Climate change 'can be solved by oil firms'
Published 27/09/2010 | 05:00
CLIMATE CHANGE can be solved in a snap by making oil, gas and coal companies take responsibility for burying all the carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted by the fossil fuel products they sell, one of Britain's leading young climate scientists said yesterday.
Government attempts to try to get millions of people to change their behaviour through taxes and incentives were doomed to fail, said Dr Myles Allen, head of the Climate Dynamics Group at Oxford University, and an increasingly influential voice in the climate debate.
It would be much more efficient, he said, simply to make all producers of carbon-based fuels accountable for the disposal of the carbon dioxide their fuels ultimately give off, as a condition of remaining in business. Successful climate-change policy would involve less government, not more.
Dr Allen put his proposal forward in a debate on the politics of climate change at the Sustainable Planet forum in Lyon, France, where he was sparring with the former French environment minister and leader of the French Greens, Dominique Voynet.
Disposing of CO2 by burying it in the ground, known as carbon capture and storage (CCS), is regarded as essential for tackling climate change, yet the technology is in its infancy.
Britain is one of the countries leading its development, with four experimental CCS-fitted coal-fired power stations now being planned by the government, but it may be a decade before it is implemented -- and two of those trials could be the victim of cuts.
He told the conference: "Carbon comes into Europe through a couple of dozen pipes, ports and holes in the ground. It goes out through hundreds of millions of flues and exhaust pipes.
"Yet European climate policy is all about controlling the flow at the point of emission. It's like blowing air into a sponge and trying to slow it down by blocking up the holes."
His proposal is based on the idea of how much carbon dioxide the atmosphere can absorb before global warming reaches the figure of two degrees above the pre-industrial revolution level, which is regarded as the danger level for human society.
World temperatures have already risen to nearly one degree above the pre-industrial, and this rise has been produced, he says, by all the fossil fuels which have been burned since then -- estimated at about 500 billion tonnes.
Therefore, he says, we can afford to burn another half-a-trillion tonnes of carbon before the extra degree of warming is reached -- we need to stop using fossil fuels completely by the time we reach the trillionth tonne.
As long as all CO2 is being "sequestered" (buried or otherwise disposed of) by then, the climate problem will be controllable -- and this is the timeframe the fossil fuel industry has to take care of emissions.
The key point is not to start using any of the remaining four trillion tonnes of fossil fuels thought to constitute the world's reserves.
Ms Voynet was not comfortable with the idea of taking climate policy away from governments and handing it over to the oil companies.
She said the solution was not nearly so simple as he made out, and she said it would make millions of people feel they had no personal responsibility for the fate of the planet, if responsibility had been handed over to industry. (© Independent News Services)