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CO2 Does Not Pollute: But Kyoto's Demise Won't End Debate

A gas industry leader says Bush got it right, yet admits the worth of carbon abatement.
Fortnightly Magazine - May 15 2001

Tcf in 2020 - and that's after including an increase in coal-fired generation capacity from 306 GW to 316 GW. 9

Carbon Abatement: A Sustainable Scenario

Looking forward, replacement of the existing 306 GW of coal-fired steam-electric generation capacity with highly efficient, gas-fired, combined-cycle turbine units would reduce annual U.S. carbon emissions from this source from 491 million metric tons to an estimated 163 million metric tons. This reduction would meet more than half of the 558 million metric tons of carbon emissions abatement by 2010 required by the Kyoto Protocol. 8,9 Over a much longer term, this plan would offer a promising scenario.

The transportation sector, which is another major source of greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions, is already set on a course to increase automotive efficiencies by two- to three-fold by switching from mechanical to electric drive. Fuel cells seem destined to become the power source, using hydrogen as the fuel. Every major global automobile manufacturer is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to achieve this goal. Although the transitional sources of this hydrogen will be petroleum products, natural gas, or water electrolysis with commercial power, eventually this hydrogen will come from renewable energy sources. This will first sharply reduce and, finally, eliminate greenhouse gas and pollutant emissions from the transportation sector.

In fact, as was clearly shown in the 1995 IPCC report, global anthropogenic carbon emissions could be allowed to increase to nearly double their 1990 level by 2040. At that point, however, carbon emissions would have to drop sharply to achieve an eventual stabilization of atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gas equivalent to 550 ppmv of CO 2. That figure would roughly double the pre-industrial level and cause only moderate further temperature increases. 1 This scenario would allow sufficient lead time to move the global energy system closer to sustainability by aggressive development of such renewable energy sources as photovoltaic, solar thermal and wind power, while using natural gas as the transition fuel. As mentioned above, the Kyoto Protocol is not a practical approach to achieve this goal.

The industrial (Annex I) countries covered by the Protocol will be responsible for only 30 percent of the projected increase in carbon emissions in the form of CO 2 between 1997 and 2020. 8 The major problem is caused by the rapidly expanding economies of such populous, coal-rich developing countries as China and India, so that the effectiveness of the Protocol in reducing global warming, even if implemented, would be very limited. It will take large investments of capital to assist the developing world in changing its course of economic development, away from increased use of fossil fuels - especially coal.

Nuclear power, though it emits no air pollutants or greenhouse gases, unfortunately cannot provide a sustainable energy source when utilizing "burner" reactor technologies. It cannot reach its full potential until the completion of the development and commercialization of inherently safe, proliferation-proof breeder reactors (such as the integral fast reactor) that increase the energy output per unit mass of uranium 60-80 times and overcome much of the waste problem