Mixed Greens: Greenhouse gases hit record high

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The latest report from the World Meteorological Organisation has produced some worrying new figures, with the amount of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere found to have reached a record 390.9 parts per million in 2011. This, as Michael Lemonick points out on Climate Central, is a 40 per cent increase over levels in 1750, before humans began seriously burning fossil fuels – an increase that has been boosted by an average of two parts per million per year for the past decade.

“These billions of tonnes of additional carbon dioxide in our atmosphere will remain there for centuries, causing our planet to warm further and impacting on all aspects of life on earth,” said WMO secretary-general Michel Jarraud. “Future emissions will only compound the situation.”

The report also found that levels of methane and nitrous oxide (N2O), both more potent greenhouse gases than CO2, hit their very own record levels of 1,813 parts per billion (ppb) and 324.2 ppb respectively. The WMO says these three gases, which are closely linked to the use of fossil fuels and to deforestation, have increased the warming effect on the climate by 30 per cent between 1990 and 2011, with CO2 accounting for around four-fifths of this rise.

As BusinessGreen reports, the WMO report coincides with new research from think-tank World Resources Institute (WRI), which has found that almost 1,200 new coal-fired power plants are being planned in 60 countries worlwide. The plants, three-quarters of which are planned for China and India, carry a combined capacity of 1,400GW. “This is definitely not in line with a safe climate scenario – it would put us on a really dangerous trajectory,” Ailun Yang, who compiled the report, told The Guardian.

In other news…

A group led by Saudi Arabia’s ACWA Power International has signed a $US1 billion deal to supply Morocco with electricity from the North African nation’s first solar thermal power plant. Bloomberg reports that the Moroccan government will purchase power for 25 years from the 160MW plant ACWA is developing with Spain’s Aries Ingenieria & Sistemas and TSK Electronica & Electricidad in Ouarzazate for Morocco’s Solar Energy Agency.

And reports that the highly ambitious Desertec renewables plan – which aims to generate 15 per cent of Europe’s energy from Saharan solar power – is in crisis have been denied by project’s chief executive, Paul van Son. Two major investors – Siemens and Bosch – have recently withdrawn from the alliance of companies driving the plan to begin transmitting energy by underwater ‘interconnector’ cables from countries such as Morocco and Tunisia to Europe by 2015. The Spanish government has also reportedly backed away from a deal to build solar plants in Morocco, citing the initiative’s complexity. Van Son said such comings and goings among investors were to be expected, and that the project was moving forward.

French nuclear and renewables group Areva has signed an agreement to site one of three new wind turbine manufacturing factories it is opening across Europe in eastern Scotland, in preparation for a major expansion in North Sea windfarms. The Guardian reports that the deal, with investment agency Scottish Enterprise, is predicted to create up to 750 engineering jobs at the new site and further jobs in the wider supply chain.

In what has been described by one analyst as “the first hint of rational behavior we’ve seen” from Chinese solar manufacturers, China’s third-largest solar panel maker, Trina Solar, is shifting its focus to “profitable orders” and away from deals aimed mainly at gaining market share, in an effort to curtail “irrational” pricing. Trina, along with First Solar, Jinko Solar and Trony Solar, generated 91 per cent of the global solar industry’s operating profits over the past eight years, according to this PwC report. Jinko has, itself, more recently fallen victim to the China-driven pricing storm, posting a huge net loss of RMB 310.5 million in Q2, which it seems to have staunched somewhat this quarter, reporting yesterday a much smaller Q3 loss of RMB 54.8 million (US$8.7 million) – an improvement that is credited to a shift in focus to cost reduction and new markets.

China, meanwhile, has reportedly broken into the South American wind energy market, “the world’s fastest- growing,” according to Bloomberg, by offering government-backed loans at interest rates up to 50 per cent lower than local offerings. The deals favour Chinese machines over those of Western manufacturers like Denmark’s Vestas, by guaranteeing loans or insurance.

GE and Ford Motor Co have announced a collaboration that will see GE purchase 2,000 new Ford C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrids for its fleet, while Ford will jointly market GE’s alternative fuel infrastructure solutions to commercial customers and provide new alternative fuel vehicles for use at GE’s Vehicle Innovation Center. The two companies will also work with researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology to improve efficiencies to electric driving and charging.


  • The WMO report also addresses halocarbons, or Synthetic Greenhouse Gases as the are known under the Clean Energy Future emissions pricing scheme. While these gases are a small slice of the emissions pie, researchers at UEA put the overall contribution of these gases significantly higher at 18%, and they are growing rapidly.

    These emissions are the easiest and cheapest to control and eliminate, and the SGG levy is an important step forward. Globally the projected growth in HFCs threatens to undermine the significant climate benefits achieved to date by the Montreal Protocol (4 to 5 times Kyoto’s first commitment period).

    While Australia is making progress, the vested interest of the fluorochemical industry remains a highly obstructive force at many levels. Greater attention and political will is required to address this sector with a comprehensive vision and global leadership.

    Natural refrigerants solutions are ready, proven, offer significant energy savings opportunities and are rapidly becoming commercialised. The race is on to ensure the transition is made in developed countries, and developing countries are not misled down an HFC dead end road that drives us all faster over the 2 degrees cliff – pardon the muddled metaphor.

    Here’s what the WMO’s science says:
    Sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) is a potent LLGHG. It is produced by the chemical industry, mainly as an electrical insulator in power distribution equipment. Its current mole fraction is about twice the level observed in the mid-1990s (Figure 6). The ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), together with minor halogenated gases, contribute ~12% to radiative forcing by LLGHGs. While CFCs and most halons are decreasing, hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are also potent greenhouse gases, are increasing at rapid rates, although they are still low in abundance (ppt levels, Figure 7).