P3 as a person, but individual posts may be moved off the main thread if they are pointless or unreasonable.
     

  • http://initforthegold.blogspot.com Michael Tobis
  • Tom Scharf

    I guess what interests me most is the climate scientist’s reaction to this new release, have they learned anything?

    Are they going to go into bunker mode and just throw out evil spears to kill the messenger instead of simply answering questions and providing context where they claim it is needed. 

    Open and transparent, or closed and defensive?

    Have you learned anything? 

  • hunter

    BBD @30-

    You have no evidence it begins slowly and then increases.
     You have your long tested thesis, and as Curry and others point out, the predictions have not worked.
    In the real world, you modify or revisit the thesis when it fails after >20 years of study.
     Not in AGW land.
        

  • Bill

    BBD is just ignorant. The warming effect of any greenhouse gas decelerates logarithmically due to saturation as you add more and more of that gas. Anyone who knows anything about climatology knows
    that.

    BBD is still on Sesame Street bookie wookies.

  • http://www.mutantblog.co.uk andrew adams

    Bill,
    But that doesn’t alter the fact that you get more warming with more CO2, so as the level of CO2 in the atmosphere increases the amount of warming will increase. So BBD is correct.
     

  • http://initforthegold.blogspot.com Michael Tobis

    First of all, it is logarithmic in total CO2, not in extra CO2, so it’s close to linear. Secondly, it is cumulative. Thirdly, much of the response is delayed, and some of it is masked by aerosols, which are roughly proportional to emissions but not cumulative. All of this means that we are roughly on target with predictions.

    The temperature rise is perhaps a little slower than expected, but many indications are that the impacts are a bit larger than expected given the amount of temperature rise. Taken together we are tracking near the worst case scenarios.

  • Nullius in Verba

    #37,
    It’s not close to linear – not even in the amount of extra CO2. That it’s (partially) cumulative doesn’t change anything. It’s an unproven hypothesis that the response is delayed. The measurements and low level of scientific understanding mean it is impossible to say if it is masked by aerosols. Aerosols are cumulative too, they just have a much shorter residence time. You’re not on target with predictions, it’s just that with hindsight you’re able to give a plausible explanation why you’re not. And you’re far short of the worst case scenarios I’ve seen.

    The argument I think you wanted to use is that if the rise in CO2 level is exponential, then its logarithm would be linear. And the claim that the rate will eventually accelerate is based on the idea that the hypothesised heat sinks will get saturated in future. That temperature-vs-CO2 is (ceteris paribus) logarithmic doesn’t mean they won’t, but making that argument would require defending the saturation idea, which you might prefer to avoid.

    But really the natural noise level (in both temperature and claimed impacts) is still larger than the expected signal, meaning that there isn’t any evidence one way or the other yet. It might be worst case and we just got lucky, or there might be nothing there. Which I think was the original point.

  • EdG

    Meanwhile, back in the real world, here’s what appears to be rather good and up-to-date coverage of the machinations at Durban:

    http://www.businessgreen.com/bg/special/2127808/durban-climate-summit

    Looks like the only thing they have agreed to so far is the site of their next all-expense paid vacation/revival meeting, Qatar 2012.

    This hints at what is really happening: “US and Saudi negotiators fail to adopt framework for $100bn Green Climate Fund, one of the few areas of prior agreement.”

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About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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