Council on Pacific Affairs Exclusive – 29 DECEMBER 2021 – Nikolay N. Goryachev, CPA
In the first part of this essay series, we reached two important conclusions. First, climate change is a natural process for our planet. Second, the current climatic changes are largely provoked by human activities.
A new word has appeared in the political dictionary – decarbonization. However, the desire of some politicians to spearhead the energy transition has turned into new problems.
The European plan for a green transition, “Fit for 55”, aims to achieve climate neutrality (i.e. zero impact on the climate) by 2050. In addition, its intermediate goal is to reduce emissions by 55% by 2030. Probably the most important parts of such initiatives are the desire to increase the role of renewables in the energy balance, the introduction of a carbon tax worldwide, and universal electromobility. And here there are at least two problems that need to be mentioned.
Despite the fact that the introduction of a carbon taxation is presented as a benefit for all humanity, the way this process is planned to be implemented raises some concerns. First, the fact that the rules are proposed by a narrow group of countries led by the United States (in other words, the most developed Western countries), in itself, puts the developing countries at a disadvantage. Those states that have started industrialization relatively recently may face unbearable duties for their national budgets and companies on manufactured products (including raw materials). Countries that have a so-called high-tech level of production, and rule statistics on this topic, they automatically become an exception to the new rules. Humanity runs the risk of facing a new round of neo-colonialism, in which developing countries will carry out an energy transition at the expense of the weaker ones. There is a risk of a phenomenon that cannot be called otherwise than «green energy cannibalism».
Second one is the tendency which claimed, that politicians always wants more power. On Monday, 13 December, Russia used its veto in the United Nations Security Council to block a thematic resolution on climate change and security put forward by Ireland and Niger. SIPRI experts emphasize, that while the draft resolution contained specific actions, its main purpose was symbolic: to put the security implications of climate change firmly on the Security Council’s agenda. Russia has made clear many times before that it opposes broadening of the Security Council’s agenda, not least to cover climate-related security issues. Putting forward this new resolution was important. But, in the end, Russia’s veto was predictable, as were India’s ‘no’ vote and China’s abstention. SIPRI also believes that the issue of climate impact on security will not disappear from the agenda, and supporters of maintaining the status quo are in the minority.
However, the fact of creating and voting for this resolution in the UN is very important. The insistence on tying climate and security together is very dangerous. The world has not yet forgotten the test tube with the “highly-likely anthrax spores”, which served as the impetus for the invasion of Iraq and the upheaval of the Middle East. In addition, we all see what this has led to in the end – there is still no stability and peaceful life in the region. Moreover, there is an endless stream of refugees and a constant state of war. If someone has the right to decide (including by force) what is good for the climate and what is bad, this can lead to more serious consequences than a carbon tax. One thing is clear – apparently, now there is no solution to the climate issue at the level of the entire civilization, which would suit all interested parties. The Paris climate agreement is not a universal solution – otherwise it would not make sense to involve the UN Security Council in this issue. Thus, it is clear that there is still a lot to be done to achieve the set goals.
This is all the more important since the development of renewable energy sources requires heavy industry, as well as the extraction of certain minerals – which requires significant energy costs. To fulfill existing plans, such as the European program, will inevitably require an increase in existing electricity generation by 10% or more – and this is achievable only through conventional energy.
Separately, it is necessary to say about the electric cars. Electric mobilization will increase the demand for nickel, aluminum and iron by 13-14 times, the demand for lithium, graphite and other raw materials related to batteries by 9-10 times. Probably one of the most important substances here is lithium. The global lithium market is mainly composed of American, Asian and Australian manufacturers. The largest producers of lithium compounds are Albemarle (Virginia, USA), Sociedad Quimica y Minera de Chile (Chile), Sichuan Tianqi Lithium, Jiangxi Ganfeng Lithium (PRC) and Livent (Pennsylvania, USA). Competition in the global lithium market exists in terms of quality, assortment, reliability of supply and additional services to the buyer (for example, for the disposal of used batteries). The largest lithium deposit is located in Bolivia. Moreover, in recent years, the internal political situation in this country has not been stable. That can be a big temptation for some forces that always strive to put things in order where they think is right.
Finally, there are two more important green energy issues to be reckoned with, then work out a solution. First, there is the issue of recycling outdated equipment. For example wind turbines. Euronews provides some facts: A huge number of wind turbines will soon be dismantled across Europe. Only a small number of these will go because of local opposition from residents. The majority are up for renewal and need replacing as they are part of the first generation of wind turbines that were built in the 1990s. The process, called repowering, has begun all over Europe. And the new turbines will be far more productive. While up to 90 percent of a wind turbine can now be recycled, the problem remains the blades. These are made from composite materials that were intended to last and are not easily recyclable. In Europe, most blades that are not reused or incinerated, end up in landfill. The image at the head of this paper it is a blade graveyard in the US has become symbolic of the darker side of this renewable energy. Only four countries in Europe – Germany, Austria, The Netherlands and Finland – have banned blades being sent to landfill. The leading voice of Europe’s wind energy industry has called for a Europe-wide landfill ban by 2025. Thus – renewable energy are not fully renewable. But with new technologies these barrier can be removed.
The second problem has a bigger scale, and it does not seem to be solvable at all. It is called – the weather conditions and the features of green energy associated with this. There are very few places on our planet where the wind blows steadily and constantly. And in those places where there is such a combination of factors, there is no possibility to install wind turbines. Thus, in the event of changes in the weather and the absence of wind for a long time, the energy from the wind turbines becomes unreliable. This is exactly what Europe faced in the summer of 2021, it was this that provoked an increase in gas prices (as an alternative source of energy). The same applies fully to solar power plants. In addition, the energy received from them must be effectively stored. Since the peak consumption occurs at a time of day when the solar panel cannot generate the required amount of watts.
Other renewable energy sources are generally very location-based, such as geothermal power plants and tidal generators. And here the question arises not so much of storing the received energy, but of its transportation. As for the currently most stable sources of renewable energy – hydroelectric power plants, the world community has not yet agreed on whether to consider them green energy at all.
Based on this, it is clear that a rash focus on green energy alone is very risky. Although the Texas energy crisis of the winter of 2021 clearly showed the fact that any power plant can fail. However, one should hardly exclude the fact that the greater the share of green energy, the greater the influence of the weather. Thus, humanity still needs stable, traditional energy sources.