Kyoto and Beyond: Development of Sustainable Policy
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©2006 IEEE. Personal use of this material is permitted. However, permission to reprint/republish this material for advertising or promotional purposes or for creating new collective works for resale or redistribution to servers or lists, or to reuse any copyrighted component of this work in other works must be obtained from the IEEE. This material was published on IEEE Xplore on 07/01/15. The full citation is; "Kyoto and Beyond: Development of Sustainable Policy", Pendergast, D., Computare, EIC Climate Change Technology Conference, Ottawa, ON, Canada, 2006 IEEE, May 2006, ISBN: 1-4244-0218-2, pp. 1-3. (DRP - Copyright information updated 07/02/25)
The degree to which nations have come together to consider a potential global problem and possible solutions is remarkable. Most nations have participated in the United Nations sponsored study of the climate change problem. A report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change constitutes a major summary of thinking on climate change science.
Still, climate science is in a state of early development. Many scientists are so far unconvinced that global warming from human produced greenhouse gases is significant or harmful. Similarly the scientific and engineering basis to manage now increasing greenhouse gases is immature.
Reduction of atmospheric greenhouse gases, should we become committed that we can and must consider undertaking that task, will require much broader consideration of the role of humans in earth’s carbon cycle. Many of the policies and practices which are being put into place in the name of the Kyoto Protocol seem short sighted in that context.
This paper undertakes a review of some Kyoto derived policy initiatives which seem inappropriate, or possibly even counter to science based policies which might be considered in the context of long term greenhouse gas management for the coming decades and centuries. Indeed some may derive from issues and goals which have very little to do with the climate change issue.
The purpose of this paper is to encourage consideration of the development of policy which unequivocally focuses on greenhouse gas management in the short and long term and thus integrates with the goals of sustainable development.
Key words: greenhouse gas management, policy, carbon cycle, sinks, land-fill, forest product
The degree to which nations have come together to consider a potential global problem and possible solutions is remarkable. Most nations have participated in the United Nations sponsored study of the climate change problem. A report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change constitutes a major summary of thinking on climate change science and possible means to manage greenhouse gases thought to be the source of global warming. These gases are a byproduct of the development of agricultural, energy and industrial infrastructure which has supported the development of a growing human population.
Climate science is still in a state of early development. Many scientists are so far unconvinced that global warming from human produced greenhouse gases is significant or harmful. Similarly the scientific and engineering basis to manage now increasing greenhouse gases is immature. The Kyoto Protocol, intended to initiate a solution to the problem, is still not completely supported even though the required number of countries with the requisite percentage of greenhouse gas emissions have finally signed on to put the it into effect.
Many Kyoto period (2008 – 2012) initiatives focus on efficiency improvements, conservation and other means of reducing the consumption of fossil fuels. It is unlikely such diffident initiatives will have a perceptible effect on atmospheric greenhouse gas content. Reduction of atmospheric greenhouse gases, should we become really serious about undertaking that task, will require much broader consideration of the role of human development, production and use of resources and consideration of the human role in earth’s carbon cycle. Policies and practices which are being put into place in the name of the Kyoto Protocol would ideally be thought through carefully in the context of sustainable development concepts.
This paper reviews some greenhouse management initiatives which seem on close examination ineffective, or possibly even counter to policy which might be considered in the context of long term carbon management for the coming decades and centuries. The goal of this presentation is to stimulate discussion to help ensure the establishment of well thought out policy for carbon management in the context of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions and removals, which is also consistent with sustainable development.
2 Sustainable Policy
The phrase, sustainable development, has become very common. It defies precise definition. For the sake of this discussion we will start with the basic definition from the Bruntland Report (WCED, 1987) which is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Then we assume that we must maintain atmospheric greenhouse gases at a certain level to maintain a climate amenable to humans. That allows establishment of a related definition of sustainable policy. Sustainable greenhouse management policy is thus defined, for the purpose of this discussion, as policy and practice which manages atmospheric greenhouse gases at present and provides a way forward for future generations to do the same while meeting their needs.
Another definition, known as the Kaya identity, is intended to provide a view of overarching elements of greenhouse gas management. One expression of the identity (IPCC, 2000) is; “CO2 = (CO2/E) × (E/GDP) × (GDP/P) × P, where E represents energy consumption, GDP the global domestic product (or global value added) and P population.” The identity can be applied to changes in emissions for the whole world and to geographical sub-regions. The four terms on the right are not fundamental driving forces nor are they generally independent of each other. The identity has been used extensively as a tool to compare simple emissions from various parts of the world on a simplified basis. It fails in providing useful insight to more complex interactions within the carbon cycle. Note, for example, it barely hints at such complex and important relationships such as those between energy, fertilization, irrigation, and human input to the management of earth’s photosynthetic cycle.
Countless policy initiatives can be postulated from the vast array of independent variables implicit within the Kaya identity. We consider some that have achieved a measure of prominence in these early years of thinking about how we might manage greenhouse gases and consider their long term impact in the context of sustainable policy.
3 Sample Policy Evaluation
Canada’s commitment to Kyoto was made with little attention to the final term of the identity; population. All of Canada’s proposed greenhouse gas reduction actions thus focus on somehow modifying the first three terms of the identity while population continues to grow. For example, the first term can be modified through changes of the energy mix, the second through improvements in energy efficiency, and the third through reducing individual shares of gross domestic product via reduced consumption.
3.1 Energy Efficiency
Canada established the National Climate Change Process (NCCP, 1997) to review emissions and start a broad based evaluation of potential action to manage atmospheric greenhouse gases. Early discussion made much of terms such as “low hanging fruit” to describe greenhouse gas reductions deemed easily achieved – primarily through efficiency improvement and conservation. Indeed, as the “Process” progressed to the point of recommending policy and initiatives, such actions deemed to be the most cost-effective surfaced for implementation. Policies such as the “One Tonne Challenge” (Environment Canada, 2003) have been put in place to incent consumers to move to more efficient technology and conservation. How effective is energy efficiency improvement as a means of curtailing overall greenhouse gas emissions in the context of the Kaya identity and sustainable policy? The track record indicates improving energy efficiency actually increases greenhouse gas emissions.
Economists have been telling us for years that energy efficiency improvements do not lead to an overall decrease in energy consumption or associated greenhouse gases in a free market economy. History proves them resoundingly right. Over the past two hundred years thermal energy conversion engines have increased in efficiency from about 1% to around 60%. Other machines have been improved similarly. The inherent cost reduction makes energy use affordable for a greater proportion of the population. Individuals identify more useful applications of energy. Increases in per capita productivity and population overwhelm reductions in the first two terms of the Kaya identity. Greenhouse gas releases to the atmosphere surge ever upward.
Engineers have focused on improving efficiency of machines for centuries with great success Energy efficiency improvement is a good thing in its own right in terms of sustainable development. It makes the benefits of limited energy sources available to more people for a longer time. Policy to encourage energy efficiency improvement through micro-management of individual emission sources is not a stand alone way to cap greenhouse gas emissions in the short or long term and thus does not qualify as sustainable in the context of this discussion.
3.2 Forest Sinks
Canada considers the inclusion of forest and agricultural sinks in the Kyoto Protocol a major victory in the long drawn out negotiation process (GOC, 2002). As a result Canada may be able to claim up to 44 Mt of carbon dioxide emission reductions annually over the period 2008-2012 by demonstrating and quantifying forest emissions and removals. Forest sink factors taken into account include afforestation (planting new forests on previously unforested lands), deforestation (permanent removal of forests) and reforestation.
Forest wood products also present a technical opportunity to establish sinks, although this is apparently not accommodated by Kyoto. On the other hand, the national inventory process appears to allow this to be taken into account. Strangely, Canada has chosen to undertake her forest greenhouse gas inventory by assuming that harvested wood is immediately decomposed to return carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. This means Canada has not chosen to take credit for the carbon sink associated with wood used for construction and exported to other countries. This is inexplicable and seemingly inconsistent with policy to provide incentives to establish enduring sinks based on the carbon cycling of forests.
A Brief submitted (Computare, 2005) to a Canadian Parliamentary committee (SCESD, 2005) reviewing Canada’s approach to Kyoto considers the potential carbon sink from Canada’s forest products. It suggested the Kyoto deficit could be reduced by up to 157 Mt of carbon dioxide annually by modifying the inventory methodology to include the forest product sink.
It is particularly difficult to relate the forest sink issue to the Kaya identity. Some of this difficulty may be associated with the concept of buying and selling emission credits. It seems that will introduce a new aspect to GDP as emissions avoidance takes on value as a new commodity traded on global markets. If carbon sinks assume value it is reasonable to expect that policy will ultimately be developed to provide an incentive to take into account the value of wood product sinks. That would form the basis of a sustainable policy which would take into account the on-going ability of forests to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while still allowing for human use of renewable wood products. The afforestation and reforestation initiatives of Kyoto seem capped by land and forest growth constraints. They discourage harvesting to allow regrowth and continuing carbon dioxide removal if there is no sink credit for forest products. They are thus unsustainable by the standards of this review.
3.3 Landfill Gas
The development of emission credit systems to incent the recovery and use of landfill gas suggests the possibility a counter-intuitive policy may be established. A step back from looking at the details leads one to realize landfills may be an inadvertent emulation of Mother Nature’s long time work to sequester carbon with the establishment of fossil fuels.
A tonne of carbon in waste organic material actually sequestered in a landfill results in a carbon sink equivalent to about 3.66 tonnes of carbon dioxide and could warrant credits for removal from the atmosphere. Burning waste organic material for energy, bypassing the landfill process, releases the carbon in the waste as carbon dioxide and simply returns it to the atmosphere with no credit for net removal. Between these two extremes the decay of land fills produces methane as an intermediate product. A tonne of carbon in organic material could yield 1.33 tonnes of methane. Methane is deemed 21 times more effective as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. It thus seems there is potential to create up to 28 carbon dioxide equivalent credits from waste management processes which produce methane and then capture and burn it. That makes processes which generate methane up to 7.6 times more financially rewarding than processes which might actually sequester carbon.
Policy which provides credits for capturing and utilizing methane from existing landfills may have some very limited short term merit. Policy which provides financial rewards for the continued use of waste management systems which produce greenhouse gases will divert economic resources from developing alternative systems which actually remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Policies aimed at reducing emissions to meet the requirements of the Kyoto Protocol may not produce the intended results. Some may even be counter productive. Greenhouse reduction strategies are very complex with many interdependent relationships. This presentation raises some relatively simple examples for the sake of discussion and continued refinement of policy. The goal is to incent the development of policy to manage greenhouse gases that will actually be a complement to sustainable and sustained development of human initiatives. Such policy may turn out to be needed.
Environment Canada, One Tonne Challenge, http://www.climatechange.gc.ca/onetonne/english/index.asp,Circa 2003, Websites not available circa July 2006
GOC (Government of Canada), Forests and Agriculture Carbon Sinks & the Kyoto Protocol, http://www.climatechange.gc.ca/cop/cop6_hague/english/forests_e.html, March, 2002, Websites not available circa July 2006.
SCESD, Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, Finding the energy to act: reducing Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, http://www.parl.gc.ca/infocomdoc/38/1/parlbus/commbus/house/ENVI/report/RP1875334/envirp07/envirp07-e.pdf, July, 2005.
WCED (World Commission on Environment and Development), Our common future. Oxford University Press, p. 43, 1987.
Mechanical Engineer, B.Sc. (University of Alberta), M.Sc. and Ph.D. (New Mexico State University)
Experience: Industry – manufacturing and design engineer pressure vessels and transportation, 3 years. Education—Assistant Professor, 4 years. AECL—CANDU power plant safety analysis, design and environmental assessment, 26 years. Computare, Principal Scientist, consulting and website (www.computare.org) on energy and greenhouse gas management, 5 years. Retired member of Professional Engineers of Ontario. Life member of The Association of Professional Engineers, Geologists and Geophysicists of Alberta. Member of the Canadian Nuclear Society.