The frustrating thing is that there is now a reasonable consensus emerging on some of the necessary technical measures for reducing CO2 emissions. They will differ for different regions of the world, but that is only common sense, and some areas of the economy are more intractable than others, but to make a start there are a few no-brainers….
Decarbonization of electricity production is the first solution to fall out. Electricity, not oil, is the lifeblood of our way of life. Once that is decoked many other areas cease to be a problem or, as in transport, a solution is readily to hand. Of course, there is a raft of competing renewable sources for electricity but the pattern is beginning to shake out. In countries with natural resources such as hydroelectric power, use them. In hot countries, solar thermal energy is becoming the favourite. This involves large solar arrays in deserts which simply use mirrors to heat water or other fluids to run turbines. This is a proven technology that needs to be scaled up to national grid level. At the beginning of November the German-led Desertec initiative, a £240bn plan to provide Europe with solar power from the Sahara via cable, was announced.Until that is in place, for northern hemisphere countries such as Britain, nuclear is probably the best short- to-medium-term option and here Ed Milliband and the government have got it right.
Electricity can certainly be decoked worldwide by 2050 at the latest. That brings us on to transport. The battle between hydrogen and electric powered vehicles seems to be over for the time being. The hydrogen economy might become viable decades later but as the US Energy Secretary, Steven Chu, says:“Is it likely in the next 10 or 15, 20 years that we will convert to a hydrogen car economy?' The answer, we felt, was 'no' ?” The electric car is racing towards viability. Given the pathetic state of the world’s auto industries, governments need to use the leverage given them by the recession to speed the introduction of electric cars.
For medium-to-long distance travel within continents such as Europe and Asia the electric train is the only way; in cities, diesel buses need to be replaced by electric trams and trolley buses.
These are the easy choices. Home heating and cooking, aviation fuel, synthetic chemicals and plastics are harder to call but we need a world forum to share information on the emerging technologies for these sectors. We have the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the world’s governments have been engaged in pre-Copenhagen diplomatic foreplay but why in advance of Copenhagen was a world technical body not set up to assess the different technologies: an International Panel for Emissions Reduction Implementation (IPERI)? Our smorgasbord of climate change discussion needs more of the roughage of technical nitty gritty and less of the politicians’ staple: communiqué fodder.