Today, I'll bring you items about electric cars, about Western Australia's personality of the year, and about the controversy over the President of COP 28. First, though, I'm going to talk about methane.
Methane, as I'm sure you know, is a powerful greenhouse gas. Its warming effect is estimated to be as much as 80 times as strong as that of CO2.
While the scientific consensus is increasingly concerned about what's going to happen in the next 5 to 10 years, the fact that methane does not last for 100 years like CO2 is less relevant.
According to the UN Environment Programme, the Paris Agreement cannot be achieved without reducing methane emissions by 40-45 per cent by 2030. Reduction of this magnitude would avoid nearly 0.3° C of warming by 2045 and complement long-term climate change mitigation efforts.
60% of global methane emissions are caused by human activity, and that 60% accounts for 25% of current global warming. The IEA, the International Energy Agency, reports that the largest single source of methane emissions, a natural source, is wetlands, permanently flooded and boggy ground. Human-induced methane emissions, in order of magnitude, come from agriculture; from the energy sector including oil, gas, coal and bioenergy; from waste, and from biomass burning.
The UK government’s Agri-Climate Report 2022 reveals that emissions from agriculture, principally cattle, sheep and pigs, have reduced both in total and intensity between 1990 and 2020. Land management and agricultural machinery both contribute to GHG emissions and these have both declined as well. Over the period UK agricultural methane has declined by 15%, but this still leaves annual emissions of some 25MtCO2e.
Relatively good news, then, from the UK agricultural sector, but it would be dangerous to extrapolate this across the world. In fact a chart from Our World in Data shows a slow but rising trend in global agricultural emissions of methane.
The chart also shows a sharp rise in fugitive emissions of methane - up 56% from 1990 to 2019. Fugitive emissions are leaks from the fossil fuel industry’s infrastructure. They leak from pipelines, from refineries, and from operational and abandoned coal mines. Sometimes methane is deliberately vented to the atmosphere, but more commonly, it is burnt in flare stacks, which at least convert it to the less harmful CO2.
Methane is the principal component of natural gas. When burnt it releases CO2, which is better than releasing methane directly into the atmosphere, but still an example of greenhouse gas emissions being increased by the use of fossil fuel. Yes, you’re adding to global carbon emissions every time you light the stove or turn on your gas central heating or hot water.
Waste is the third major source of methane emissions. How is arises depends largely on how waste is treated in different countries, but the way that waste is treated today will do nothing to offset the methane leaking from waste dumped in earlier years. If you have visited a capped landfill site - one that’s no longer in use and has been covered over - you may have noticed vertical tubes dotted about. These are vents to release the methane which is created when organic material in these landfill sites decomposes. There is not a sufficient flow of methane to make it worthwhile collecting it either for local use or for injection into the gas grid. The vents are simply there to prevent a buildup which could potentially cause explosions. In some countries, landfill sites are never capped and methane leaks even more freely into the atmosphere.
Modern waste processing facilities separate waste into distinct streams, and minimise what actually goes to landfill. Whatever can be recycled is separated out and what can only be burnt goes to an incinerator, which usually runs a generator, and organic material is diverted to a digester which produces methane under control. By separating and concentrating all the organic material like this, it can be processed to provide a useful quantity of methane, which can either provide energy for the plant or be shipped out for other uses. All this requires investment, and in many countries there is lots of rubbish - including rubbish exported by prosperous western countries - and no funds for investment.
Governments have recognised that the key to methane control must be regulation and there are some 250 measures across the world. However, the first stage in regulating anything is quantifying it, and this has proved difficult and inaccurate. It has been based on ground-level observations at selected sites and then the total calculated by extrapolation.
Reuters reports that such bottom-up inventory data suggested China’s coal mine methane capturing regulations led to emissions falling 37% in the 10 years to 2019, whereas satellite data suggested they’d had no significant impact. Most recently, the Canadian government reported a 34% decrease in methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, compared with 2012. However, an independent audit found that large sources of emissions were unaccounted for and not covered by existing regulations.
According to a study published by One Earth, mitigation policies cover only about 13% of man-made methane.
Launched at the G20 Leaders’ Summit in 2021, IMEO International Methane Emissions Observatory focussed initially on emissions from the fossil industry. It reconciles methane data from scientific measurement studies, satellites through the Methane Alert and Response System (MARS), rigorous industry reporting through the Oil and Gas Methane Partnership 2.0 (OGMP 2.0), and national inventories. This data will give regulators a firm foundation to work with.
The IEA - International Energy Agency - states that,
“The concentration of methane in the atmosphere is currently around two-and-a-half times greater than pre-industrial levels and is increasing steadily. This rise has important implications for climate change.
“Estimates of methane emissions are subject to a high degree of uncertainty, but the most recent comprehensive estimate – provided in the Global Methane Budget – suggests that annual global methane emissions are around 570 Mt. This includes emissions from natural sources (around 40% of emissions) and those originating from human activity (the remaining 60%, known as anthropogenic emissions).
“The Global Methane Budget synthesizes results from top-down studies and bottom-up estimates to provide global figures for methane emissions from 2008 to 2017. The largest source of anthropogenic methane emissions is agriculture, responsible for around one quarter of emissions, closely followed by the energy sector, which includes emissions from coal, oil, natural gas and biofuels.
In The Global Methane Budget, a study published in Earth Systems Science Data, the authors say,
“Understanding and quantifying the global methane (CH4) budget is important for assessing realistic pathways to mitigate climate change. Atmospheric emissions and concentrations of CH4 continue to increase, making CH4 the second most important human-influenced greenhouse gas in terms of climate forcing, after carbon dioxide (CO2). The relative importance of CH4 compared to CO2 depends on its shorter atmospheric lifetime, stronger warming potential, and variations in atmospheric growth rate over the past decade, the causes of which are still debated.”
Clearly there is concern about methane, but at the same time it is clear that there is enthusiasm for action and increasing access to relevant data.
On a day when we are hearing reports of a humanitarian crisis caused by the destruction of a dam in Ukraine, we have to wonder whether everyone in the world is committed to the safety and protection of humanity. We'll just have to hope that those of us who are, continue to thrive and continue to succeed.
There’s a link to all these sources on the Sustainable Futures Report website,
In Other News
Cop 28, the United Nations climate conference, which takes place in the United Arab Emirates in November this year, will be chaired by Sultan al-Jaber. Sultan Ahmed al Jaber is the head of the state oil company and therefore considered by many to be unsuited to the role. 130 legislators, including members of the US Congress and Senate, and members of the European Parliament have sent an open letter to US President Biden, European President von der Leyen and UN Secretary General Guterres.
Here are extracts from the letter:
“In this moment of great urgency, we must unblock the barriers that have kept us from advancing strong global collaboration to address climate change. One of the largest barriers to strong climate action has been and remains the political influence and obstruction of the fossil fuel industry and other major polluting industries. We have seen their negative influence in our home institutions; oil companies and their industry cheerleaders have spent billions of dollars lobbying both the European Parliament, other European institutions and Member States, and the U.S. Congress in order to obstruct or water down climate policy for years.”
…and later on they say,
“First, we urge you to advocate for the United Arab Emirates to withdraw the appointment of Sultan Al Jaber, head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, as President-designate of COP- 28. The decision to name as president of COP28 the chief executive of one of the world’s largest oil and gas companies—a company that has recently announced plans to add 7.6 billion barrels of oil to its production in the coming years, representing the fifth largest increase in the world— risks undermining the negotiations. With commonsense reforms to help restore public faith in the COP process severely jeopardized by having an oil company executive at the helm, we respectfully submit that different leadership is necessary to help ensure that COP28 is a serious and productive climate summit….”
This report comes from the Politico website - link on the Sustainable Futures Report website (http://www.sustainablefutures.report ) - where there is a link to the full text of the letter.
Moving on…Joker at the Wheel
Rowan Atkinson is a well-known comedian and actor and from time to time makes serious statements on issues of the moment. You may be surprised to learn that his first university degree was in electrical and electronic engineering, with a subsequent master’s in control systems. Last week he wrote an article in the Guardian newspaper complaining about electric vehicles. He says he was an early adopter, but now feels duped.
Atkinson's concern is that electric vehicles are not as clean as they seem. Yes, they have no emissions in operation, but apparently the manufacture of an EV can involve nearly twice the carbon emissions as those created by producing a conventional internal combustion car. Batteries make the cars very heavy and the batteries themselves may have a life of little more than 10 years.
He goes on to recommend hydrogen powered vehicles, either using a fuel cell or a modified internal combustion engine. In either case there are no emissions apart from a bit of water. The problem there is the source of the hydrogen. It is possible to extract hydrogen from methane. Methane is CH4, which means it has one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms. Unfortunately, splitting out the hydrogen atoms leads to the production of CO2, so while there is no pollution on the road, there is pollution at the point of manufacturing the hydrogen. This can be overcome, of course, because hydrogen can be electrolysed from water, and then no CO2 is produced. The problem with that is that it takes a lot of electricity, and it's not very efficient. Ideal if you have spare renewable electricity, which is certainly true in the summer. But why waste this energy in the inefficient electrolysis process? Why not use much more of it by charging up some batteries? Atkinson cites the Toyota hydrogen powered car but does not have any data on the manufacturing emissions of this vehicle. This Toyota Mirai is a hybrid, so it has a battery - much smaller than an EV battery but still requiring rare resources - as well as a fuel cell which also requires rare resources. It will be quite complex.
Later in the article Atkinson talks about the quality and durability of modern cars.
“The biggest problem we need to address in society’s relationship with the car is the “fast fashion” sales culture that has been the commercial template of the car industry for decades. Currently, on average we keep our new cars for only three years before selling them on, driven mainly by the ubiquitous three-year leasing model. This seems an outrageously profligate use of the world’s natural resources when you consider what great condition a three-year-old car is in…
“…It’s sobering to think that if the first owners of new cars just kept them for five years, on average, instead of the current three, then car production and the CO2 emissions associated with it, would be vastly reduced. Yet we’d be enjoying the same mobility, just driving slightly older cars.”
As my own (hybrid) car approaches its 18th birthday I can certainly agree with that. But shouldn’t we go a step further and develop more available and reliable public transport, and extend our cycleways? If transport is essential to our future is the car always the right answer?
By the way, the car that Rowan Atkinson used to own was a McLaren. He had an unfortunate accident with a tree and a lamppost and the repair bill was £900,000, which is believed to be a world record for a motor insurance claim. He later sold the car for £8 million: quite an appreciation on the £500,000 which he originally paid for it.
Any offers like that for my car?
Gina Rinehart is a mining multi-billionaire and the richest person in Western Australia. This week she was named Western Australian of the Year by CelebrateWA.
Earlier she used a speech to the Queensland Resources Council to push for an end to the regulation and green tape she said was strangling the mining sector. She is well-known as a climate denier.
She said the industry needed to remind people “that without our critical resources industries, our living standards cannot be maintained, indeed, nor can our defence”.
And she's probably dead right. The mineral resources in Western Australia are enormous and the industry extracting them is enormous as well. In this state with a population of a little more than 2.5 million people the prosperity created by the mining sector is obvious, particularly in the capital, Perth. It is said that the Western Australian mining industry is the powerhouse which drives the whole Australian economy, so indeed, without these industries, Australian living standards could not be maintained.
For the moment the citizens of Western Australia are clearly living the dream. Let's hope it won't be too much of a shock when they have to wake up.
And that’s it!
And on that note I leave you for another week. Let me give you advance notice that I'm seriously considering closing down for July and August. However, I have a number of requests for interview backed up so what I'll probably do is broadcast some of them during that time, although I don't expect to publish an episode every week. Everything will be back to normal in September as I carry on my journey towards my 500th episode.
Thank you as usual for listening. There are three more episodes to come in June so do tell your friends to search out the Sustainable Futures Report on their favourite podcast platform.
And thank you of course to my loyal patrons. I am more than grateful for the contribution I receive each month towards keeping the Sustainable Futures Report independent and ad free via your support at patreon.com/sfr .
And that's it for now, so
That was the Sustainable Futures Report .
I am Anthony Day.
Until, next time.
WA Person of the Year
Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/jannijman-624456/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=989479">Jan Nijman</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com//?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=989479">Pixabay</a>