Reply To: Climate, the science, politics, economics and anything else

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Methane, ie. natural gas / liquefied petroleum gas, is a useful stopgap, for two reasons. One: it yields the most energy per unit of carbon dioxide emission of any fossil hydrocarbon, because it has the highest proportion of hydrogen versus carbon. Two: the modern Closed Cycle Gas Turbine power stations (the CCGT dial at Gridwatch) are good at responding to changes in demand because they can be started and shut down relatively quickly while remaining reasonably efficient – coal and traditional nuclear are very bad at this; they have to run steadily and continually. This makes CCGTs good at “filling in the gaps” produced by wind and solar’s intermittency. Replacing coal generation with CCGT plus wind and solar is the way that many countries including the UK have reduced their emissions.

The trouble is (in addition to the leaks that ET highlighted at the top of this page), we can eliminate coal only once. To get emissions even lower, we have to eliminate the methane / CCGT we replaced it with. Most developed countries are already near the end of replacing coal. Even China’s energy mix has a far lower proportion of coal in it than the USA and Europe had before they converted to natural gas.

The Russian government is in a contradiction. Yes, demand for methane is rising, but it has to be phased out as quickly as possible. The Russian government doesn’t like to mention global heating and applies pressure to silence its own scientists. Russia has huge reserves of methane. As well as the income, the Russian government uses its control over its gas exports for political influence, including outright blackmail at times. But the Russian government knows that methane needs to be rapidly phased out, so that this source of Russian influence is temporary.
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These matters raise the issue of climate justice. The “developed nations”, mostly the USA, USSR now Russia, British Commonwealth and Europe, expanded their economies by burning coal, but in doing so burned most of the worlds “carbon budget”, which is the total amount of fossil carbon that can be burned without climate catastrophe. What of the other nations? Are they supposed to condemn themselves to eternal pre-industrial poverty because the white men have already burned the world’s entire carbon allowance? This is what the climate negotiations are about.

I have heard it argued that the developed nations didn’t realise that there was a problem with climate, but that ceased to be true in the 1980s, and more than half of the carbon budget has been burned since then.