The IPCC faces global economic and political realities
The latest United Nations report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is something of brain twister. Not in itself, since the report released Monday follows the familiar IPCC alarmist pattern set many decades ago: Catastrophe looms and something must be done. The twist now is the degree to which the IPCC report — Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability — is at odds with global economic and political realities.
There are, in effect, two different worlds. At the IPCC, the objective is to fan fears of fossil-fuel-induced global crises brought on by rising carbon emissions. In the rest of the world, demand for fossil fuels continues to expand, regardless of the carbon risks. It surely has not escaped the IPCC’s policy leaders that as they try to drum up support for reduced carbon emissions and policy action, the leading powers are in an escalating battle for fossil-fuel supremacy.
The existential conflict is personified in John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State, who is now simultaneously warning of the grave dangers posed by climate change while touting expanded U.S. gas exports. “Unless we act dramatically and quickly,” he said Monday, “science tells us our climate and our way of life are literally in jeopardy.” Two weeks ago, Mr. Kerry was warding off another jeopardy. The U.S., he said, was ready to increase natural gas exports to Europe as a counter to Russian gas dominance. President Barack Obama, an ardent warmist, is also a keen fossil-fuel cold warrior. “Once we have a trade agreement in place, export licences for projects for liquefied natural gas destined to Europe would be much easier, something that is obviously relevant in today’s geopolitical environment,” Obama told a news conference last Friday after meeting EU leaders.
The IPCC report on energy and carbon should be read in conjunction with other international reports that forecast rising fossil fuel consumption over the next decades and increasing carbon emissions. The last World Energy Outlook from the International Energy Agency (IEA) forecast rising fossil fuel demand over the next 20 years along with increasing carbon emissions. By 2035 under current policies, according to the IEA, fossil fuel demand will have increased by 40% to 14.8 million tonne of oil equivalent (Mtoe)and total carbon emissions by 38%. If new policies are adopted, including carbon pricing, demand might be lower, but not by much at 13 Mtoe. Fosssil fuel’s share of total energy demand will remain close to 80% and carbon emissions will rise by more than 20% under the best new policies scenarios.
This reality looms over the IPCC more that catastrophe looms over civilization, which may explain why Monday’s report — leaving aside the overblown rhetoric of IPCC officials — has many modest and reasonable approaches to climate change. The aim of the report is to highlight adaptation and preparation rather than massive policy change to prevent increases in fossil fuel consumption. That will come next year, when the IPCC begins a countdown to a new global carbon emissions policy.
For fans of hype and doom, Monday’s report was a disappointing affair. Despite the leaks and advance billing promoting environmental disaster, civil wars, food crises and other disaster, the report is essentially an argument for preparation and planning. If climate change is coming, get used to it and get ready.
The 40-page Summary for Policy Makers refers to fossil fuels only three times in passing. It’s hard to get worked up about extreme weather and floods when the main advice from the IPCC is to prepare for extreme weather and floods, something governments and communities should be doing under normal circumstances. By now, moreover, much of the world may be somewhat immune to alarmist climate claims, a catalogue of which has been kept by this blog site.