• MIT Technology Review finds global efforts to combat climate change an order of magnitude too small

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      Patrick Lavery

      Combustion Industry News Editor

The MIT Technology Review has taken a step back and looked at progress towards meeting the goal of limiting global average temperature rises to 2oC, pointing out that progress since 2003 has been around an order of magnitude too slow (if progress is considered in a linear fashion). A paper in Science in 2003 estimated that around 1,100 MW of carbon-free energy needed to be added worldwide each day to meet the goal; since 2003, the average installation rate has been about 151 MW. The real-world factors preventing faster rollout are many. Limited political will and consequent weak governmental support, driven at least partly by a general unwillingness to pay for change on the part of citizens, is one factor, and one that in some ways is getting worse – US citizens would these days be willing to pay US$5/month to ‘solve’ climate change, down from $10 or $15/month in earlier years. The feedback delay from emissions to negative effects, which can be decades, is another complicating psychological factor. The sheer effort in building the enormous quantity of low/zero-carbon power generation required over the next three decades, likened to Second World War efforts, is one more. The fact that so much money has already been invested in conventional power generation capacity adds to the challenge – companies understandably want to achieve a return on the money they have already spent. The increasing consumption of the developing world is also a factor – by 2040, China by itself is expected to need to add as much power generation capacity as is currently installed in total in the US. The technical challenges and expense in developing carbon capture and storage, energy storage, and longer transmission networks (to help balance out the intermittency of wind and solar energy) is another. The challenge of electrifying other parts of the economy – transport, aviation, etc – is yet one more, and even then leaves the challenges of land-use and agriculture. Put together, the task becomes highly daunting, but one which would be much more costly to the world not to address. It is worth remembering, too, that progress could accelerate in coming decades.