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Glasgow Climate Meet: A Cosmetic Show Ignoring Ground Realities – OpEd

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Glasgow Climate Meet ( COP26) has concluded, after Presidents / Prime Ministers of different countries have expressed concern about the impending global climate crisis and after hearing some promises from several countries. Prime Minister of one country has said that the future generation would not pardon us , if we would fail to tackle the climate issues adequately well. There was also talk as to what would happen to the world climate,if there would be temperature rise of 0.5 degree centigrade or 1 degree centigrade or 1.5 degree centigrade and it was said that some regions would go out of the world map by the year 2040 , if the emission level of toxic and global warming gas would not be eliminated. The world citizens have heard all these kind of statements several times before.

Earlier, there was Paris Climate Meet (COP 21), which was highly publicized and when some framework policies were recommended to prevent the global warming. Now, Glasgow Climate Meet is yet another meeting to discuss the issue. What is noteworthy here is that between the Paris Climate Meet and the present Glasgow Climate Meet, no significant difference in the emission levels have been seen. During this period , production of fossil fuel such as crude oil, coal , natural gas have not been brought down.

Prior to Glasgow Climate Meet, China said that it would have zero emission by the year 2060.In the Glasgow Meet, USA and some European countries said that they would have zero emission by 2050. Indian Prime Minister has said that India will have zero emission by 2070. While there have been promises galore, no convincing or holistic solutions have been arrived at during the Glasgow Meet , where various countries have not agreed to have any uniform strategies all over the world to achieve zero emission.

To attain zero emission, the primary requisite is that production / consumption of crude oil, coal and natural gas have to be brought down to Nil level or atleast drastically reduced.

In the world, present consumption of coal is around 7 billion tonne per annum, that of crude oil is around 91 million barrels per day and that of natural gas is around 3.8 trillion cubic metre per annum. It would be a herculean task to reduce the consumption of coal , crude oil and natural gas drastically in the future.

Crude oil producers

OPEC countries, Russia, Venezeula and a few other crude oil producing countries including USA cannot afford to reduce the production of crude oil to any significant extent , as their economy is considerably dependent on the fortunes of crude oil sector and their economy cannot be sustained at the present level in the absence of large scale crude oil production and sale.

Coal producers

In the case of coal, countries like China, India , Indonesia , South Africa, Australia have huge production and consumption of coal and these countries cannot reduce the consumption of coal without seriously upsetting their national economy.

Coal’s share in India’s power generation is now about 70%. India has distanced itself from the global alliance on phasing out coal by 2030-40, as India’s dependence on coal as fossil fuel is expected to continue with it’s growing energy needs. The largest polluting countries including USA and China , too , did not sign the agreement that calls for phasing out coal power in advanced economies by 2030s and worldwide by 2040s.

Limitations of renewable power

It is said that renewable energy sector (wind, solar and hydro) should be promoted significantly to reduce the use of fossil fuel such as coal , crude oil and natural gas. India has promised that it would increase the renewable energy power to 500 GW by 2030. IMF has welcomed India’s vision on renewables.

The renewable power by using solar, wind and hydro are seasonal and weather dependent and the capacity utilization of renewable power industry is as low as around 20% on an average . Therefore, it is obvious that the renewable energy cannot be a substitute for fossil fuel to any significant extent, considering the present production and use level of fossil fuel.

Concerns about nuclear power

It has also been suggested that nuclear power is eco friendly and nuclear power generation should be substantially increased to substitute fossil fuel. While some countries like France have large share of nuclear power to meet the power needs, Germany has decided not to set up anymore new nuclear power plants. After the Chernobyl (Russia), Fukushima (Japan) nuclear power station accidents, there have been world wide concern about the safety issues with regard to nuclear power plants.

Electric vehicles

World over, the production of electric vehicles are being increased at feverish pace now, expecting that electric vehicles are eco friendly and will avoid the emissions of sulphur dioxide , carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide.

Lithium ion battery is essential component of the electric vehicle and these batteries have to be charged from time to time , requiring power from external source for charging the battery.

Production of power from renewable energy sector will not be adequate to meet the demand for power for charging lithium ion battery. Therefore, the power for charging lithium ion battery have to necessarily come from thermal power stations , where fossil fuel would be used. Using power generated from fossil fuel which is a source of pollution, to charge the lithium ion battery will be counter productive from the point of view of reducing emissions.

While electric vehicle will have no emission, fossil fuel based power stations will have emission of sulphur dioxide, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide.

Hydrogen

Hydrogen is an eco friendly gas , which can be used as fuel and feedstock.

Hydrogen can be an acceptable substitute for fossil fuels in a big way, if it can be produced in large scale in eco friendly manner. Number of hydrogen plants are now being set up around the world.

Hydrogen is produced as grey hydrogen ( from natural gas), brown hydrogen (from coal) and green hydrogen ( by water hydrolysis).

The production of hydrogen from natural gas is being carried out in a big way now . However, natural gas is methane . In the production , processing, storage and transportation of natural gas, methane emission takes place and methane is a toxic gas. In USA alone, it is reported that about 13 million tonne of methane emission take place every year. Therefore, production of grey hydrogen using natural gas as feedstock cannot be considered as entirely eco friendly.

Production of green hydrogen by water hydrolysis is eco friendly. One kilogramme of hydrogen production require 48 KWH of power and water electrolysis is a power intensive process and therefore, expensive. Power for water hydrolysis has to come from renewable energy or from thermal power plants that use fossil fuel. While power from renewable energy is eco friendly, adequate power from renewable energy source will not be available for large scale green hydrogen production, with the added problem of renewable power supply fluctuating due to seasonal and weather factors.

Global hydrogen industry is a much discussed subject today but still appears to be too far away to meet the global needs for 100% substitution of fossil fuel, particularly considering the present consumption and usage of fossil fuel around the world.

Methane emission

There is large amount of methane gas production from livestock population in the world. There is no way of collecting the gas from millions of cows and buffaloes.

Methane emission also takes place from usage of natural gas, as discussed.

While targets were fixed during the Glasgow Climate Meet to reduce the methane emission, no tangible and feasible and effective solutions have been evolved so far , to completely get rid of methane emission.

Carbon dioxide capture and storage

Lot of research work is going on to capture the carbon dioxide emission and either use the carbon dioxide for production of derivative products or pump it into the soil . However, all such work are right now on formative stage only. Feasibility of large scale utilization of carbon di oxide for production of derivative products or storing carbon dioxide is yet to be conclusively established.

Will the world be different after Glasgow Climate Meet?

It appears that the world climate did not become better after Paris Climate Meet and it would not become better after the Glasgow Climate Meet also.

There are large number of environmental activists around the world, most of whom seem to have made it a profession and they demonstrate , shout slogans , hold placards whenever Global Climate Conference take place. Perhaps, they have to continue to have such demonstration for long time to come for whatever it is worth.

Tall talk and huge protests are not sufficient strategies to sort out the impending global climate crisis.

The long story can be cut short , by noting that while the developing countries have asked the rich countries to provide one trillion USD to developing countries to reduce emissions, their request have been met with deafening silence from the rich countries.

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N. S. Venkataraman

N. S. Venkataraman is a trustee with the "Nandini Voice for the Deprived," a not-for-profit organization that aims to highlight the problems of downtrodden and deprived people and support their cause. To promote probity and ethical values in private and public life and to deliberate on socio-economic issues in a dispassionate and objective manner.

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