The Follies of ‘Net Zero’ Carbon Risk Consigning Millions to Energy Poverty

There follows a guest post by Ian Hore-Lacy, Senior Adviser to the World Nuclear Association, who is based in Melbourne, Australia, and is concerned about the direction of travel in his home country as it begins to take seriously cutting CO₂ emissions following COP26. Ian was recently interviewed on the Titans of Nuclear podcast (also available on iTunes and Spotify).

In Australia, media reporting of COP26 in Glasgow has been doubling down on reporting every anomalous weather event or sea-level concern as due to climate change, despite some fairly clear scientific findings in the AR6 science report showing such attribution as nonsense. Having spent the best part of two days looking at the AR6 science it is quite clear that we can live with the likely scenarios. The report itself notes that the very high emission and warming scenario SSP5-8.5 “has been debated in light of recent developments in the energy sector” and discounted but cannot be entirely ruled out. It projects a very great increase in coal use and has been carried forward from earlier modelling without real modification. Including this highly improbable, obsolete and extreme scenario, however, has fed a lot of extreme rhetoric by people who should know better, including the head of IPCC, António Guterres.

The language of crisis and catastrophe is used uncritically and without justification. It’s becoming evident that no panic measures will emerge from the Glasgow theatrics, but perhaps a steady focus on improvement, to minimise human contribution to CO₂ levels. In Europe the media focus has been on the current energy crisis, especially in the U.K. Australian PM Scott Morrison did well in Glasgow; he now needs to flesh out the ’technology’ that will save us. He needs to avoid a fight with the opposition Labor party, but somehow prevail in his fight with the renewables rent-seekers who are adding $7 billion per year to Australia’s electricity bills for little effect.

I have been struck by the absence of comment on two matters relating to Australia’s very high dependence on coal and gas for electricity generation. One is that our exports of coal and gas (LNG) provide desperately-needed energy for several trading partners such as India, and coking coal for their steelmaking. Emissions from using all this are their responsibility under IPCC reckoning. Also we have a strong moral responsibility for trading all kinds of minerals that Australia is endowed with and which are needed to lift others out of energy poverty. If people contest the accounting protocol for this, arguing Australia should be responsible for these emissions as the source of the fuel, they need to take into account that our uranium exports alone avoid about the same amount of CO₂ emissions overseas that are produced annually in total in Australia.

Second is the fact that in our emissions-reckoning are a lot of exports such as smelted aluminium, each tonne of which has given rise to about 15 tonnes of CO₂ emission. At 1.4 million tonnes of aluminium exported each year that’s over 20 million tonnes of CO₂ per year – 5% of Australia’s total. All similar such exports would account for near 10% of our emissions. This is relevant to the political discourse about emission reductions in the near term – are politicians being level with the public about what emission reduction would mean for these sectors, or what protecting them would entail for other sectors?

While global surface temperatures have increased about 1.1°C over pre-industrial levels (as reported by IPCC), climate scientist Richard Lindzen notes: “Despite the fact that increases of CO₂ thus far have been accompanied by the greatest increase in human welfare in history, and despite the fact that there have been large increases in the Earth’s vegetated area largely due to increases in CO₂’s role in photosynthesis, governments seem to have concluded that another 0.5°C will spell doom”. The IPCC science is less alarmist now in AR6 than seven years ago. It acknowledges this positive among many negatives: “There has been increasing productivity of the land biosphere due to the increasing atmospheric CO₂ concentration as the main driver (medium confidence). Global-scale vegetation greenness has increased since the 1980s (high confidence).”

More high-profile environmental advocates are now coming out strongly and vocally in favour of nuclear power. While the U.K. depends on this zero-CO₂ technology for about 17% of its electricity, and the USA for 20%, Australia is the only G20 country not to use it. That needs to change if we are to have any hope of delivering on ‘net zero by 2050’ or ever. We start off way behind. Any ‘net zero’ commitment by Australia is wishful thinking without embracing nuclear power.

The Wall Street Journal recently commented thus on Michael Shellenberger, whom I admire and read regularly:

For him and so many others, environmentalism offered emotional relief and spiritual satisfaction, giving them a sense of purpose and transcendence. It has become a substitute religion for those who have abandoned traditional faiths, as he explains in his concluding chapter, False Gods for Lost Souls. Its priests have been warning for half a century that humanity is about to be punished for its sins against nature, and no matter how often the doomsday forecasts fail, the faithful still thrill to each new one.

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