No realistic way to stabilize CO2

by William Yeatman on July 1, 2004

in Politics, Science


“Energy rationing without tears”that should have been the title of Lord Browne’s column (“Small steps to limit climate change”, June 30). He imagines that the world’s nations, via a series of “small steps”, could stabilize atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) at 500 to 550 parts per million by 2050 “without doing serious damage to the world economy”.  This is pie in the sky.  A study in the November 1, 2002 issue of the journal Science, co-authored by 18 energy and climate experts, including several who worry about global warming as much as Lord Browne, examined possible technology options that might be used in coming decades to stabilise atmospheric CO2 concentrations, including wind and solar energy, nuclear fission and fusion, biomass fuels, efficiency improvements, carbon sequestration and hydrogen fuel cells.

The authors found that “all these approaches currently have severe deficiencies that limit their ability to stabilise global climate”.  They specifically took issue with the claim by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that “known technological options could achieve a broad range of atmospheric CO2 stabilisation levels, such as 550 ppm, 450 ppm or below over the next 100 years”.  As noted in the study, world energy demand could triple by 2050.  Yet “energy sources that can produce 100 to 300 per cent of present world power consumption without greenhouse emissions do not exist operationally or as pilot plants”. The bottom line: ” CO2 is a combustion product vital to how civilization is powered; it cannot be regulated away.”

Given current and foreseeable technological capabilities, any serious attempt to stabilise CO2 levels via regulation would be economically devastating and, thus, politically unsustainable.  Lord Browne’s policy agenda is a dead end.  A small step on a journey one cannot complete and should not take is not progress; it is misdirection and wasted effort.

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