Planet Poker (Day 181)

If you had to sit down in front of the three biggest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world – China (29 per cent), USA (15 per cent), and the European Union (10 per cent) – and persuade them to scale back their use of fossil fuels what would you say?

Would you take the emotive approach and appeal to their sense of humanity by highlighting the risks they are storing up for our children and grandchildren in the future?

Or would you lead with the science articulated so determinedly by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published in its Synthesis Report at the start of this month?

PokerEither way, it does seem that nations – and even within nations – the world’s biggest game of poker is underway.

Our leaders are literally gambling with our planet, and the odds are getting worse if you agree with the IPCC.

This game of cards moved on recently when China and the US unveiled new pledges on greenhouse gas emissions.

US President Barack Obama said the move was “historic”, as he set a new goal of reducing US levels between 26 per cent-28 per cent by 2025, compared with 2005 levels.

China did not set a specific target, but said emissions would peak by 2030.

Roger Harrabin, the BBC’s environment analyst said: “This agreement between the great polluters is a landmark in the battle against one of the world’s most intractable problems.

“For years the US feared if it cut emissions, energy bills would rise – and divert jobs to China. Now the relationship is switching, from “we won’t if you won’t” towards “we will if you will”.

In another report, the Overseas Development Institute says G20 nations spent almost £56bn ($90bn) a year finding oil, gas and coal. The ODI suggest Governments are breaking their promises for phasing out subsidies for fossil fuels.

There’s also a huge row brewing in the US about the 1,179 mile long Keystone XL pipeline which will help transport 830,000 barrels of oil from Canada to connect with an existing pipeline in Nebraska.

Critics say, the pipeline will boost the use of fossil fuels and the trend toward warming of the atmosphere won’t be curbed. The Environmental Protection Agency in the US has indicated it will oppose the pipeline.

And then there’s Obama’s ‘War on Coal’, which is has a become a political hot-potato in the US.

So how do we make sense of all of this bickering,  intransigence and brinkmanship?

Later this week, IChemE’s Energy Conversion Technology Special Interest Group will be hosting an event at my university, Imperial College London, UK where some of the most important questions will be raised and I certainly will look forward to participating.

This meeting will provoke discussion on how the changing energy landscape will affect the use of and services provided by fossil fuels in the UK’s energy system over the course of this century.

Currently, fossil fuels are our main provision of energy and investment into them will remain important as global energy demand climbs.

While the cost of a wind turbine has dropped by 20 per cent and a solar panel by 80 per cent over the last five years, the transition to renewable and low carbon energy is not going to happen overnight. On top of that, intermittency problems still need to be addressed.

It is imperative that Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) projects be implemented over the next century to address the greenhouse gas and climate change issues raised in the IPCC report. The increasing use of CCS for power plants will add yet another layer of complexity to our energy systems.

CCS needs to be operated safely and it’s great to see that in terms of chemical engineering, bids for large scale CCS i.e. the White Rose project at Drax, Yorkshire, UK are foreseeing potential problems and including flexible operation in their proposals.

It’s interesting to see that companies investing in CCS have a different appetite to risk than say major oil companies, as CCS is not cheap and actually, some of the margins that these companies operate at is less than 10 per cent.

But despite the price tag, sustainability is one of the most important issues facing society today and this has been recognised widely, which is a great thing to see.

Undoubtedly, the role of fossil fuels over the next century will change, as new technologies come into play and different issues are addressed. This means that there are some key questions need to be asked in the ongoing debate around energy, such as:

  • What does a large integrated energy system look like and what are the risks associated with it, such as digital threats?
  • What role will fossil fuels play in district heating, for example, and transportation in the coming years?
  • What will a company investing in sustainability and CCS look like?

So if you are like me and passionate about the energy debate, and you want to help, please join us if you can. You can find more information about the event online: The New Role of Fossil Fuels in the Diverse Energy Landscape of the 21st Century.

4 thoughts on “Planet Poker (Day 181)”

  1. I would emphasize the market advantage of being involved in sustainable technology. This is the technology of the future and any country not at the forefront of this technology will soon be left behind.

    Any country that wishes to be leader needs to be involved in the this technology of they will be overtaken by others/


  2. Good analogy: poker is a game of bluff and planetary poker is now being played at the highest level. But the argument isn’t just about our children’s and grandchildren’s future: people are dying right now as a result of climate changes to agricultural productivity, and the increasingly frequent extreme weather events. Meanwhile emissions continue (almost) unabated. They are the preserve of those who can afford to use fossil fuels; those who suffer are overwhelmingly the poorest who can’t escape the consequences of climate change, and whose voice is stifled in the clamour of self-interest. What price a “new world order” that gives a voice to the dispossessed?


    1. Forgotten is wave energy. During my chemical engineering degree I came across an Australian company “Carnegie wave energy”. They have developed and are finalising a demonstration project with their simple but effective wave energy technology. These and other wave energy devices will play an important role in providing base load power to populations that live near the coast.


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