Published on October 7th, 2015 | by KARL WERNER
WHAT HAPPENED AT THE G7?
The G7 meeting, greenhouse gas emissions & Norway
On the 7th and 8th of June the meeting of the G7 took place, a get-together of seven globally major important industrial nations represented by their political leaders; Canada (Stephen Harper), the USA (Barack Obama), Italy (Matteo Renzi), France (Francois Hollande), Germany (Angela Merkel), the UK (David Cameron) and Japan (Shinzo Abe). Additionally, two representatives from the EU (Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk) participated in the conference in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, close to the Alps in the state of Bavaria, southern Germany. In 1975, the organization was founded mainly to discuss and improve economic policies as well as to assess developments in the global economy. In the course of the recent Russian-Ukrainian crisis, Russia was suspended from the formerly G8 in 2014 and consequentially the meeting in 2015 was reduced to the G7 + the EU. Nowadays, the meetings focus not only on economic topics but address many different issues of global importance, such as security policy, environmental protection, epidemics, poverty and energy security, all of which were topics at the most recent conference in Germany.
One key objective for the meeting in June was a joint commitment from all countries to limit global warming to 2 °C and a 40-70 % reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases until 2050. As part of this climate-political discussion, the G7 countries target a decarbonized global industry with a complete pull-out from fossil energy sources such as coal, oil and gas and a change to renewable energies within the 21st century. All participants also agreed on a political instead of a martial solution to the Ukraine crisis, a joint fight against the Islamic State and increased financial support to combat global undernourishment. For the first time marine protection, especially against plastics in the world oceans, was on the agenda.
Of all these issues, it seems somewhat obvious that the future utilization of fossil energy sources will concern Norway more than the others. Norway is Europe’s main producer of natural oil and gas, and relies at the same time heavily on these resources as the main support for the national economy. If seven of the most important global industrial nations decide to get rid of energy coming from fossil sources, it seems equally likely that Norway too would be affected. To be emphasized is the “if” at the beginning of the last sentence, as right now it appears still unlikely that these major industries can function without relying on fossil resources. But as it has already been observed throughout the last decades, the world changes rapidly these days and renewable energies do already play a strongly increasing role in a globally leading economy such as Germany.
At this point, a differentiation between the different fossil resources is needed and it wouldn’t be correct to mention them all in the same context. Coal can have a 1.5-2 times higher CO2 emission than gas or oil on a comparable scale (depending mainly on the source and the type), which turns coal into the largest contributor to global warming. Christoph McGlade & Paul Ekins (2015) from University College, London published in “Nature” the article “The geographical distribution of fossil fuels unused when limiting global warming to 2 °C”, in which they determine the regional distribution and amounts of oil, gas and coal which should remain unburned from 2010-2050 in order to limit CO2 emissions, if the 2°C target is to be achieved by the end of the 21st century. The results reveal that, while the percentage varies locally, coal reserves especially should stay unburned (51-99 %), In nearly all areas of assessment, the percentage of oil and gas which has to remain is lower (except for Central and South America, where 53 % gas but only 51 % coal is supposed to stay unburned). Globally, 33 % of the oil, 49 % of the gas and 82 % of the coal reserves have to remain unburned to fulfil the 2 °C target. At the same time, the percentages of unburnable oil and gas resources are much lower in Europe when compared to the rest of the world. In turn, that would mean that future potential restrictions on the Norwegian oil and gas production are likely to be low. McGlade and Ekins also estimated that all resources within the Arctic Circle, which includes the Lofoten and Barents Sea, should remain unburned under the 2 °C scenario.
Anyway, the study “A bridge to nowhere: methane emissions and the greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas” by Robert Howarth (2014) from Cornell University, revealed that gas might have a much higher impact on the global warming process due to its underestimated methane emissions, with methane being much more effective greenhouse gas. That would raise considerable doubts if gas is a suitable “bridge fuel” after the age of fossil energy and before the emission-low renewable energies.
To summarize, it is difficult to estimate what will happen in the future, and research will probably show which fossil resources are suitable to cover the period until renewable energy will sustain major parts of the global energy demand. It also has to be considered that rising new and strongly industrializing countries such as India and China will most likely have an increasing energy demand. An increasing global world population will as well also play a role. In India and China, the former Soviet Union and the Middle East, large amounts of the fossil resources should remain unburned under the 2 °C scenario according to McGlade and Ekins, but it seems especially unlikely that the transition to renewable energies in these economies will be performed quickly. Although it appears that huge parts of European fossil resources can still be burned under the 2 °C scenario, the question can be raised over whether European countries (with their already leading roles in developing renewable energies) should not play an exemplary and supporting role for the rest of the world. Norway recently decided to sell all their investments related to coal businesses from the national oil fund, which was a first step in the right direction. It seems that the era of fossil energies will end during the 21st century and if we believe in what science tells us, this era also has to end in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect planet earth.