Part 1 – Energy and the United Nations

1.0  prologue

John Tyndall  1861
An almost inappreciable admixture of any of the hydrocarbon vapors… produce great effects on the terrestrial rays…and corresponding changes of climate.
Svante Arrhenius  1908
… any doubling of the percentage of carbon dioxide in the air would raise the temperature of the earth’s surface by 4 degrees

James Hansen  1988
…the greenhouse effect has been detected, and it is changing our climate now

BarackObamaBarack Obama: Now we know that no single weather event is caused solely by climate change. Droughts and fires and floods, they go back to ancient times. But we also know that in a world that is warmer than it used to be, all weather events are affected by a warming planet.
JimYongKimJim Yong Kim: Fundamentally what’s happening is that the earth is processing water differently than it did before, and so the number of extreme weather events will increase. Now Typhoon Haiyan was the most severe storm to ever hit the Philippines. You know we talk about category five events like this as once in a lifetime events, but two occurred in the same region in a single month. We simply have to stop talking about them as once-in-a-lifetime events and get serious about tackling the root cause

bargeNarration: All nations have one purpose in common: to meet the needs of their citizens in every way possible. To meet those needs, growing populations worldwide lay waste to thousands of square kilometers of natural habitat every year.

homekitchenGrowing populations require goods and services. And delivering those goods and services requires energy. Lots of it. Total world energy demand is currently about 15 trillion watts. The earth is the primary provider of land, raw material and energy. But it is now understood that the way those resources are being used is changing the composition of the atmosphere and oceans.

JeffreySachsJeffrey Sachs: The planet is feeling the weight of 30 plus billion tons of carbon dioxide emitted each year and that number keeps rising. And until we not only stop the rise but significantly lower the amount of emissions, we’re going to be, at a planetary scale in massive jeopardy. And so it’s not good enough to say we’re going to be a bit more energy efficient or a little bit less carbon intensive. We have to do the global arithmetic to say we’re getting on a trajectory in which economic growth continues but carbon emissions don’t merely superslow down in their increase or level off but actually decrease. And when you look at what that entails, it means deep technological change the world over.

1.1  climate change and the UN

UN_flagsNarrator: Technological change is one item on the agenda of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The convention’s over-arching purpose is to end emissions of all greenhouse gases that pose a danger to the planet’s atmosphere. Some of those gases come from disturbances of the biosphere, such as deforestation, decomposition of waste, and certain agriculture practices. There are emissions of industrial chemicals containing fluorine.

mowingThe remaining emissions come from carbon dioxide produced by fossil fuel combustion. The Convention’s first landmark agreement was the Kyoto Protocol, signed in 1997, when thirty seven developed nations commited to emission reductions of a certain amount over a certain period of time. It was left up to each nation to figure out how to achieve those reductions. Developing nations, including large emitters such as China and India, did not set reduction targets.

parisagreementIn 2015, the Kyoto Protocol was superceded by the Paris Agreement – a framework that includes developing nations. The Paris Agreement saw 188 nations submit emission reduction goals for the year 2030. However, when added up, those national goals fall short of the science.

McGladeJacqueline McGlade: Simply on their own … current policies will … take us, if they are fully implemented, on to a trajectory somewhere between 3 and 3.5 degrees…We need to be in net zero emissions at least by the second half of this century. So the 2030 destination, so to speak, is the first stop. We need to do more and continue to do more to stay on track.
carboncreditsNarrator: To keep the international community on track, the Paris Agreement expects individual nations to accelerate their efforts, with the aim of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. But there are limits to the UN’s ability to support those efforts. There are no financial penalties for non-compliance, and one of its key development mechanisms – an emissions trading system – has lost 95 % of its market value since 2008.
turbines-panelsHowever, the Paris Agreement does enhance ongoing international programs to make clean energy accessible in developing countries, and to assist nations who are most impacted by climate change. International climate negotiations are based on consensus, a diplomatic principle which has tested the patience of the international community.

delegates-2And as a diplomatic affair, climate negotiations are one step removed from practical action. But after two decades, the UN process has achieved clarity about where practical action comes from.

polmanPaul Polman: personally think it is unfair to ask the politicians alone to solve these problems. As you see with many of the examples, we need business. In the developing markets alone, business is 60 percent of the GDP. It’s ninety percent of the job creation. How can we expect politicians alone to solve it if the business community is not stepping up. And indeed the business community is stepping up. I believe more than anybody else that with all the work that we’ve done over the last few years, that we are indeed at a tipping point.
nigeltoppingNigel Topping: We’ve heard from businesses, we’ve heard from investors, we’ve heard from cities, and we’ve heard from states and regions a growing coalition who are already in action, who are already setting bold ambitious targets to get below two degrees.
sustainableagricultureNarrator: The Paris Agreement’s core achievement was getting all the world’s governments to push in the same direction – thereby sending an economic signal around the world. The signal is felt by grass roots organizations already promoting sustainable forestry and agriculture in developing countries. By an increasing number of corporations committed to sustainable practices.
solarparkingBy a growing network of cities which have set goals for energy efficiency and clean energy. And by industries in every sector which have begun transforming the energy systems that drive the world economy – which is bit like changing a car engine on the fly. And the transformation of those energy systems is based on a reassessment of the primary energy used for those systems.

1.2  primary energy

pumpjackNarrator: Over eighty percent of the world’s primary energy now comes from fossilized organic compounds – crude oil, natural gas and coal. While there are emissions from mining and processing, burning fossil fuels has the most impact. Burning one tonne of fuel produces about three tons of carbon dioxide.
ferryOver time, much of that CO2 is absorbed by the oceans and the land, but a good part of it stays in the atmosphere. CO2 accumulation means that to avoid dangerous climate change emissions will have to not just slow down but stop – and as soon as possible.
AngelGurriaAngel Gurria: The main message is that we have to prepare to have zero emissions coming from burning fossil fuels in the second half of the century. And for that we need to put a price on emissions, put a price on carbon. For that we need to reduce and eventually eliminate the subsidies for the production and the consumption of fossil fuels.
cooleedamNarrator: So the world economy has begun transitioning to primary energy which has limited impact on the atmosphere. The total energy available from such sources could power the world many times over. And there are many ways to harness that energy.
joeDavisJoe Davis: They don’t look very big, but they’re 225 feet in the air. What they call the nacelle which is the top box with the blades on it weighs 150 tonnes. As you notice, they did a lot of civil work here cutting the roads and the paths, and putting that all together. If you find that your wind farm is full power 50% of the time, that’s a really good wind farm.
RoySnyderRoy Snyder: It does take an awful lot of real estate. We have 10 megawatts here at Adelanto on just a little over 40 acres of the converter station property. The area was the home of some thirty joshua trees which we transplanted and are irrigating in hopes they will survive. This is the point where the solar power is connected to the main transmission system, where it is transformed from 4160 volts to 500,000 volts.
monteMonte Morrison: What we have at this site is one of the main production wells for the facility. It produces hot water from about a thousand meters underground, where the pump is operating in a very hostile atmosphere at 330 degrees Fahrenheit and producing that water at about 900 gallons a minute to the surface. That heat is used to vaporize pentane to drive the turbine which turns the generator to make the electricity.
pipingNarrator: Constant ground temperatures just below the surface can be harnessed with heat exchange technology. Cold buildings can be heated. Hot buildings can be cooled. While some years away from full scale production, algae is by far the most productive biomass feedstock.
cynthiawarnerCynthia Warner: This system is something that actually produces green crude from algae, end to end. So in other words we start with the farming where we actually grow the algae, and then we harvest it, and then we convert it into green crude which can be used as fuel in our fuel tanks.
nuclearplantNarrator: There are several ways to harness nuclear energy, most of them improvements on the methods used today. A conventional power plant extracts only about 5 percent of the energy from uranium fuel, leaving the rest as waste that has a radioactive life span of tens of thousands of years. To avoid catastrophic failure, operating systems are rigorously maintained.
thoriumOne alternate system in development uses 99 percent of the energy in its fuel, and can burn wasted fuel from older reactors. Another system in development uses thorium dissolved in molten salt. Like other new designs, it produces waste that is safe to handle after 500 years. In a power failure, a freeze plug thaws, draining the fuel, shutting down the reactor without human intervention.
sola_towerThis experimental 50 kw plant in Spain operated for 8 years, A 200 megawatt version is planned for the state of Arizona.
otecVast amounts of solar energy are captured by the tropical oceans. Heat exchange systems can harness that energy by using a twenty degree temperature difference between surface waters, and deep waters, to drive a turbine. The technology is decades away from large scale deployment. And the environmental impacts are not fully known.

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