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COP 26 Transition from fossil fuels to renewables

When the Kyoto Convention was signed in 1997 to limit Greenhouse Gas emissions (GHG) to the upper atmosphere, the Parties to the Convention agreed that they would meet annually to review progress. The meeting in Glasgow, starting 31 October, will be therefore be the 26th meeting of the Parties and some 6 years after the COP meeting in Paris at which the Parties agreed to try and limit the increase in average global temperature to 1.5 C.

So these discussions will be a critical step in agreeing actions which will reduce GHG emissions by 50% during this decade if extremes in climate are to be avoided according to the 6th Assessment of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC 6).

As Barack Obama, the former US President succinctly observed ‘We are the first generation to witness changes in climate and the last generation who is able to act to limit irreversible changes in climate

Transition to renewables
Energy production will be a major source of discussion at COP 26 as producers of fossil fuels such as oil and coal are concerned that their source of income from exports could decrease and that investment in any new fields will not be economic. If investment is needed, would this not be better spent on developing renewable energy sources in energy consuming countries rather than fossil fuels in energy producing countries?

The advantages of renewable energy sources include that they are abundant, available everywhere and that the technology for capturing this energy has matured with the principal sources being solar photovoltaic and wind energy. Their only disadvantage is their intermittency as the wind does not always blow nor the sun always shine so some form of energy storage is required.

However geothermal heat contained in the upper 200m of the surface is not diurnal nor seasonal dependent and can be concentrated using heat pumps which consume only one unit of electricity in producing 4 units of heat output. If the electricity source is renewable then zero carbon heat will be available for space and water heating and even industrial processes which require heat.

In making the transition to renewable energy sources, the International Energy Agency in their recent World Energy Outlook, observe that ‘40% of the required GHG emission reductions could come from measures that ‘pay for themselves’ such as improving energy efficiency, limiting gas leakage and installing wind or solar where they are already economic to generate’.

Reversing deforestation
Trees and in particular, tropical rain forests, are major sinks for carbon dioxide as they reduce CO2 into its constituent parts and retain the carbon while releasing oxygen so they are the best form of carbon capture. The UK, who is hosting the COP 26 conference in Glasgow, is proposing a global agreement to stop deforestation by 2030 and then to reverse the loss of tree cover.

At present forest clearances have been undertaken to grow crops like soya, coffee, cocoa and palm oil to meet increasing demand. By stopping deforestation and planting more trees, we will not only reduce GHG emissions but also help to reverse the loss in habitats which are vital for preserving biodiversity and species. The UK’s Minister for the Environment observed that ‘we need to massively increase finance for nature as we cannot and should not take highly forested nations for granted’
[Guardian 16/10/2021]



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