Reading the the Copenhagen accords of 2009, it would seem that virtually the entire world has signed up to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at levels that will keep warming below 2°C, consistent with the scientific understanding of the climate system, and on an equitable basis globally. Unfortunately, virtually nobody is considering policies that actually lead to that outcome. Among others, the International Energy Agency (IEA) notes that our current emissions trajectory is consistent with 6°C of warming by the end of the century, which is considered by many to be inconsistent with an organized global civilization. In fact, even if we implemented all the “reasonable” policies we’ve talked about so far (which we’re not doing) the outcome looks a lot more like 4°C than 2°C.
Yet almost nobody is willing to either give up on 2°C publicly, or — maybe more constructively — start a serious discussion about what scientifically grounded, equitable policies that are actually likely to result in less than 2°C of warming look like. Almost nobody, but not quite.
For the last several years Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows of the Tyndall Center for Climate Research in the UK have been trying to publicize this massive disconnect, and get policymakers and the public to acknowledge that in reality there are only radical futures to choose from — either a radical alteration of the climate, or the radical emissions reductions required to avoid it. There is no status quo option. Anderson and Bows are critical of both the scientific establishment for playing down this disconnect, and leaders for refusing to acknowledge in public what some of them understand very well in private.
This conversation isn’t going to go away any time soon. Some selections:
Here’s an hour-long invited talk by Anderson at the Cabot Institute from 2012:
Continue reading Kevin Anderson and Getting to 2°C
In May of 2013 I gave a talk at Clean Energy Action’s Global Warming Solutions Speaker Series in Boulder, on how we might structure a carbon pricing scheme in Colorado. You can also download a PDF of the slides and watch an edited version of that presentation via YouTube:
The short policy overview:
- We should begin levying a modest carbon tax, in the range of $5 to $25/ton of CO2e.
- The tax must be applied to the fossil fuels used in electricity generation (coal and natural gas). Ideally it should also be applied to gasoline, diesel, natural gas used outside the power sector, and fugitive methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, but those are less important for the moment.
- New electricity generation resources must be allowed to compete economically with the operation of existing carbon-intensive facilities, and fuel costs must not be blindly passed through to consumers without either rigorous regulatory oversight, or utilities sharing fuel price risk.
- Carbon tax revenues should be spent on emissions mitigation, providing reliable, low-cost financing for energy efficiency measures and a standard-offer contract with modest performance-based returns for new renewable generation.
- Over time the carbon price should be increased and applied uniformly across all segments of the economy, with the eventual integration of consumption based emissions footprinting for imported goods.
But wait… I can hear you saying, I thought James Hansen and others were rallying support for a revenue neutral carbon tax proposal? Even the arch-conservative American Enterprise Institute was looking into it, weren’t they?
A carbon price alone is not enough to get the job done — there are other pieces of our energy markets that also have to be fixed to get us to carbon zero.
Continue reading Exploring a Carbon Price for Colorado