Terence Corcoran: Net-zero carbon is a big nothing — nobody has a clue how to achieve it
As the United Nation’s Climate Panic Summit Week winds down with a big school-board-sanctioned student climate holiday in Canada, the world’s people get on with their lives unchanged — and the world’s governments will mostly stick with the status quo. Nothing much happened at the summit, and it’s difficult to imagine how the radical carbon transformation they want will ever be implemented.
The next UN climate event is in Chile in December, but Chile is merely warm-up hype for the 26th Congress of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow 2020. That’s when the world’s climate bureaucrats, politicians and green CEOs will join 30,000 attendees in an attempt to renew the big target they set in Paris in 2015: Net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The two-week Glasgow event opens Nov. 9, 2020, six days after the U.S. election, providing more reason to doubt the net-zero carbon target will rise above the policy status it now enjoys as a meaningless talking point and policy mantra.
Canada’s high priest of climate policy, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, performed the mantra perfectly this week when she announced that her Liberal government, if re-elected, would pursue the net-zero target. It was immediately obvious that the Trudeau government she represents has no idea how net-zero is even remotely feasible, economically or politically.
Will the auto industry have moved to all electric within 30 years? Will steel be made without fossil fuels? Will natural gas be outlawed? One analyst calculated that to replace the electric power needed to offset the elimination of fossil fuels, Canada would have to build 2.5 hydro power dams the size of British Columbia’s $13-billion Site C project somewhere in the country “every year for the foreseeable future.”
McKenna pretty much admitted that there is nothing behind the net-zero carbon objective. “Do we have all the details? No. But let’s be clear: We are saying we need to be net-zero by 2050, we’re saying we need experts to help show us the path to get there.”
But there are no “experts” to light the path to a zero-carbon future. It’s a slogan, a buzzy catchphrase that has no scientific or economic foundation. When U.S. president John F. Kennedy announced in 1962 that the U.S. would send a man to the moon and bring him back, U.S. scientists knew it could be done.
Nobody has a clue about how to achieve net-zero carbon emissions, by 2050 or any other horizon. Christiana Figueres, former head of the UN’s main climate agency, also says that “If we’re not at one-half our emissions by 2030, there’s no way they are going to be at net zero by 2050.”
The nearby graph plotting the rise of global carbon emissions over the past 100 years — as the use of fossil fuels raised growth and global living standards — should be a convincing preliminary warning that slashing to net-zero over the next 30 years looks a tad unreasonable.
Independent academic and scientific literature supporting net-zero carbon — based on my attempts to track down real research — is essentially zero. There are massive volumes of policy pap from UN-related researchers, paid hacks of the World Economic Forum, wide-eyed theorists within the European Union, blue-sky reports from green financial promoters, and vague economic theories such a “carbon neutrality,” “the circular economy” and “natural capitalism.” As the theorists stare at their blue skies, the world is building more coal plants, carbon emissions are rising, fossil-fuel use continues to increase, carbon emissions per capita are climbing and the push for more growth is as powerful as ever, especially from developing nations. Instead of moving to zero, their fossil-fuel use is rising and they want compensation and financial help.
While the attempt to reshape the global economic order founders on the shore of economic reality, that has not stopped governments and various business/financial interests from declaring their support for net-zero carbon. So far, more than 60 nations have signed on to net-zero by 2050, along with scores of cities.
Among business groups, the latest to join the rush to zero is the United Nations-convened Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance. Founded by the Quebec government’s Caisse de dépôt et placement and a couple of European financial institutions, and joined by pension managers and insurers in Europe and the United States — and supported by that well-known financial house, WWF — the Alliance members have committed to “transitioning their investment portfolios to net-zero GHG emissions by 2050.”
The plan in the coming months leading up to Glasgow 2020 is to enlist other “owners” of pension and financial assets in the net-zero project. The Alliance’s criteria and methods remain vague, but one of the drivers of this orchestrated investment attack on carbon has at least one clear objective: starve the fossil-fuel industry of capital.
Christiana Figueres, the former executive secretary of the UN climate framework convention, talked recently of how more than $6 trillion is shifting away from high carbon into low carbon. “The coal industry is now completely capital starved,” she said, without mentioning China or India. “The oil and gas industry is already feeling the pain of our capital flight. That doesn’t mean that they don’t have a cent in their pocket, but it’s much more difficult for them in a world in which the major financial institutions are saying: “We’re not going to find the finances anymore, and the insurance companies are not going to offer insurance.”
So that’s at least one element of the net-zero carbon theory: starve industries, create capital flight. Can such a net-zero plan actually survive through to Glasgow 2020?