Posts tagged with: copenhagen consensus

One more note related to the week’s reflections on energy and the environment. This brief piece from Marketplace highlights coal’s newfound popularity, “Coal makes a comeback” (here’s an in-depth and more technical piece from the NYT. HT: Instapundit).

Marketplace reporter Jeremy Hobson notes the need for coal to be integrated into an energy policy oriented toward independence: “The U.S. has more coal than any other country. $27 billion worth is mined every year. That’s why everyone, from unions to politicians to scientists, is getting on the coal bandwagon.”

Some scientists are arguing that the negative environmental impact of coal-burning power plants can be significantly mitigated by the advent of new cleaning technologies, presumably including the use of “scrubbers” which divert CO2 emissions from smoke stacks.

Many of these technologies, such as scrubbers, are focused on limiting the input of GHGs into the atmosphere. But there is a shift that is beginning to focus much more on sequestration and removal of GHGs. That is, there are two elements to consider: how much CO2 or other GHGs are put into the atmosphere and how quickly they are taken out, through both natural and artificial means.

Robert O. Mendelsohn, of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, made this point in his comments at the Copenhagen Consensus of 2004. He writes, “Although the bulk of carbon emissions in the future come from burning fossil fuels, policy makers should consider more than just energy policies to reduce carbon emissions. Another important policy option is to include carbon sequestration in forests. By growing timber trees longer and by setting aside vast tracts of marginal forestland for conservation, land use policies can sequester a large stock of carbon in living forests.”

Well-planned and properly planned reforestation is indeed an important part of that second element by sequestering CO2 from the atmosphere. But new technologies like carbon capture devices also will be an important feature of any attempts to manage the climate.

According to reports published last week (HT: Slashdot), Global Research Technologies, LLC (GRT) has announced the first successful “demonstration of a bold new technology to capture carbon from the air. The ‘air extraction’ prototype has successfully demonstrated that indeed carbon dioxide (CO2) can be captured from the atmosphere. This is GRT’s first step toward a commercially viable air capture device.”

It’s an encouraging step to see that the media and politicians, but most especially commercial businesses, are beginning to pay attention to the possibilities for sequestration and GHG removal and not just focusing on consumption and emissions. There’s definitely going to be a commercial demand for carbon capture devices. Maybe someday we’ll all wear some sort of mask that mitigates the .3 tons per year of CO2 that a human being emits just by breathing.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, November 2, 2006

Bjørn Lomborg responds to the Stern Report (discussed here) in today’s WSJ, “Stern Review.”

In a report commissioned by the UK government, Sir Nicholas Stern, a former chief economist of the World Bank, argues that the cost of waiting to take action to curb CO2 emissions will outpace other economic arguments against action on climate change.

The BBC reports (HT: Slashdot) that Stern found “that global warming could shrink the global economy by 20%,” but that this opportunity cost for not taking action immediately could be offset by moving now: “Taking action now would cost just 1% of global gross domestic product, the 700-page study says.” This is essentially the same economic argument I’ve previously used against action on climate change, but reversed to endorse action.

UK prime minister Tony Blair echoed the report’s conclusions, “For every ਱ invested now we can save ਵ, or possibly more, by acting now.”

“We can’t wait the five years it took to negotiate Kyoto – we simply don’t have the time. We accept we have to go further (than Kyoto),” Blair said.

The BBC claims that Stern’s report “is the first major contribution to the global warming debate by an economist, rather than a scientist.” This may be true in a sense, but the Copenhagen Consensus of 2004 embodies the conclusions of a number of economists, although it does not, in point of fact, examine the issue at a length in excess of 700 pages.

The conclusions of the consensus differ from Stern’s. Robert W. Fogel writes, “The environment is considered to be important, but it is not yet time to do anything massive about climate change. But with continued research and development (R&D) it will be possible to address future catastrophes and climate change mitigation and adaptation.”

Vernon L. Smith concludes, “It is clear from both the science and the economics of intervention that those of us who care about the environment are not well advised to favour initiating a costly attempt to reduce greenhouse gases (ghgs) build-up in the atmosphere in the near future based on available information. Although the ultimate dangers may turn out to prompt action, the current evidence indicates that it is much too soon to act relative to the many other important and pressing opportunities that demand immediate attention.”

The group’s consensus is, however, that our knowledge of the problem and potential solutions will increase over time, so that they leave open the possibility of recommending action in the future. Nancy L. Stokey sums it up well: “Future decision makers will be better equipped to decide whether more aggressive action is needed.”

Is two more years long enough? Have we learned enough in the intervening period to give greater weight to Stern’s conclusions?

One other item that Stern notes is that he’s hopeful about the possibility of curbing climate change. “I’m optimistic – having done this review – that we have the time and knowledge to act. But only if we act internationally, strongly and urgently,” he says.

Stern puts the emphasis on acting internationally. “Unless it’s international, we will not make the reductions on the scale which will be required,” says Stern. Just what international organization is envisioned as the arbiter of global climate change policy? The UN? The WTO? Or some as-yet uncreated entity, a la the Kyoto Protocol?

In the review summary (PDF), Stern writes, “The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Kyoto Protocol and a range of other informal partnerships and dialogues provide a framework that supports co-operation, and a foundation from which to build further collective action.”

Update: Arnold Kling adds some commentary on the report over at EconLog.

Futher Update: Not too surprisingly, an OPEC spokesman contends that the Stern report propounds “scenarios that have no foundations in either science or economics.”

At the request of Andy Crouch, who is among other things editorial director for The Christian Vision Project at Christianity Today, I have taken a look at the editorial from The Economist’s special issue from Sept. 9.

To recap, Andy asked me, “what are your thoughts about The Economist’s special report on climate change last week, in which they conclude that the risks of climate change, and the likely manageable cost of mitigation, warrant the world, and especially the US, taking prompt action?”

He continues, “This is, obviously, a magazine with impeccable liberal economic (not to mention journalistic) credentials, and one of the sponsors of the Copenhagen Consensus that raised questions about the wisdom of prioritizing climate change. I believe they would not have taken this editorial position five years ago. Do you think they are mistaken in doing so now? What do you see as the salient evidence they missed, if so?”

The special report consists of a number of articles examining the issue of climate change and are available for purchase as a PDF set here. (more…)