Global climate plans a fantasy, warns chemistry chief

09 December 2008

The much-heralded Climate Change Act, given Royal Assent last week, which aims to reduce annual carbon dioxide emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, sets the right agenda for the UK and the science community, says Richard Pike, chief executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

But, he warns, on a worldwide basis, where emissions are fifty times the UK figure, current international plans will remain an unfulfilled fantasy because of mathematical errors in basic assumptions and a global underestimate of the true challenge ahead. His concerns are published in the December issue of the journal Significance, published this week by the Royal Statistical Society.

Dr Pike said: "This is an extraordinary challenge that must begin with the right facts. The RSC is sending a copy of the Significance article to the mathematics department of every secondary school, to expose the 'schoolboy howler' in statistics that is misleading governments everywhere, and compromising our ability to address the potential catastrophe that lies ahead."

"Getting this right will enable us to focus collectively on the science to deliver, safely and securely, the solutions we need. It is this that will inspire youngsters to see these as great career opportunities."

"Few commentators seem aware that hydrocarbons represent, coincidentally, 80% of all the provision of energy in the world for electric power, heating and transport.

"Therefore, this reduction target (when applied globally) means that in forty-two years time, without carbon capture and storage (CCS), fossil fuels will have to provide just 16% of our energy needs, in today's terms.

"Unless there is extensive CCS around the world, representing thousands of processing plants handling altogether around 100 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each day, there is the prospect of having to compulsorily curtail production to meet environmental constraints. That is equivalent to shutting down Saudi Arabia, Russia, Kuwait and other major producers.

"The error being made is to assume that oil and gas availability will rapidly decline by mid-century, when on the contrary there is a 90% probability that true proven reserves could be produced at current rates until close to the year 2100. This was reported in Petroleum Review (2006), and has been clarified more fully in Significance.

Dr Pike asserts that all low-carbon options will have to compete with oil - with or without CCS - that in some parts of the world will have production costs remaining as little as $2 per barrel.

"This is around twice as long as conventionally believed. Other oil and gas resources, and coal, will last even longer."

Related Links

Link icon "How much oil is really there? Making correct statistics bring reality to global planning"
Richard Pike's article in Significance, a Royal Statistical Society journal

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