Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford

Photo: Coal Carbon Capture Technologies By Peabody Energy, Inc. (Provided by Peabody Energy) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
  • 5 April 2016

Renewables and nuclear no substitute for carbon dioxide disposal, argues the ECI's Professor Myles Allen

In a new paper published in Nature Climate Change, Leader of the ECI's Climate Research Programme and Co-Director of the Oxford Martin Programme on Resource Stewardship Professor Myles Allen, argues that investment in technologies to capture and dispose of carbon dioxide is vital to stabilise climate, especially at temperatures "well below 2ºC as called for in Paris. He commented that 'spare no expense' approaches to cutting emissions in the short term may even be counterproductive "if it impairs the willingness and ability of future generations to reduce emissions to zero.”

In his paper, 'Drivers of peak warming in a consumption-maximising world' Professor Allen argues that there are only two policies today that will really matter for peak warming: reducing the cost of large-scale capture and disposal of carbon dioxide; and maximising the average rate of economic growth we achieve for a given rate of emission in the meantime.

""A climate policy that relies exclusively on substitution requires a mindboggling assumption of 'irrational selflessness' on the part of future generations when they run out of the easy stuff to substitute. It is time to divert some of our less productive subsidies into carbon dioxide disposal."

Professor Myles Allen, Leader of ECI Climate Research Programme

Combining standard macro-economic tools with more recent insights into how the climate system responds to carbon dioxide emissions, Professor Allen found that that, unless we can get the cost of carbon capture and disposal below $200/tonne of carbon dioxide, then stabilising temperatures below 2ºC will require "truly heroic levels of self-sacrifice by future generations.”

Professor Allen goes on to argue that we need a new framework for assessing investments in renewable and nuclear energy and that countries with relatively high per capita emissions and sluggish economic growth (which would include the UK and most of Europe) have a particular responsibility to invest in carbon dioxide disposal.

Right now, these countries are "like a broke student at the bar” he says, "continuing to contribute to the problem without contributing to the prosperity required to pay for the solution”. This is true even if their emissions are declining: "it's not enough to promise to drink slower”.


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