Gordon Morgan: Here's how Scotland can eliminate CO2 emissions by 2045 and help save the world

Gordon Morgan, Energy researcher for Common Weal, looks at what Scotland needs to do to take the IPCC report seriously and decarbonise the country rapidly

THE IPCC report explains, in theory, how we can limit global warming to 1.5C from pre industrial levels. It notes that we are currently experiencing the effects of 1.0 C rises and hence only 0.5 C remains if we are not to exceed that level of global warming.

Limiting it to 1.5 C will require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”.

Failure to do so will lead to devastating consequences to the environment which could take thousands of years to repair – assuming humanity lasts that long.

It then outlines somewhat technically confusing and perhaps contradictory pathways to retain warming to 1.5 C.

READ MORE: Raise the ambition of Climate Change Bill following IPCC report, Scottish environmentalists say

The seriousness of this was brought home to me in Chapter 2 Table 2.1 which outlines 90 pathway scenarios which could restrict warming to on average 1.5 C and includes a note:

“No pathways were available that achieve a greater than 66 per cent probability of limiting warming below 1.5°C during the entire 21st century.”

In other words not one out of the thousands of Climate scientists contributing to the report believes that even with a concerted effort of all Governments, there is a better than two out of three chance of avoiding a 1.5 C rise in at least some years between now and 2100.

Moreover these scenarios include really scary steps such as:

a) directly taking CO2 out of the atmosphere and

b)  changing the reflectiveness of the atmosphere by injecting Sodium or aerosol gases out of jetplanes high into the atmosphere and continuing to do so for potentially hundreds of years.

The only way to even remotely limit warming to 1.5 C is for every Government to reach zero carbon emissions by 2050. This means certain Governments must reach zero carbon emission long before 2050.

READ MORE: #ClimateWeek: Is Scotland still an international leader in tackling climate change?

This must include Scotland and indeed the whole of the UK.

A separate report, The Energy Transition Outlook 2018, points out that Europe is furthest along with decarbonisation and indeed has the most ambitious targets of all the 10 world areas. However, Europe will also fall short of its limited 2050 ambition to reduce carbon emissions by 80 per cent.

The Committee on Climate Change report to the Scottish Parliament shows the Scottish Government to be in serious danger of missing its own limited goal to reduce carbon emissions by 90 per cent by 2050.

In Scotland we need to assess not what is affordable to decarbonise, but what is doable and how soon it is doable.

Patrick Harvie is correct to call on the Scottish Government to convene an all-party summit including experts and environment groups to consider the scope for improving Scotland's Climate Change targets with a view to decarbonise as soon as possible.

The following are my personal views on some of the issues, having been writing on Energy for Common Weal since its foundation.

Work Back from the End Date

If we, as the Scottish people, set the goal of completely eliminating CO2 emissions in Scotland by, say, 2045, then we need to have eliminated our use of fossil fuels for industry, heating, transport, electricity, agriculture at least five years earlier, by 2040.

This is because residual CO2 will continue to be emitted from other sources and we need to remove that through Carbon Capture e.g. reforestation or more radical measures, over the following five years.

End Fossil Fuel Use by 2040

The Scottish Government has already set a date for banning fossil fuels in new cars and vans by 2032. This gives us eight years to remove existing cars running on petrol and diesel. We may be able to do this but will require incentives to scrap or swap existing cars for zero carbon emission ones.

In any case petrol stations need to be eliminated or converted to sell electric power or hydrogen from renewable sources by 2040.

At present only 25 per cent of train lines are electrified. It is unfeasible in this timeframe to electrify all the remaining lines. Some or most must run on hydrogen or synthetic gas. This decision can and must be made soon. Germany has already ordered Hydrogen trains built in France for its non main lines.

Shipping needs to be converted to run on biofuels or preferably hydrogen or fuel derived from hydrogen. The feasibility of this must be assessed soon and a conversion programme started.

Aircraft must cease to use petroleum products. If this is not possible we need to radically cut back on existing aircraft and retire those that cannot be converted to use biofuels. Planning for this should begin now and no further airport expansion should take place.

All large trucks must be converted to run on hydrogen. These are being developed across the world but could be built here. We are already building hydrogen fuelled buses in Falkirk.

We need to ensure we build sufficient hydrolysis plants fuelled by clean electricity.

Gas must be removed from domestic and industrial heating and replaced by district heating or electric heat pumps.

Because of the long duration of gas boilers, around 10 years on average, we should ban the sale of Gas boilers from 2030 and their installation in new build premises from 2025 and plan for a conversion programme to replace them with electric heat pumps from 2030-2040.

By 2040 the Gas supply should be switched off and gas pipes repositioned for CO2 removal or hydrogen distribution.

Petrochemical plants e.g. Grangemouth require an urgent investigation to examine how they can be converted to either not use fossil fuels or else all CO2 can be captured by 2040.

Due notice should be given to Petrol and Gas exploration companies that Scotland will not use their supplies from the above dates nor will we permit Oil or Gas to be exported from any residual fields after 2050.

Prepare Now and Set Targets

Ambitious goals for electricity generation from renewables should be adopted.

It takes up to 10 years to build an offshore windfarm and connect it to the grid and we need to almost triple our generation capacity to replace petrol and gas for heating in the next 15 years assuming nuclear plants are shut down on safety grounds. This means a detailed plan to expand and meet future electricity needs is required, not restriced on grounds of cost! This requires the UK Government to rapidly up its granting of licenses or better still delegate this to Scotland. 

We need ambitious year by year targets for insulation of homes, installing electric rechargers, building and selling electric vehicles, building cars, vans, trucks and boats compatible with zero carbon.

The Scottish Government along with the UK Government uses the TIMES model to estimate the cost and timescale of Climate action.

This model needs to be altered and rerun to meet the above targets and assess the higher costs of transitioning to a non carbon emissions future much sooner.

The higher costs than the present estimated 1.5 per cent of GDP must be treated as infrastructure costs and not as direct costs of delivering energy which affect energy bills and prices. The public and particularly the poor must not pay the full cost of this.

Producing Electricity and Gas from fossil fuels should reflect the full cost of removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

It is estimated in the above reports that the failure to do this means that worldwide the fossil fuel companies receive seven times the “subsidy” of renewable energy companies.

This must be addressed and renewable energy production cross subsidised from fossil fuel prices starting now. We must encourage new green energy companies and penalise residual fossil fuel companies by at least charging them the full cost of removing carbon from the atmosphere.

The overall cost of adapting to climate change should be assessed. Other than the fuel and electricity costs paid by consumers which should be capped at less than the present level, the rest should be paid from general taxation or public borrowing.

We cannot allow those who cannot pay fuel costs to be penalised by the much higher costs during the Green transition. We will all benefit from a future planet which can recover from humanities past negligence.

We have enough resources to ensure that we all live to see the future. And much much more. Everyone must get involved in this campaign. It affects us all and particularly our children and grandchildren.

Devolve energy policy

Common Weal has long argued that Energy policy must be devolved. For too long the UK Government has disrupted Scotland's renewable ambitions. This must end now.

Scotland has the right to decarbonise as fast as it can and we want to. This is not to decry the ambitions of the rest of the UK to also decarbonise or indeed the rest of the world to decarbonise. Every country has the right and the obligation to do this as fast as it can!

Scotland cannot be denied its right to set an ambitious target to become Carbon neutral faster than the rest of the UK.

Picture courtesy of Irenic Rhonda

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