Dramatic Difference in Damage Potential of Climate Change by Region in the U.S.

Damage function is the technical term used by economists in assessing the effects of weather-driven damages to the economic performance of a given region. With advances in the predictive capabilities of models of climate change, it is now possible to estimated economic impacts with increasing precision and refinement by region. A recent study in the U.S. modelled the future potential for weather driven damages to agriculture, crime, health, energy demand, labor and coastal communities and then predicted the overall effect on GDP by county in the U.S.

Near the end of the century, future costs of climate change damage are estimated at 1.2% of GDP for each degree C of average global surface warming above pre-industrial temperatures. A business as usual scenario of unabated emissions will result in about 5°C of surface warming at a cost to the U.S. 6% of GDP annually between 2080 and 2100.
What is perhaps more striking than the overall costs, is the extreme variation in the impacts of climate change between regions. Counties in southern states are at considerably greater risk with projected costs generally in the range of 10-30% of GDP. This contrasts with several northern states that are predicted to experience a net benefit from changing weather patterns based on longer, warmer growing seasons and thus greater production from agriculture and other savings associated with shorter winters. Ironically, political indifference to climate change tends to be concentrated in the most at risk regions of the U.S.

As the predictive models for the impacts of changing weather patterns continues to be refined, there is a tendency to focus attention on local risks and needs for adaptations. In northern, in-land regions of North America, Europe and Asia, effective adaptations could minimize risks and costs associated with changing weather patterns. In some regions, successful adaptations could lead to net economic benefits.

However, a focus on local vulnerabilities ignores the broader global reality. The situation of disproportionate damage potential between southern and norther regions in the U.S. is magnified on the global scale. Africa, small islands, coastal populations and lower latitude regions are the most climate vulnerable, at risk regions on earth. The magnitude of the damage potential in climate vulnerable countries, grossly exceeds any possible benefit that could occur within higher latitude, in-land regions of the globe.

Greenhouse gases are well mixed in the atmosphere. Under a business as usual scenario of an indefinite continuation of current practices, emissions from a coal burning power plant in Saskatchewan will contribute to costly damage and human misery including failures of food and water supply in Nigeria while having much less of a direct impact in the prairie regions of Canada.

The moral and economic justification for progressive decarbonization of economic sectors must come from an assessment of global impacts and cannot be derailed by misplaced tendencies for cost/benefit analysis to be overly focus on local issues.

The Danger of NO Nukes

Since publication of The Price of Carbon I have been challenged by some within the environmental community as to the strongly stated position in the book that nuclear power is not only safe and sustainable but required to efficiently decarbonize power grids within the timeframe required to limit future surface warming to less than 2°C.
Without doubt, the level 7 nuclear disasters at Chernobyl and Fukushima resulted in massive and costly cleanup and remediation projects that will stretch over decades. There is no denying this reality and the need to continuously advance safety in the design of nuclear power stations and to establish safe long-term solutions to manage high-level nuclear waste.
However, a narrow focus on the potential damage of future nuclear disasters and issues of waste management often leads to the conclusion that a global shutdown of nuclear power plants and full moratorium on future builds is in order. This outcome would be lead to a catastrophic increase in the use of fossil fuels to produce electricity over the next 30 years.

There are vast regions of the planet that are lacking in sufficient biomass, hydro and geothermal options to produce electricity. Renewables in the form of wind and solar are variable energy sources and grid penetration beyond 40% of total power supply becomes largely impractical based on current technologies. In the absence of hydro and geothermal, the options for baseline power production consist of fossil fuels and nuclear power. If you remove the nuclear option, the critical decarbonization of the electricity supply sector as required over the next 30 years is likely to be impractical. Given the remaining budget of emissions under a less than 2 degrees surface warming scenario there is no luxury of time to delay decarbonization of the electricity supply sector as will happen in the absence of nuclear power.

In Japan, the post-Fukushima shut-down of nuclear power stations, resulted in a compensatory increase in fossil fuel use and an 7% increase in national emissions. Japan plans to re-introduce nuclear power to the energy mix such that nuclear would contribute 20% of the total power supply by 2030. Prior to Fukushima, Japan had planned an ambitious year 2030 low emissions energy mix of 52% nuclear, 19% renewables and 29% fossil fuels. Post Fukushima the 2030 targets have been revised to 20% nuclear, 23% renewables and 56% fossil fuels. As a result, Japan’s ambitions to curtail GHG emissions and to contribute to the global effort to combat climate change have diminished since the Fukushima disaster.

India’s latest energy plans calls for no new fossil fuel power plants to be built, beyond those already under construction, until at least 2027. The massive increase in electricity supply within India over next 9 years will be covered by zero emissions hydro, renewables and nuclear power. This program is vital to the global effort of decarbonize power supply by mid-century.

In 1975, a massive storm dropped a year’s worth on rain within a 24-hour period in the drainage area of the Ru river in China leading to the collapse of the Banqiao dam. Casualties from Banqiao dam catastrophe were estimated at 171,000 deaths and with 11 million displaced. In contrast there were 0 fatalities associated with the Fukushima disaster and the Chernobyl disaster lead to 134 cases of immediate radiation sickness with 28 confirmed deaths from acute exposure. Post Chernobyl there were another 19 deaths from cancer associated acute exposure and there were 9 deaths from thyroid cancer from exposure to radioactive iodide.

Based on a statistic of early death per unit of power production, nuclear, wind, solar and hydro (including Banqiao dam collapse) are safe methods of power production. The WHO estimates that globally there are 7 million early deaths per year due to air quality issues and coal combustion accounts for well over half of this mortality.

In describing the Banqiao dam disaster my intention is not to raise concerns over the safety of hydro power but to put the safety concerns of nuclear power into context and to illustrate the damage potential of unmitigated climate change. With unchecked emissions, and subsequent future global warming the frequency and damage potential of extreme weather events will markedly increase.

The global focus to combat climate change cannot deviate from curtailment of emissions and progressive decarbonization of economic sectors. Nuclear power has a key role in providing a zero-emissions alternative to fossil fuels to produce electricity in regions that are lacking in hydro and geothermal alternatives.

Fukushima Nuclear Disaster (0 deaths)        Bianqiao Dam Failure (171,000 deaths)

Costs of Fueling a Vehicle Compared to Charging an Electric Vehicle

Assessing the costs and emissions of operating a conventional gas or diesel fueled vehicle with an electric vehicle often involves a complete life cycle assessment of greenhouse gas emissions. This process requires assumptions as to the energy mix to produce electricity, and the consumer cost of electricity and gasoline. Further, theses factors are far from static and must undergo dramatic changes if economies are to progressively decarbonize as required to limit future surface warming to less than 2 degrees C. Implementation of carbon pricing will drive up gasoline and diesel prices. A shut down of coal fueled power plants will decrease the intensity of emissions from the production of electricity.

Concern is often expressed as to the increase in the costs of gasoline and diesel and the financial impact to the consumer following the implementation of effective carbon pricing mechanisms. The point of carbon pricing is drive changes in practice to lower cost, lower emissions options. With the emergence of competitively priced EVs, the economic advantages and emissions abatement potential of operating an EV will become motivators for switch over to electric vehicles. These advantages should be described to consumers as clearly and accurately as possible. By simplifying the description to a comparison of similar sized vehicles and selecting a reasonable cost of fuel and electricity it becomes possible to make realistic comparisons of operating costs. By restricting emissions calculations to tailpipe emissions no assumptions as to energy mix for power production or source of fossil fuels (oilsands or conventional oilfield) are needed. The consumer see direct and accurate data on what it cost to operate the vehicle and what comes out of the tailpipe (if there is a tailpipe). The advantages in terms of operating costs and emissions abatement are clearly evident and should begin to influence consumer preferences for automobile options.

At $1.05/L gasoline cost and $0.11 kWh residential electricity cost, the charging costs of driving a Chevy Bolt for 1 year covering 18,000 km will be $984 less than the cost of fueling a Honda Civic and will avoid 2.8 metric tonnes of tailpipe carbon dioxide  emissions. 

Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives to Sponsor Book Launch Events

The Saskatchewan Office of the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives has stepped up to sponsor the Regina and Saskatoon city book launch events for the Price of Carbon. Please join us for an engaging discussion on one of the most important issues of our time.

Regina Book Launch. Wed. Feb 28th 7:30 pm Buschwakker

Saskatoon Book Launch Wed. March 7th 7:00 pm McNally Robinson Booksellers

Regina book launch added to book tour

A Regina book launch event has been confirmed for February 28th at 7:30 pm in the Arizona Room of Bushwakker Pub. The author will present an overview of the book and the subject of climate change and climate change policy, followed by a reading, and a question and answer session. Signed copies of the book will be available at the end of the evening.

City book launch dates are now confirmed for:

Regina, Wed. Feb 28th, 7:30 pm. Bushwakker Pub.

Winnipeg, Fri. March 2nd. 7:30 pm. McNally Robinson Booksellers.

Saskatoon, Wed. March 7th 7:00 pm. McNally Robinson Booksellers.

Prairie Resilience: A Made-in-Saskatchewan Climate Change Strategy. Part 1 An Overview of a Token Gesture Under the Guise of a Climate Action Plan

The Government of Saskatchewan’s White Paper on Climate Change begins with an acknowledgement of the reality of man-made climate change and the need to curtail emissions of greenhouse gases. In 2015, emissions from the province of Saskatchewan totaled 75 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents which equates to 10% of the Canadian total. The intensity of emissions from Saskatchewan is extreme, and on a per capita basis, is 3 fold greater than the national average.

Under the Paris Agreement, Canada has committed to achieve a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emission by the year 2030 relative to emissions on record for the year 2005. In contrast, the government of Saskatchewan has put forth a position that a focus on the intensity of provincial emissions is misplaced and that specific targets to curtail emissions are not needed.

By 2030 the government plans to increase grid penetrations by renewables (hydro, wind, solar and geothermal) from 25 to 50% of the total production capacity. This initiative should be acknowledged; however, given the rate of emissions from other sectors of the economy, the net effect of this initiative will be marginal.

The most significant emissions abatement opportunity for Saskatchewan resides in the oil and gas sector. In 2016, Canada, the US and Mexico agreed to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40-45% by the year 2025. In Canada, specific federal regulations to monitor and minimize leakage and venting of methane will be phased in between 2020 and 2023. The provincial Climate Change Strategy does not clearly commit to achieving federal targets to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector.

Outside of policies directed toward electricity production and possibly the oil and gas sector, the Climate Change Strategy of the Government of Saskatchewan is largely devoid of substance. All that remains in the document is a laundry list of often vague statements of intent that are provided without targets to curtail emissions within economic sectors.

Using the government’s own projections, relative to a year 2005 baseline, annual provincial emissions would increase by 12.5 million tonnes by the year 2030 under a business as usual scenario. Assuming a 45% cut in methane emissions from the oil and gas sector and a 50% penetration of power supply by renewables, provincial emissions would be cut by 11 million tonnes. As such, implementation of Saskatchewan’s limited climate action plan would result in zero change in emissions by the year 2030. If carbon sinks (carbon withdrawal from the atmosphere through agricultural soils and forestry) are included in the calculation of baseline emissions and year 2030 projections, net provincial greenhouse gas emissions would increase by 9%.

In reality, the Saskatchewan Climate Change Strategy does not contain specific targets to reduce total greenhouse gas emissions because these projections would highlight the lack of ambition within the plan. The policies put forward by the government to curtail emissions are grossly inadequate and inconsistent with regional obligations to combat climate change. An indefinite continuation of the extreme intensity of emissions from Saskatchewan will undermine Canada’s efforts to achieve a minimum of a 30% reduction in emissions by the year 2030 as specified under the Paris Agreement.

Dave Maenz

Author – The Price of Carbon