You saw this coming didn’t you. The countdown to Copenhagen was to be the place where the world finally was going to come to its senses and fix all the problems with the Kyoto Protocol—and make it enforceable worldwide. What were we thinking?
The developed countries wanted action by the developing world—mostly the BRIC countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China—to agree to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on a fixed, enforceable schedule. The BRIC countries said in response—not so fast —we’re just digging out of the economic mess you Americans and Europeans created for us with this recession and we have no intention to slow our economic growth rates. And, oh, by the way, how much are you willing to pay us for reducing our emissions to get on board Al Gore’s private jet for this Copenhagen party?
Mon Dieu! You mean you want us first world giants to pay you second world upstarts to clean up your act? Besides you have a moral duty to save the planet from the climate crisis.
Yes, was the reply with practically no smirk—you buy all this stuff we produce and you want it cheap. Clean up is expensive and will slow our growth and our global trade surplus. Besides, if this is such a moral imperative, you should consider it a sacred duty to help us clean up this mess faster for the sake of the planet.
So month after month as the countdown clock to Copenhagen ticked onward, the consultative meetings were all the same tit for tat repeated over and over with little progress to show for it. So the Danish Prime Minister seeing the ghost of Christmas future bringing a lump of coal for his stocking instead of a treaty sought to pressure the recalcitrant delegates by inviting their bosses—the heads of government—to the Copenhagen party.
The bluff failed. The BRIC countries held their ground and the EU and American Administration conceded that there would, in fact, be no treaty agreement in Copenhagen. So the event is being rapidly ‘dumbed down’ from the treaty that saved the planet to just another consultative meeting—but with better food and drink. Instead, the delegates will consider the event a framework for future consultative meetings.
There is a logical Plan B that might actually work:
- Keep On Building Clean Renewable Power Generation. The United States and European Union can keep on expanding their use of clean and renewable energy sources to replace imported fossil fuels and domestic coal to improve energy sustainability.
- Praise China for Driving Down the Cost of Wind Turbines and Solar Panels. China can help them by driving down the production cost of wind turbines and solar panels to grid parity first to meet its own energy demand growth and improve its environmental quality—and then export the products to the rest of the world to sustain its economic growth. India and Brazil can so more of the same. Forget the Russians, they got gas to sell!
- Shift Wind and Solar Subsidies to Clean Coal Transformation. The US and EU can reduce and eliminate the wind and solar subsidies as China imports drive down the costs of renewable energy to mainstream grid parity levels. They can then use the savings to advance carbon capture and sequestration to clean up their own coal act, reduce their dependence on imported wind turbines and solar panels from China, and make their vast coal reserves a cleaner, more sustainable energy resource once again. Besides, if the Chinese are going to storm the US and EU markets like they did Spain let them do so the old fashioned way—-earn it with low prices.
- Build More Nukes! The US and EU should build more clean nuclear power generation as a hedge against coal for base load power generation. This reduces our dependence on coal, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and reduces the EU dependence on imported Russian gas. This even works for Japan since their build almost all of the containment vessels for these nuclear plants.
- Invest in Unconventional Natural Gas Exploration. The good news story in energy is the growth of natural gas supply from unconventional sources. This has been a boon in North America but the technology should help Europe and other markets unlock their own potential from unconventional gas and reduce the world’s dependence on LNG.
- FERC High Voltage Transmission. In the US and Europe building transmission is difficult. In the US we build only 3000 miles of electric transmission lines compared to more than 13,000 miles of natural gas pipelines for the comparable period because electric transmission siting and permitting is fragmented across the states while gas pipelines are all handled by FERC. Give FERC the authority to build electric transmission and then build a lot of it to bring more clean renewable wind resources from Texas, Iowa, Wyoming and other hard to get out of places into the markets that need them.
- Just Say No! The BRIC countries will eventually clean up their own environmental act or risk their economic growth and public health. Let them!
And guess what, we did all of this without Waxman-Markey passage, without Emissions Trading Schemes, and without a Copenhagen Treaty—and Al Gore saved a ton on money on buying his emissions credits by not having to fly his private jet to Copenhagen.
Maybe the planet is still safe after all.