“Every one of us will love someone who is still alive in 2100.” This simple yet prophetic statement by young New York climate activist Ayisha Siddiqa struck a chill down my spine. My granddaughters.
You see, the year 2100 is not just an occasion to pop champagne corks to the dawn of a new century; it is a year when most of the world’s climate models mark their results. Ms Siddiqa’s statement gives us pause to consider what kind of world our loved one will live in. A review of climate model results give us a few ideas.
First, we need to choose on which pathway of greenhouse gas emissions the world society is heading. The most recent reports by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (AR6-WG1, 2021) give us a series of scenarios, called Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) from which to choose.
The most ‘forgiving’ pathway (SSP1-2.6) suggests warming to just over 1.8°C by 2050, relative to pre-industrial times, followed by a slow decline to about 1.7°C in the year 2100. As of now, the world has warmed by about 1.1°C, so we are already well over half way there.
However, in order for us to follow this pathway global greenhouse gas emissions would need to have peaked in 2020 and they did not. According to the International Energy Agency, emissions made their biggest increase yet in 2021, more than offsetting a pandemic-induced decline in 2020.
This increase is also apparent in the concentration of CO2 measured in the earth’s atmosphere. It continues to increase and this increase is accelerating.
Think of this like a carload of teenagers seeing how fast they can go on a lonely country road. They can see the turnoffs they need to take, but are still accelerating, with foot on the pedal, when they should be slowing down. This is us with greenhouse gas emissions right now.
So, it looks like we’ll miss the turnoff that would have put us on the RCP 2.6 pathway. The next pathway (SSP2-4.5) puts us at warming of about 2.7°C by 2100. Here, global emissions peak in 2040 and start to decline thereafter. There is still a chance that we can make this pathway, so it is where most optimistic observers would put us today.
If we assume this is the turnoff our carload of teenagers is able to take, we can tap into the results of climate models to see what conditions likely will be for our loved one in 2100.
Sea level will have risen about a half a metre and will continue to rise. If our loved one lived on the coastline, they would have moved by now to a place farther inland. Housing would likely be in short supply due to the others fleeing the advancing coastline and due to the need to house climate refugees from elsewhere, such as the Pacific Islands.
Summers will be hotter, with more very hot days. Our loved one will need reliable electricity for air conditioning.
Instances of intense rainfall will have increased in frequency and intensity, leading to more flooding, road closures and crop damage. Droughts will be longer and more intense. Combined, these point to reduced food supply. Our loved one will likely find it harder both to get to the market and to find food when they get there.
Changes to beloved ecosystems will be evident all around them. Forests will show signs of widespread tree mortality due to heat stress, drought and disease. Once-healthy forests will become prone to wildfires and pest invasion. Wildlife along the seashore will have changed, due to progressively warming and acidifying seas. Migration of fish to higher latitudes will have impacted coastal bird and marine mammal populations, decimating many beloved bird and seal colonies.
So, life, in all likelihood, will be harder and less certain for our loved one than it has been for us. While there certainly are things we can all do to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, there are other things we can do to soften the impacts of climate instability – under the banners of adaptation and resilience.
Here, we can take guidance from the IPCC (AR6-WG2, 2022): “Climate resilient development is advanced when actors work in equitable, just and enabling ways to reconcile divergent interests, values and worldviews, toward equitable and just outcomes.”
In simple language, we need to work together, listen to each other, learn to reconcile our differences and make sure no one is unfairly disadvantaged. This means sticking together, no matter what.
Ms. Siddiqa went on to say, “That loved one will either face a world in climate chaos or a clean green utopia depending on what we do today.” Utopia maybe not. But let’s give it our best shot.
Tom Powell – Climate Karanga Marlborough
Tim Jones – Coal Action Network
Meridian Energy is considering a proposal to make green hydrogen with the electrical power that would be freed up by the possible closure of the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter in Southland, and export it around the world. At a time when New Zealand is running short of electrical power, this is a very bad idea. We need this power to stay here!
As you have probably read, there is lots of talk about green hydrogen in the domestic energy industry. It can be made from ordinary water using electricity, creating few pollutants and little greenhouse gas in the process. Although its overall energy efficiency relative to batteries is low, it can be compressed and carried in tanks, making it one of the few fuel options available for long haul trucking, transoceanic shipping and aviation. Overseas markets for green hydrogen are forming.
As you might have also read, New Zealand came dangerously close to running out of electricity this last winter. As early as June this year, Transpower, the nation’s state-owned enterprise responsible for electric power transmission, warned that domestic supplies of electrical power from the various independent generators were not keeping up with demand. Just last month (September), Transpower again called on generators to make more power available.
Part of the blame for this situation can be reasonably placed on New Zealand’s ‘competitive’ power generation market. The market was originally designed to create competition between generators, so as to provide consumers and industry with the cheapest power available. As with many good intentions gone wrong, though, the market instead incentivises power shortages, giving generators the highest market price when electricity supplies are short. So, generators get more for their electricity when demand is high and aren’t keen to add new generation unless the power market is ‘tight’ enough to assure them a reasonable price.
It is little wonder that the average wholesale price of power has been steadily rising. The average wholesale price of electricity for the first quarter of 2018 was $87 per megawatt-hour (abbreviated “/MWh” – enough to power a little over 1000 homes for an hour), while the average price was $174/MWh during the first quarter of this year. Little wonder, too, that power generators have been reporting strong profits in recent years.
However, the Tiwai Point smelter reportedly pays Meridian a bargain price of only $35/MWh as of January last year, so it makes sense that Meridian might want more money for its power. But it doesn’t want to put this power into the domestic market because the extra power would cause the wholesale price of power to drop. Remember, the generators get a higher price when electricity supplies are in high demand. Thus comes Meridian’s interest in someone building a green hydrogen plant to take the power at a higher price when its contract with the smelter expires in 2024, and keep that power off the domestic market.
In comes the Southern Green Hydrogen project, with two Australian firms vying to become the lead developers. The project is touted to become the largest green hydrogen project on the planet, which analysists say could earn hundreds of millions of dollars in export revenue while helping decarbonise economies here and overseas.
There will only be a small market for green hydrogen in NZ so, in essence, the plan is for our power – power which New Zealand taxpayers paid for in the Manapouri Hydro Scheme and still 51% owned by the government – to be exported in the form of green hydrogen for profit, while the rest of the country endures winter power shortages.
And this is no small amount of electricity. The Manapouri hydro scheme represents 13% of NZ’s electricity generation. Imagine what lower and more stable electricity prices would do for New Zealand households and industry, if Meridian instead released that electricity to the national grid.
It is clear that, in our present situation, this proposal to export our electricity as green hydrogen doesn’t make sense. No less than Simon Upton, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, has told the government so. With the government pushing for more electric vehicles on the roads and for industries to replace fossil fuel-fired boilers with electric furnaces and electricity-driven heat pumps, the country is going to need a lot more electrical generation in the future. Selling what excess power we have as green hydrogen overseas when the country is facing power shortages is the epitome of bad planning!
It is time this government developed a coherent energy strategy to guide our communities and our economy into the uncertain energy future ahead. Supporting the use of this precious resource for another export industry would certainly not be a good start.
These are a collection of opinion articles principally written by CKM member Tom Powell for the Marlborough Express. Tom is a retired geologist who came to New Zealand in 2004 to work in the geothermal industry on the North Island, is a New Zealand citizen and now lives in Blenheim. Some articles have been written by other CKM members, and their names appear with those articles.