If the climate crisis won’t change our behaviour – will war?

7.04.2022

The Green Blog by Michael Dembinski

If prospects of global warming aren’t enough to change our behaviour, will the massacre of innocent civilians funded by our use of fossil fuels do so?

We all know – and have done for years – that we should turn down the heating, insulate our homes, invest in renewable energy such as solar panels, drive less – and yet the vague threat of global temperatures rising by more than 1.5C by the end of the century isn’t generally getting through to us.

BPCC's green blog:

COP26 – after the party, the fallout
Car fleets, driving to work and ESG
Communicating the Green Imperative within your firm
How green is your office?
The Green Canteen
Remake, remodel - remanufacture?
Nudging the consumer towards a greener way of life
The Green Transformation and business – top-down or bottom-up?
Food security and the Green Agenda

And so we carry on, generally, as before. Some of us might have bought an electric car, or ditched the car altogether. Some of us will have installed solar panels. Companies are doing better. They want to be seen doing the right thing, saving energy and water, optimising processes is good for the bottom line – and yet we all know that it isn’t anywhere near enough to cut greenhouse gas emissions to a sustainable level.

A new call to action

Now we have a major European war going on. Our media are full of the horrors of war. A major military power, financed by the sale of fossil fuels, is indiscriminately bombing residential areas and killing innocent civilians in a neighbouring country.  We can now understand the correlation between our purchases of Russian fossil fuels and Russia’s purchases of military hardware. And yet our dependence on Russia’s oil, gas and coal has become so great that that we cannot just switch it off from one day to the next without massive economic dislocation.

The EU’s new initiative, REPowerEU, has set out steps to dramatically accelerate Europe’s shift away from Russian energy sources, in the short term by sourcing hydrocarbons from other parts of the world, but in the longer term making a dash for wholly renewable energy.

IPCC gives us to 2025 to curb greenhouse gases

The third volume of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2022 report was published earlier this week. It concludes that if we are to have a 50% chance of meeting the 1.5C target, global greenhouse-gas emissions will have to peak by 2025. Just three years! A tough target, but it is doable, but only if we give up using fossil fuels at a scale and speed that’s never been seen before. Sticking to that 1.5C target will mean that coal use must fall by 95%, oil by 60% and gas by 45% by 2050. Because economies of scale are kicking in, the last decade has seen a massive reduction in the cost of the two technologies at the heart of the green transition – solar and wind energy.

Sharply rising energy prices caused by the Russian invasion and resulting sanctions, coupled with lower-cost solar and wind technology, mean that overnight, the return on investment in green energy will happen faster than ever before. But a rush to solar and wind energy sources will have two knock-on effects. The first will be an increase in the price of installation, as demand outstrips supply. Installers will come at a premium. Secondly, we will face even greater problems associated with surplus energy on days when there’s plentiful sunshine and wind. National grids – especially Poland’s! – are not geared up to two-way distribution and transmission in a situation where more and more ‘prosumers’ (producers and consumers of energy) are connected.

This is where REPowerEU can make a difference – massive investments in the grid is needed to ensure the smooth two-way flow of energy, and needed right now. The other issue is storage. Storing electricity generated on long, sunny days in summer for use on shorter, darker days in winter is not an option. Battery storage works well if we are storing from daytime to night-time use. Other forms of storage such pumped-storage hydroelectric (using solar or wind power to pump water up hill, releasing it through turbines on dark/windless days), compressed-air storage, or using electricity from renewable sources to create green hydrogen via hydrolysis, are all potential answers. Pumped-storage hydroelectricity is limited by geography and environmental factors, compressed-air storage and green hydrogen are technologies that still need to be optimised.

If any good can come from this war, it will be in the form of accelerated transition away from fossil fuels towards green energy. We need to bear in mind that our use of fossil fuels from Russia has helped finance its murderous aggression in Ukraine. There’s no getting around that fact.

The Green Blog by Michael Dembinski

Day 1: BPCC’s green blog on COP 26 in Glasgow
Day 2: Methane emission pledge hailed as success on second day of COP26
Day 3: Coal and climate finance are the focus of the third day of COP26
Day 4: Youth activism flavours fourth day of COP26
Day 7: Barack Obama’s speech highlighted start of second week of COP26
Day 8: Gender equality – focus of eighth day of COP26 – overshadowed by new heat calculation
Day 10&11: China-US ‘breakthrough’ as final statement is hammered out
Summary: COP26 disappoints with the loss of strong commitment