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UCL study signals huge costs to tackle climate change

Ahead of December’s crunch climate meeting in Paris, the latest shuddering climate change survey has claimed that of the remaining coal reserves, the world can only take the chance to burn a fifth if we are to avoid the catastrophic effects of climate change.

The magical 2C figure for temperature rises has become known as the “carbon bubble” the point above which if carbon emissions are not capped, the 2C figure will be irredeemably and catastrophically eclipsed for the World’s climate.

That is the conclusion from a study undertaken by University College London who also called for the saviour of the energy markets, driving current global oil, gas and coal lows, the development of oil and gas drilling in the Arctic and the prospecting of Canadian tar sands is inconsistent with tacking climate change. However, in better news for the UK, the report caveated that the hoped for, US mimicking, UK shale revolution could remain consistent if it were to replace more polluting fossil fuel processes.

Professor Paul Ekins, Director of the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources explained:

“It may be that some UK shale gas resources are economically viable. We don’t know that and we won’t know that until we drill a lot more well than we currently have drilled … If they turn out to be economically viable then the model would suggest that we use them and provided the local environmental impacts can be made acceptable then I would also say we should use them.

“But the caveat then is what fossil fuels should we not be using from somewhere else if we are going to stay within the carbon budget? That is a question that is not often asked.”

The UCL report also went on to claim that in order to tackle climate change in a cost effective way 1/3 of oil and ½ of gas reserves needed to “stay in the ground”.

That prospect however is hugely unrealistic with traditional energy nations such as China, Russia and Middle East holding the key to the global oil and gas reserves with new kid on the block, the US, equally keen to see its product come to market.

Dr Christophe McGlade, one of the study’s authors said:

“Policy makers must realise that their instincts to completely use the fossil fuels within their countries are wholly incompatible with their commitments to the 2C goal.

“If they go ahead with developing their own resource, they must be asked which reserves elsewhere should remain unburnt in order for the carbon budget not to be exceeded.”

In total McGlade called for global oil usage to be cut by 16% and coal consumption by a huge 61%, whilst in contrast gas, provided it uses the most efficient technology, should be used in increasing quantities to wean the world off coal. He added:

“Burning all the reserves would exceed the range of the carbon budget by about three times burning all the fossil fuel resources would probably exceed it by about 10 to 11 times.

“If we want to reach 2C in the most cost effective way, over 80% of current coal reserves, half of gas reserves and a third of oil reserves globally need to be classified as unburnable, that is to stay in the ground and not be used before 2050 if we want to stay below 2C.

“These reserves aren’t spread around the world evenly. For instance there are absolutely huge coal reserves in China, Russia and the United States and the overwhelming majority of these should not be used.

“In the Middle East there are about 260bn barrels of oil that should be classified as unburnable if we don’t want to exceed 2C – and 260bn barrels is about equal currently to the total reserves of Saudi Arabia”

Ever so slightly underplaying the massive contradiction between the needs of preventing climate change and the wants of the economy, a DECC spokesperson commented:

“While fossil fuels have a role to cost effectively meet demand and our carbon targets, unabated coal generation as the worst polluter will be significantly cut, accounting for only around 1pc of total electricity generation in Great Britain by 2025.”

Reaching unanimous agreement in Paris in December about the way forward for tackling climate change may be doubtful but one thing for sure is the future is looking costly, very costly indeed.