UK researchers call for absolute zero reduction policy, greening of the steel industry

absolute zeroAbsolute Zero , released by the University of Cambridge in November 2019,  warns that the U.K. will not reach zero emissions by 2050 without significant changes to policies, industrial processes and individual lifestyle choices – including closing all airports in the UK by mid-century.  (Perhaps the impact of this report can be seen in  the U.K. court ruling on February 27 that Heathrow airport’s third runway is a legal violation of the country’s climate change commitment under the Paris Agreement.)  Although Absolute Zero  was released in November 2019,  it was debated in the British House of Lords on February 6 , and was the subject of a Research Briefing by the House of Lords Library in support of that debate.

The prestige of the authors also may have contributed to the impact of its ideas. They are members of UK Fires (UK Future Industrial Resource Efficiency Strategy), a research  collaboration between the universities of Cambridge, Oxford, Nottingham, Bath and Imperial College London, and funded by the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.  They contend that the UK should aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to absolute zero, rather than the “net zero” target specified in the Climate Change Act 2008 , and by the U.K. Committee on Climate Change in its report, Net Zero – The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming (May 2019) and its 2019 Report to Parliament of the  U.K. Committee on Climate Change (July 2019) .

Absolute Zero  also parts company with the Committee on Climate Change in its view that emerging technologies will not be scalable in time to meet emissions targets by 2050.  It builds its analysis on “today’s technologies”,  striking an optimistic tone while calling for fundamental changes in individual behaviour, government policy, and industrial processes. Some excerpts ….

“We need to switch to using electricity as our only form of energy and if we continue today’s impressive rates of growth in non-emitting generation, we’ll only have to cut our use of energy to 60% of today’s levels….

“The two big challenges we face with an all electric future are flying and shipping. Although there are lots of new ideas about electric planes, they won’t be operating at commercial scales within 30 years, so zero emissions means that for some period, we’ll all stop using aeroplanes. Shipping is more challenging: although there are a few military ships run by nuclear reactors, we currently don’t have any large electric merchant ships, but we depend strongly on shipping for imported food and goods….

“Absolute Zero creates a driver for tremendous growth in industries related to electrification, from material supply, through generation and storage to end-use. The fossil fuel, cement, shipping and aviation industries face rapid contraction, while construction and many manufacturing sectors can continue at today’s scales, with appropriate transformations……

“Committing to zero emissions creates tremendous opportunities: there will be huge growth in the use and conversion of electricity for travel, warmth and in industry; growth in new zero emissions diets; growth in materials production, manufacturing and construction compatible with zero emissions; growth in leisure and domestic travel; growth in businesses that help us to use energy efficiently and to conserve the value in materials…..

“Protest is no longer enough – we must together discuss the way we want the solution to develop; the government needs to treat this as a delivery challenge – just like we did with the London Olympics, ontime and on-budget; the emitting businesses that must close cannot be allowed to delay action, but meanwhile the authors of this report are funded by the government to work across industry to support the transition to growth compatible with zero emissions.”

steel-arising-cover-01_1-1The UK Fires collaboration officially launched in October 2019. It is building on previous  related research,  including the April 2019 report  Steel Arising  which it highlights on the UK Fires website.  Steel Arising   envisions greening of the UK steelmaking industry  by “moving away from primary production towards recycled steel made with sustainable power.”  It states: “Not only will this create long-term green jobs, it will lead to world-leading exportable skills and technologies and allow us to transform the highly valuable scrap that we currently export at low value, but should be nurturing as a strategic asset. With today’s grid we can do this with less than half the emissions of making steel with iron ore and with more renewable power in future this could drop much further.”

Final report from Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission recommends stringent carbon pricing to reach 2030 GHG goals

bridging the gapOn November 27, the Ecofiscal Commission announced that their latest research report, Bridging the Gap: Real Options for Meeting Canada’s 2030 GHG Target  will be their last.  This final report brings to an end five years of research and publication which has centred largely on the cost effectiveness and optimal design of carbon pricing for Canada.   Bridging the Gap  recommends that “If governments wish to meet their climate goals at least cost, they should rely on increasingly stringent carbon pricing” – steadily increasing the carbon price by around $20/tonne every year from 2023 until 2030. The next best option is increasingly stringent, well-designed, flexible regulations, including for example, the Clean Fuel Standard. The report argues that “It’s tempting to think that alternatives to carbon pricing will cost us less. But their costs are hidden and actually cost us more. …. Our modelling shows that carbon pricing will grow Canadian incomes on average by $3,300 more in 2030 relative to a policy approach that relies on a mix of subsidies and industry-only regulations…No matter what policy tool—or combination of tools—we use to achieve Canada’s 2030 target, policies will have to be significantly more stringent than they are today. The regulatory approaches we model, for example, require halving the emissions intensity of industrial production by 2030.”

The report provides new forecast results using Navius Research’s GTECH General Equilibrium economic model, to cost and evaluate three options for climate policy which would allow Canada to meet its 2030 GHG target: #1: Carbon pricing with revenues recycled toward percapita dividends and output-based pricing for EITE sectors; #2: A range of regulations and subsidies applied across the entire economy; #3: A range of regulations and subsidies, excluding those that would result in direct costs for households.  Although the authors acknowledge that impacts will be felt on jobs, especially in emissions intensive industries, employment impacts are not estimated or discussed.

Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung releases studies of “radical realism” for climate justice

Radical realismIn September, the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung of Berlin  released a  compilation of eight reports, titled Radical Realism for Climate Justice   – “ a civil society response to the challenge of limiting global warming to 1.5°C while also paving the way for climate justice. Because it’s is neither ‘naïve’ nor ‘politically unfeasible’, it is radically realistic.”  Individual chapters, each available from this link , are written by a variety of international organizations and individuals.  Of particular interest are the two from Canadian authors:  System Change on a Deadline. Organizing Lessons from Canada’s Leap Manifesto and  Modelling 1.5°C-Compliant Mitigation Scenarios without Carbon Dioxide Removal,  by Christian Holz of Carleton University in  Ottawa.  Also of especial relevance for Canadians:  A Managed Decline of Fossil Fuel Production : The Paris Goals Require No New Expansion and a Managed Decline of Fossil Fuel Production   by Oil Change International,  and Another Energy is Possible by Sean Sweeney.

In Chapter 5,  System Change on a Deadline. Organizing Lessons from Canada’s Leap Manifesto  authors Avi Lewis, Katie McKenna and Rajiv Sicora provide a broad-brush summary of the history and growth of The Leap movement, beginning with its launch in Toronto in 2015, tracing the need for coalition building, and concluding with a statement of its international potential, and its application in Los Angeles.

Chapter 8 , Modelling 1.5°C-Compliant Mitigation Scenarios without Carbon Dioxide Removal,  is by Christian Holz, a post-doctoral fellow in Geography and Environmental Studies at Carleton University. His chapter  reviews the recent technical studies about Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) and Bioenergy combined with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) technologies, which some see as the route to  achieving the  1.5°C global warming target. Holz’ assessment is that 1.5°C  can be achieved without relying on on these technologies, “if national climate pledges are increased substantially in all countries immediately, international support for climate action in developing countries is scaled up, and mitigation options not commonly included in mainstream climate models are pursued.”

Chapter 1, A Managed Decline of Fossil Fuel Production : The Paris Goals Require No New Expansion and a Managed Decline of Fossil Fuel Production   by Oil Change International is an update of its 2016 publication, The Sky’s the Limit , which makes the “keep it in the ground” case. For Canadians still reeling from the federal government’s purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline, this new report is a timely reminder of the dangers of continued investment in exploration and expansion of oil, coal and gas and the need for Just Transition policies.

Another Energy is Possible by Sean Sweeney of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy is a tight summary of his assessment that current energy policies are allowing energy consumption to continue to grow. Sweeney calls for  a two-pronged solution: “ a shift in policy towards a «public-goods» approach that can liberate climate and energy policy from the chains of the current investor-focused neoliberal dogma, where the private sector must lead….  and … a shift towards social ownership and management so that energy systems can be restructured and reconfigured to serve social and ecological needs.”  Sweeney states: ” The next energy system must operate within an economic paradigm that is truly needs-based and sustainable.”

The other worthy chapters of Radical Realism for Climate Justice  are:  Zero Waste Circular Economy: A Systemic Game-Changer to Climate Change by Mariel Vilella of Zero Waste Europe;  Degrowth – A Sober Vision of Limiting Warming to 1.5°C by Mladen Domazet of the Institute for Political Ecology in Zagreb, Croatia; La Via Campesina in Action for Climate Justice by the international peasants movement La Via Campesina, and Re-Greening the Earth: Protecting the Climate through Ecosystem Restoration by Christoph Thies of Greenpeace Germany.

Recommendations to change the U.S. Social Cost of Carbon, and possible impact for Canada

The U.S. National Academies of Science Press released an important report in January 2017, suggesting changes to the methodology of the Social Cost of Carbon (SCC), an economic metric used to measure the net costs and benefits associated with the effects of climate change- including changes in agricultural productivity, risks to human health, and damage from extreme weather events.  U.S. government  agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency  are required by law  to estimate SCC when  proposing regulations such for vehicle emission standards or energy efficiency standards for appliances.  One of the most recent, thorough, and important applications of the U.S. Social Cost of Carbon appears in the 2015  Regulatory Impact Analysis Report for the Clean Power Plan Final Rule.    The U.S. updated the SCC to $37 U.S. per tonne of carbon dioxide in September 2015, a value often criticized as too  low, and economists continue to differ about the methodology.  A study by researchers at Stanford University, published in Nature Climate Change  (2015) estimated a more accurate  SCC of $220 per tonne – six times higher.

The January  report from the National Academy of Science, Valuing Climate Damages: Updating Estimation of the Social Cost of Carbon Dioxide  , suggests restructuring the Integrated Assessment Models framework used to ensure greater transparency, and  recognizes new research  which should be incorporated into the  models (e.g. the effect of heat waves on mortality) . It also recommends a regular 5-year updating schedule,  “to ensure that the SC- CO2 estimates reflect the best available science.”  For a summary of proposed changes and the political context, see “Scientists have a new way to calculate what global warming costs. Trump’s team isn’t going to like it” in the Washington Post  . Noting that the new report has no legal force, The Post article quotes expert reviewer Richard Revesz, Dean emeritus of the New York University School of Law: “If the metric is revised, then the incoming administration would have an obligation to explain why it’s departing from the current approach… Any changes made without adequate scientific justification would likely be struck down in court.”   But see also “How Climate Rules might Fade away”     in Bloomberg Business Week.

What are the implications for Canada?  Canada, like the U.K., Germany, France, and other countries, already uses its own Social Cost of Carbon, pegged at a $28 per tonne in 2012, according to  Canada’s  Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement issued with the vehicle emissions regulations for passenger cars and light trucks.  The Leaders Statement from the North American Leadership Summit in Summer 2016 ,  ties Canada more closely to U.S. and Mexico, when it pledges to “ … align analytical methods for assessing and communicating the impact of direct and indirect greenhouse gas emission of major projects. Building on existing efforts, align approaches, reflecting the best available science for accounting for the broad costs to society of greenhouse gas emissions, including using similar methodologies to estimate the social cost of carbon and other greenhouse gases for assessing the benefits of policy measures that reduce those emissions.”

Energy Efficiency: measures of job creation and carbon reduction

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), a long-time advocate and researcher about the value of energy efficiency , published a blog  on January 10, 2017, arguing that energy efficiency creates at least 1.9 million full- and part-time jobs across the United States, almost 10 times as many as oil and gas extraction. The blog is largely spent in summarizing a December 2016 report, Energy Efficiency Jobs in America: A comprehensive analysis of energy efficiency employment across all 50 states  , which sees an optimistic future in 2017.  Based on surveys of employers from approximately 165,000 U.S. companies, the report states that energy efficiency employers are expecting employment growth of approximately 245,000 jobs (a 13% growth rate) in 2017.   Energy Efficiency Jobs in America also calls for state and federal policies to support or enhance this growth, including:   Advancing energy efficiency standards set by the U.S. Department of Energy for appliances and equipment. • Strengthening building codes at the state and local levels to capture all cost-effective energy efficiency opportunities at the time of design and construction • Accelerating energy efficiency improvements in devices and buildings that use electricity or natural gas through utility programs, state policies such as energy efficiency resource standards, or by investing in all cost-effective energy efficiency resources, and  • prioritizing the role of energy efficiency in developing and/or strengthening clean energy standards at the state level.  Energy Efficiency Jobs in America was released by two U.S. advocacy associations: Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), and E4TheFuture.

The ACEEE, perhaps best known for its annual Energy Efficiency Scorecards , released a   White Paper in December, advocating energy efficiency initiatives to  reduce carbon emissions. In  Pathway to Cutting Energy Use and Carbon Emissions in Half , the ACEEE analyzed 13 “packages” of energy efficiency measures which, when combined, could reduce energy use by 34% and carbon emissions by 35% by 2040.  Improvement in industrial energy efficiency –  factories, commercial buildings, transmission and distribution systems, and power plants – was seen to have the largest potential impact at 20.8%.