Significant cuts in carbon emissions within reach

If all eight countries were to build just a little bit faster than Sweden is now, wind in the region could increase five-fold by 2020. Photo: p1r/ BY-NC

The CO2 emissions of the Nordic and Baltic countries can be cut by 70 per cent by 2020 or soon after, and by 95 per cent by 2030, without nuclear power and CCS, shows a new AirClim report.

If there is a will there is a way. The task set for the report “70% less CO2 by the early 2020s in the Nordic-Baltic region” was to achieve a 70 per cent reduction by 2020 and 95 per cent by 2030 in the region, i.e. Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, and Sweden.

This is not as difficult as it would have seemed five years ago. During that time global wind power has tripled, and Europe got 6.4 per cent of its electricity from the wind 2012. The scenario foresees 100 TWh of wind for the region by 2020 – five times the present, equivalent to upwards of 40 GW.

We know it can be built fast. Sweden had the greatest per capita installation of wind power in the world in 2011 and 2012, close to a hundred watt per capita each of the years. If all eight countries, with a total population of around 30 million, were to build just a little bit faster than Sweden is now, this could happen by 2020.

The report discusses the possibilities for integrating that much wind power. They are unusually good in the region. Hydro power, most of it in Norway and Sweden, acts as an enormous energy storage bank. Also, wind produces most power in the winter, which coincides with consumption peaks. Transport capacity within and outside the region is very good. There is also, as everywhere, a large untapped resource of demand-side management.

More wind only means less CO2 if fossil power stations are closed down or run for fewer hours. The European emission trading system has essentially collapsed, and will not be easy to mend or complement. National instruments, such as CO2 taxes, are now of essence. This will not be enough.  For example, Estonian shale mining and use must be stopped, but other jobs must be created in the Narva region.

What is politically possible must be seen in a wider context. We are not alone. None of our neighbours deny that climate change is a problem, and some of our neighbours, such as Germany and the UK, have fairly ambitious climate policies. We postulate that everybody moves in the same direction but at different speeds. That gives the first mover an advantage for some time.

Heat and electricity are however the easy part, made even easier by the advent of cheap solar cells. 

Transport is more difficult. We cannot know whether electric vehicles will make a big dent in emissions by 2020. Biofuels are, on the other hand, guaranteed a market in the EU. The scenario supposes that they will grow very fast in the region, but also that some of the biofuels or biomass will be exported. They replace the same amount of oil whether used here or there – so exports of biomass should be accounted for as CO2 cuts.

The same goes for exports of renewable electricity to Russia, Belarus, Germany, Poland, the Netherlands and the UK. That electricity replaces a fuel mix with a strong fossil component.

It takes a lot of effort, and a lot of diverse effort, to severely cut emissions from the transport sector, but it is possible.

The most difficult problem is heavy industry, because of the long investment cycles. 

Given enough time, emissions can be cut drastically from industries such as cement works, ore-based steelworks, and oil refineries.  To kill such industries would be meaningless, as they produce for the world market, and somebody else will fill the gap, with the same emissions. This is unlike the use of coal, shale and peat; if we cut their use, nobody else will fill the gap.

Cement can be based on other feedstock which does not emit CO2, be replaced with other construction materials, be used in smaller quantities in higher-quality concrete, or a combination of all three. Refineries can shift from fossil feedstock to biomass and hydrogen.  New methods can be used to reduce ore to iron without coal. This can happen by 2030 but not by 2020. So to achieve the stipulated 70 per cent reduction by 2020, crediting of exports is necessary.

Fredrik Lundberg

The report 70 % less CO2 by the early 2020s in the Nordic-Baltic region (June 2013) 


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