Tuesday, November 17, 2009

US-China cooperation on climate and, er, coal

The US and China have released a joint statement on a number of issues, including "Climate Change, Energy and the Environment". After the standard political jargon about the need for full co-operation in global agreements, comes some specifics:

The two sides welcomed the launch of a U.S.-China Electric Vehicles Initiative designed to put millions of electric vehicles on the roads of both countries in the years ahead. Building on significant investments in electric vehicles in both the United States and China, the two governments announced a program of joint demonstration projects in more than a dozen cities, along with work to develop common technical standards to facilitate rapid scale-up of the industry.  The two sides agreed that their countries share a strong common interest in the rapid deployment of clean vehicles.

This is terrific climate change initiative if the source of electricity is substantially less carbon-intensive than oil. It is a tad worrisome coming from the two countries with the largest coal reserves on the planet. Which leads into the next item in the statement:

The two sides strongly welcomed work in both countries to promote 21st century coal technologies. They agreed to promote cooperation on large-scale carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) demonstration projects and to begin work immediately on the development, deployment, diffusion, and transfer of CCS technology.  The two sides welcomed recent agreements between Chinese and U.S. companies, universities, and research institutions to cooperate on CCS and more efficient coal technologies.

This is followed by a paragraph about partnership on renewable energy ("wind, solar, advanced bio-fuels, and a modern electric power grid"). The order is not a fluke. Read through the statement, and it is appears that both countries expect coal to remain king, and that emissions reductions will depend on the development and widespread implementation of CCS technology at coal-fired power plants. No surprise, I suppose.


Antiquated Tory said...

Pardon an ignorant question. I know CCS is something of a chimera, but I don't know the details. Why will it not be enough?
Can it help at all? Given how much coal the US and China have, I don't see them moving away from it until some other technology is very cheap indeed.
One last thing: if electric cars + coal plants + transmission is more efficient than IC engines, I suppose the former still come out ahead. I think, though I may be wrong, that they are not, despite the crap efficiency of IC.

Simon D said...

Others are more qualified to offer insight on the state of the technology. The concept is fine -- whether it can be accomplished at scale and whether the geology is right in every coal-burning region for storage with no leakage is another question. Given that, making CCS the core of our climate policy is risky.

Electric cars + coal needs to be far more efficient than ICEs to reduce carbon emissions at a time the economy is growing (in China).

Ian said...

Both countries are definitely backing coal for the long term. See Steven Chu's article in Science.