Time is running out

14 Sep 2015 | David Casale

Ok I’m going to start at the beginning, I joined Shell International in The Hague in 1985 as a young engineer because…. well why not and the pay was great. I have worked in the energy industry ever since and today I will not work for industries that develop new reserves of coal or oil as in my personal view there is already too much CO2 in our atmosphere for my grandchildren to deal with.

So in a mere thirty years my experience has changed from being attracted to the prospects in a fossil fired future to a red line thorough any further work in that trade. It is with regret that despite Margaret Thatcher’s excellent Climate Change Speech presentation to the UN General Assembly (1989) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VnAzoDtwCBg) I was a climate agnostic and then sceptic for many years. In 1996 when working for one of the fastest growing coal based Independent Power Producers I worked for the affable Chairman Mr Roger Sant, nothing surprising in that, but he too was assessing the science and this from the interesting dual perspective of being the Chairman and founder of a multi-billion dollar coal based power company and a Director of the US World Wildlife Fund. His assessment was that the science was leading him to be more concerned about global cooling. It took a 2006 documentary film ‘an Inconvenient Truth’ about former US Vice President Al Gore’s campaign to educate citizens about global warming to focus my attention, I did not need the story repeated thousands of times but I did watch the film about three times in a week.

Al Gore, Margaret Thatcher and President Obama amongst others have shown the leadership to identify the problem, however the response has and continues to be inadequate. Researchers from the Climate Action Tracker (CAT), a consortium of research institutions tell us that Global plans to curb carbon dioxide are well below what’s needed to keep temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees. As part of the attempts to tackle global warming, countries have agreed to submit their national plans to the UN before key talks in Paris in December CAT examined the commitments already made by governments to limit warming in the lead in to Paris 2015. According to the analysis, the commitments made so far would see temperature rises of up to 3C, with greater impacts on sea-level rise and the frequency of extreme weather events.

The renewables industry (absent hydro and waste) despite good growth remain at a few percent of global primary energy demand and the current trends (led in many ways by the UK) are to reduce the rate of adoption of renewable power. Combine this with growing populations and increasing wealth leading to continued growth in primary energy demand despite heroic improvements in energy efficiency and there is room for considerable gloom.

The recent international migration crisis and the need to reduce western levels of debt will be the focus correctly but to repeat Margret Thatcher’s plea to the UN in 1989 ‘We need an international binding framework agreement’, she targeted a two year window to agree and the sad truth is some 26 years later and long after she has died we are still no closer to this agreement and nothing is expected form this commentator from the forthcoming December Paris UN IPCC summit.

If you work in energy or you are a scientist I urge you to stand up, explain that we are failing to reduce global warming and make sure policy makers get going on setting these limits soon, as well as dealing with the other pressures.

David Casale