Hot air freight

Carbon-capture and storage (CCS) is already one of the biggest political lies around. The Government is poised to grant permission to the development of several coal-fired power-stations, so long as they are "CCS-ready". They don't actually have to do any capturing, just be capable of having the carbon captured. My car is capable of having the carbon captured. It's doing it that means something. This is just a fig-leaf, to allow the Government to permit installations that they know are important to our future energy-security. I wouldn't have a problem if they'd just be honest. It's the attempt to greenwash it that makes me want to vomit.

One of the many problems with CCS is that it is energy-intensive, which means it reduces the net efficiency of power stations (possibly by as much as one-third), which means that you have to use a larger amount of fossil fuels for the same amount of power supplied to the grid. Not exactly a smart response to over-dependence on fossil fuels.

But that's not wasteful enough. Now, the Sunday Times reports, they are not just looking at capturing and liquefying the gas and sticking it in the ground (crossing their fingers that the acidic, pressurised, liquid CO2 doesn't dissolve the rock and leach out). No, that would be too simple. Now they are looking to capture it where there is nowhere to store the liquid CO2, and stick it on boats to travel halfway round the world (or whatever distance it is from Japan to the Middle East), to store in spent oilfields.

They won't be able to use existing tankers, because these ships' tanks will have to be kept cooled and pressurised. That will need energy (i.e. fossil fuels), not just at loading, but all the time the ship is in transit. And it's not obvious what return-loads they would share. So, in the name of reducing our carbon footprint, we will have boats sailing halfway round the world and back to bury a gas that will probably leak out again, and for which we don't have remotely enough storage capacity to last more than a few years, before the process becomes redundant.

Naturally, CCS is hugely popular with policy-makers the world over. In the UK, Labour, Tories and LibDems are racing each other to bid up the number of projects that should be backed. The EU is throwing money at multiple "demonstration" projects in many different countries (isn't the point of demonstration projects that you only have one or two and then go commercial?). And Obama thinks it is the magic bullet.

Bloody hell!!!

Global coal production, 1971-2006

Can we finally stop pretending that cap-and-trade and our other half-baked "carbon-pricing" mechanisms aren't simply offshoring our carbon?

Global coal production has increased by one-third in 3 years (and by over 50% since the turn of the millennium). Three-quarters of that increase is attributable to China.

Back in 1973, nearly three-quarters of the world's coal was produced in the OECD or the USSR. China accounted for less than 20%. We're producing nearly two-and-a-half times as much now globally, of which just over a third (35.3%) comes from the OECD and the former USSR. Nearly half (46.2%) of this much bigger total is produced in China.

And they're using pretty much all of it themselves. They export only 2.5% of their production. Their exports have actually declined in the past three years (from 93Mt to 63Mt), even as their production has rocketed (from 1,502Mt to 2,481Mt). And their imports have increased over the same period. At 37Mt/year, they are now the seventh-largest importer of coal in the world.

At this rate, all the coal in China will be gone in 46 years.* And that's if they stop adding to their consumption right now. As that graph indicates, they are showing little sign of slowing down. We know they are building a coal-fired power station (or two) a week. And they haven't stopped building factories either. If they carry on like this, they'll have used up their coal within 30 years. They'll have a massive infrastructure dependent on coal-burning whose costs have only partially been recovered, and will be dependent for fuel on imports at a scale that suppliers cannot begin to supply. Great plan!

But of course, this isn't purely for their own benefit. Whilst a decent share is going to internal development and consumption, a large share also goes to the production of (usually cheap and nasty) goods for exporting, much of it to the OECD. And despite dumping most of our energy-intensive production on the Chinese and importing many of the nick-nacks we either used to produce here or never realised we needed, we manage to carry on increasing the amount of energy we consume within our own border, and yet persuade ourselves that we are somehow virtuous because our direct energy-consumption and emissions are increasing less quickly than they otherwise might have done, and than they are doing in other parts of the world.

So don't blame the Chinese - they are just responding rationally to the incentives. Why the hell we want to create incentives to do this, though, I can't imagine. Scrap Kyoto and EU-ETS now, before they do any more harm.

Graph and figures from the IEA's recently-published booklet, Key World Energy Statistics 2007 (and the earlier, 2004, version).

* Chinese reserves based on figures from the 2007 BP Statistical Review of World Energy. According to BP, despite the rampant extraction, Chinese reserves have not changed an iota between 2003 and 2006. Now, I can understand that additional discoveries or reclassification of previously uneconomic reserves may replace worked reserves, but so precisely that the figures are identical every year?! I think not. It appears that BP cannot get recent data on Chinese reserves, and are therefore sticking with the figures they've got. In which case, there is every likelihood that real reserves are lower than given in their latest publication, and they will run out sooner.