Dear First Minister, Your leadership is needed on a matter concerning coal-fired power plants in your country, a matter with ramifications for life on our planet, including all species. Prospects for today's children, and especially the world's poor, hinge upon our success in stabilizing climate.
For the sake of identification, I am a United States citizen, director
of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Adjunct Professor at the Columbia University Earth Institute. I am a member of our National Academy of Sciences, have testified before our Senate and House of Representatives on many occasions, and have advised our Vice President and Cabinet members on climate change and its relation to energy requirements. I write, however, as a private citizen, a resident of Kintnersville, Pennsylvania.
First Minister, I recognize that you have been a strong supporter of
forward-looking actions to mitigate dangerous climate change. We are now at a point that bold leadership is needed, leadership that could change the course of human history.
Global climate is near critical tipping points that could lead to loss
of all summer sea ice in the Arctic with detrimental effects on wildlife, initiation of ice sheet disintegration in West Antarctica and Greenland with progressive, unstoppable global sea level rise, shifting of climatic zones with extermination of many animal and plant species, reduction of freshwater supplies for hundreds of millions of people, and a more intense hydrologic cycle with stronger droughts and forest fires, but also heavier rains and floods, and stronger storms driven by latent heat, including tropical storms, tornados and thunderstorms.
Scientific data reveals that the safe level of atmospheric carbon
dioxide (CO2) is no more than 350 ppm (parts per million), and is likely less than that. Implications for energy policy are profound, as atmospheric CO2 is already over 385 ppm. Yet feasible actions now could still point the world onto a course that minimizes climate change.
Coal is central to the climate problem. Coal caused fully half of the
fossil fuel increase of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air today, and on the long run coal has the potential to be an even greater source of CO2. Due to the dominant role of coal, a solution to global warming must include a phase-out of coal except for uses where the CO2 is captured and sequestered. Failing that, we cannot avoid large climate
change, because a substantial fraction of the emitted CO2 will stay in
the air more than 1000 years.
Yet there are plans for construction of new coal-fired power plants in
Scotland - included in your draft National Planning Framework, plants that would have a lifetime of half a century or more. Your leadership in halting these plans could help seed a transition that is needed to solve the global warming problem.
Choices among alternative energy sources - renewable energies, energy
efficiency, fossil fuels with carbon capture - these are local matters. But the decision to phase out coal use unless the CO2 is captured fully from the outset is a global imperative, if we are to preserve the wonders of nature, our coastlines, and our social and economic well being.
Coal is not only the main cause of excess CO2 in the air today; it has
the greatest potential for future emissions (Fig. 1a). Due to coal's dominance, solution to global warming must include phase-out of coal use except where CO2 is captured and sequestered. If coal is phased out uniformly between 2010 and 2030, except where CO2 is captured, atmospheric CO2 will peak at 400-425 ppm and then begin to decline (Fig. 1b). Maximum CO2 depends upon whether EIA (Energy
Information Administration) or IPCC oil and gas reserve estimates are more realistic.
Coal and oil differ fundamentally. Oil is used mainly in vehicles, where
CO2 cannot be captured. Extractable oil is nearly half gone. Most remaining oil, much of it in the Middle East, surely will be used with the CO2 injected into the air. In contrast, scenarios that keep coal in the ground, or used only where the CO2 is captured, are feasible.
The upshot is that large climate change, with consequences discussed
above, can be avoided only if coal emissions (but not necessarily coal use) are identified for prompt phase-out. A corollary is that a strategy based on 50%, or 80% CO2 emission reduction without taking into account the origin of CO2 is doomed to failure, because it would allow substantial coal emissions to continue indefinitely. Once CO2
emissions are in the air, they cannot be retrieved. The only practical
solution is to avoid coal emissions.
I am aware that your Parliament is considering the National Planning
Framework and your Government is consulting on new guidance for decisions on new power stations. This is an opportunity to demonstrate world leadership and impose a moratorium on new coal fired plant until such time as any new plant can be guaranteed to operate with full capture throughout its entire life.
I am also aware that your Government has asked "whether any other
approaches to reducing carbon emissions (rather than carbon capture readiness for new thermal power stations] should be considered". Carbon capture and storage readiness is not an adequate solution. It is a sham that does not guarantee that a single tonne of carbon will be captured in practice. Alternative approaches must be considered which ensure an effective moratorium on new unabated coal power.
First Minister Salmond, we cannot avert our eyes from the basic fossil
fuel facts, or the consequences for life on our planet of ignoring these fossil fuel facts. If we continue to build coal-fired power plants without full scale carbon capture, we will lock in future climate disasters associated with passing climate tipping points. We must solve the coal problem now.
James E. Hansen
United States of America
John Swinney, Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth
Jim Mather, Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism
Stewart Stevenson, Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate
Duncan McNeil MSP, Convenor, Local Government and Communities Committee
Colin Imrie, Head of Energy Consents and Policy
Jim McKinnon, Chief Planner
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