Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), the principal manmade greenhouse gas, are pushing toward 400 parts per million. Item A1 on the left shows the daily readings from the Keeling CO2 observatory in Hawaii (courtesy of the Scripps Institution of U.C. San Diego). Table A1 shows how much CO2 the Ontario electric power generation sector contributes each hour to increasing the global atmospheric concentration. It takes roughly 7.8 billion tons of CO2 to increase the global concentration by 1 ppm, so Ontario’s power generation sector is a small contributor. But we easily could—and, I would argue, should—be a zero contributor. We could do that by building a couple of new nuclear reactors, and then running our power system on nuclear and hydro, thereby totally eliminating fossil fuels from the generation sector. Imagine, a grid-power CIPK of zero. The Toronto subway would be the cleanest mass-transit system in the world. It is easily achievable.
Whether or not Ontario chooses to act on my humble suggestion, its leaders can certainly tout their role in reducing provincial CO2 from electricity generation. I have said before and I will say again: I believe that this CO2 reduction—from 40 million tons annually in the year 2000 to less than 13 million tons in 2013—is the biggest reduction in any sector anywhere in North America. It was achieved mainly because Ontario returned to service six nuclear-powered generators. I have also argued that nuclear power is the only way that countries around the world will reduce the CO2 from their electric power generating sectors.
Last week saw unprecedented public action on the climate front. This was on the occasion of another United Nations summit on the climate issue. I have been watching this issue grow, over the past two decades, in the public’s consciousness. The awareness trajectory has been as inexorably up as the CO2 concentrations shown in the Scripps graph above. And that trajectory has risen as sharply over the past few years as the CO2 line since 1950.
The United Nations summit took up the matter of the Green Climate Fund, which was first announced at the Copenhagen summit in 2009. Under the GCF, developed (rich) countries would help developing (poor) countries make the transition from fossil fuels to low- or zero-carbon energy sources.
The U.N. summit also discussed putting a price on carbon emissions. Though the summit chair’s summary indicated there is significant support for such a measure, others noted that it does not have the support of the U.S. and Canada, among other countries.
Nevertheless, the growing support for the GCF and carbon pricing makes a couple of things quite clear.
- Carbon pricing (that is, meaningful carbon pricing, as opposed to symbolic prices seen in the European ETS and the American RGGI) will put an intolerable burden on jurisdictions that fall into quadrant II of the Electricity Carbon and Retail Price (ECRP) Matrix. Germany and Denmark, two Q2 grids, pay high prices already.
- Developing countries will hurt themselves both economically and environmentally if they choose the wind-and-solar renewable energy path to clean energy.
The climate representative for the United Kingdom, David King, recognizes this. He was quoted a couple of weeks ago in The Hindu as saying that the U.K. wants to see the GCF as a vehicle to finance a “Global Apollo Programme” that focuses on technology transfer to developing countries. Among the technologies he mentioned was nuclear power.
I would go further. The GCF will be largely a waste of money unless most of the funds go to nuclear projects.