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WHAT DOES NET-ZERO MEAN?

Posted on: February 25, 2020

THE PRE-INDUSTRIAL NET ZERO IDEAL Meaning of zero carbon

How Shell's new Sky scenario achieves the Paris goals

NET ZERO IN THE INDUSTRIAL ECONOMY

THIS POST WAS UPDATED ON AUGUST 15 2020

[LINK TO THE HOME PAGE OF THIS SITE]

[RELATED POST ON CARBON CREDITS]

THIS POST IS A CRITICAL REVIEW OF NET ZERO CLIMATE ACTIONTHE QUESTION ISWHAT DOES NET ZERO MEAN AND HOW DOES IT DIFFER FROM REAL ZERO AS IN NO FOSSIL FUEL EMISSIONS? 

ANSWER #1: SOURCE: ENERGY AND CLIMATE INTELLIGENCE UNIT[LINK]NETZEROPDF Net zero means that EMISSIONS are balanced by ABSORPTION of an equivalent amount from the atmosphere. Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) technology exists but it is not used because of cost and technical considerations. Therefore, “net” means net of natural photosynthesis, specifically additional natural photosynthesis that can be claimed in terms of specific action taken by humans (so that it can be described as human activity) in terms of things like reforestation and afforestation where the CO2 removal time span is in the order of 50 to 100 years. The science of ‘carbon budgets: Climate science is clear that to a close approximation, the eventual extent of global warming is proportional to the total amount of carbon dioxide that human activities add to the atmosphere. Therefore the carbon budget for any temperature target is based on this equation.

ANSWER #2:  SOURCE: Duncan McLaren, Research Fellow, Lancaster University,  [LINK TO CARBON BRIEF PUBLICATION]  

  1. Professor McLaren says that the UK and other countries aim to deliver “net-zero” greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050. The use of the word “net” involves the need for negative emissions – but there is no negative emission technology and no program to develop negative an emissions technology. Net-Zero means that these two balance but the equation is not adequately specified. The target is that x-y=0 where x=emissions and y=negative emissions but the target value of x and y in this crucial equation is not specifiedThe assumption is that negative emission is a substitute for emission reduction but that is not true. Unlike emission reduction, carbon put into forests or soils with carbon cycle offsets or in geological stores as with negative emission technologies cannot be equated to emission reduction because they can and leak back into the atmosphere. Also, the the environmental harm of negative emission technologies is unknown because the technology does not yet exist but thought to be in development that will bear fruit at some unspecified time in the future.  Net-zero plans that rely on assumed future carbon removal as a substitute for emission reduction now are imaginary. An assumed negative emission technology has been included in climate action plans for many years now but we still don’t have such a technology and we don’t know when if ever we will have it. Therefore, it is not possible to have an emission target for 2050 with assumed negative emission technology without knowing exactly when if ever  this technology will become available.
  2. As of now with technologies and options that we know are available, carbon cycle offsets are the only way to cancel out emissions in the emissions accounting ledger of net emissions. Two examples in the UK are Heathrow and ENI. Heathrow pays for peat-bog restoration as an offset to contribute to net zero in airport operations, while oil major ENI, an oil and gas producer has promised expansive afforestation to offset its emissions against carbon cycle flows.
  3. Yet another issue in equating emission reduction to emission offsets is that canceling out emission reduction now with future carbon cycle offsets or future negative emission technologies, is the warming caused by the emissions in the meantime. Some carbon credits are from forest protection projects that would have happened anyway. Many such carbon cycle offsets are traded in the carbon credits market making it possible to reach net zero with a combination of partial emission reduction offsets purchased in the carbon credits market. Shortcomings of carbon credits market are presented in a related post [LINK] .

ANSWER #3: The Essential Role of Photosynthesis in Defining Net Zero Carbon Dioxide Emissions. Author: Dave White, Chemical Engineer. Henele E’ale, PhD.

[LINK TO RESEARCH GATE PUBLICATION]

  1. Dave White argues that nothing removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere like photosynthesis does. A single hectare of the Amazon Rainforest can sequester 100 tons of CO2 annually. A single hectare of Empress Trees  can sequester 103 tons of CO2 annually. In pre-industrial times, earth’s forests removed 400 billion tons of CO2 per year compared with 3.2 billion tons in 2019.  Over this period where the significant climate change event is thought to be the industrial economy, the impact of the earth’s forest size reduction is overlooked.
  2. As a result of the global reduction in forest size, there has been a corresponding loss in photosynthesis and atmospheric CO2 has gone up. Estimates for global carbon dioxide sequestration have fallen from a minimum of 400 gigatonnes circa 1700 to as little as 10-12 gigatonnes annually, far below what is required to maintain global atmospheric homeostasis. Currently, respiration of all organisms on Earth combined fossil fuels emissions adds up to 37.1 gigatonnes of CO2 emissions each year. Our forests are the lungs of the planet. Therefore an optimal climate action plan must include some kind of photosynthesis intervention to regain the lost CO2 sink of forests.
  3. Dave White concludes from this analysis that nature already has a very effective Negative Emission Technology (NETs) by way of photosynthesis.  Therefore, no machinery version of the NETs needs to be developed or deployed by the industrial economy. And therefore climate action should target net zero emissions where our remaining fossil fuel emissions after climate action is taken is offset by the incremental photosynthesis gained in our afforestation emissions offset investment made either directly or on the carbon credits market.

THE CONCLUSION WE DRAW FROM THE THREE REFERENCES ABOVE IS THAT EFFECTIVE ZERO EMISSIONS CAN BE ACHIEVED BY OFFSETING OUR RESIDUAL EMISSIONS WITH PHOTOSYNTHESIS ALTHOUGH THE MCLAREN ARGUMENTS ABOVE REMAIN UNRESOLVED. 

 

CRITICAL COMMENTARY ON THE NET ZERO CONCEPT

  1. AGW climate change is a theory not about how changes in the carbon cycle flows change the rate of warming. Such changes are natural and predate the Industrial Revolution and they cannot be described as effects of the industrial economy.
  2. AGW climate change is a theory is about a warming trend attributed to the Industrial Economy and described as a perturbation of the carbon cycle by external carbon dug up by humans from under the ground where it had been sequestered from the carbon cycle for millions of years. This very old carbon is external carbon because it is not part of the current account of the carbon cycleThis foundational concept in AGW climate change is violated when climate analysis fails to make the distinction between old external carbon in fossil fuel emissions and the natural carbon in the carbon cycle.
  3. It is the injection of this external carbon by humans into the carbon cycle and the climate system that is identified by AGW climate change theory as the cause of the current warming. The carbon emission accounting for net emissions where carbon cycle flows and external artificial carbon flows are combined in simple addition and subtraction accounting is conceptually and mathematically flawed.
  4. The conceptual flaw is described above. The mathematical flaw is described in some detail a related post
  5. https://tambonthongchai.com/2020/06/10/a-monte-carlo-simulation-of-the-carbon-cycle/
  6. Briefly, the issue is that carbon cycle flows are an order of magnitude larger than the fossil fuel emissions of humans and they cannot be directly measured. They must therefore be inferred. This is why the estimation of carbon cycle flows contains large uncertainties. It is shown in the related post [LINK]  that when these uncertainties are included in the flow accounting, the relatively smaller fossil fuel emissions cannot be detected because the flow account balances with and without fossil fuel emissions within the statistical range implied by the uncertainty in carbon cycle flows. 
  7. The implication of this result for “net zero climate action” strategies is that the accounting reduction in carbon cycle emissions must be shown to be statistically significant when the uncertainty in the relevant carbon cycle flows is taken into account. In view of the result that fossil fuel emission is not detectable net of uncertainties in carbon cycle flows, it is highly unlikely that smaller changes to the carbon cycle that are assumed reduce net emissions will be found to be statistically significant when uncertainties are included in the accounting. Therefore, the answer to the question of what the net fossil fuel emission flow is net of carbon cycle flow interventions is that we don’t know.
  8. In view of the arguments presented above, net zero climate action strategies, that is fossil fuel emissions net of projected reductions in carbon cycle flows, cannot be assumed to be less than fossil fuel emissions until it can be shown that the difference is statistically detectable net of uncertainties in carbon cycle flows. This important detail of net zero climate action strategies is missing from the flow accounting used in the net zero computation.
  9. TCRE: With respect to Net Zero strategies based on TCRE carbon budgets: In the climate science of ‘carbon budgets, it is claimed that to a close approximation, the eventual extent of global warming is proportional to the cumulative amount of fossil fuel emissions. However the climate science of the TCRE contains a fatal statistical flaw explained below..
  10. This claim is a reference to the proportionality between mean global surface temperature and cumulative emissions described by Damon Matthews and others since 2009. The strong correlation between temperature and cumulative emissions appears to support the validity of the regression coefficient for temperature against cumulative emissions that shows that cumulative emissions drive warming at the rate of somewhere between 1C and 2.5C of warming per teratonne of cumulative emissions. This coefficient is called the TCRE or Transient Climate Response to Cumulative Emissions. Climate action plans in terms of carbon budgets is computed based on the TCRE metric. Net zero climate action plans are designed in terms of the TCRE.
  11. Yet, as shown in a related post [LINK] the strong proportionality between temperature and cumulative emissions found by climate scientists is a spurious correlation. It has no interpretation in terms of phenomena in the real world that it ostensibly represents. This implies that carbon budgets derived from the TCRE also have no interpretation in the real world [LINK] . It is this statistical flaw in the TCRE and not complexities of Earth System Models that explains the Remaining Carbon Budget problem in climate science [LINK]  {see also [LINK] }.
  12. Therefore, the the implication of the TCRE for Net Zero climate action plans is two-fold. First: Since the TCRE tracks warming only in terms of fossil fuel emissions and not in terms of carbon cycle flows, there is no net zero subtraction possible.
  13. The second implication is is that the the net zero strategies that rely on TCRE carbon budgets are illusory because they are the creation of a spurious correlation. They have no interpretation in terms of the variables they apparently represent. 
  14. It is noted that all carbon budgets for climate action plans are denominated in terms of TCRE carbon budgets. 

CONCLUSION

IN CONCLUSION, THE ANSWER TO THE QUESTION AT THE TOP OF THIS POST, “WHAT DOES NET ZERO MEAN?” IS THAT IT HAS NO INTERPRETATION IN TERMS OF AGW CLIMATE SCIENCE BECAUSE IT IS NOT A VALID PROPOSAL FOR CLIMATE ACTION AGAINST AGW CLIMATE CHANGE.

IT SUFFERS FROM FATAL STATISTICAL WEAKNESSES IN ITS CONSTRUCTION.  THESE WEAKNESSES MAKE IT IMPOSSIBLE TO INTERPRET NET ZERO CLIMATE ACTION PLANS IN TERMS OF THE THEORY OF AGW CLIMATE CHANGE. IN ADDITION, CARBON BUDGETS COMPUTED FROM THE TCRE ARE DENOMINATED ONLY IN TERMS OF FOSSIL FUEL EMISSIONS WITH NO POSSIBILITY OF SUBTRACTING PHOTOSYNTHESIS ABSORPTION.  

THE GENERAL STATE OF CONFUSION AND THE ABSENCE OF CLARITY IN NET ZERO CLIMATE ACTION PROPOSALS ARE THE CREATION OF THESE STATISTICAL FLAWS.

NET ZERO IS A FLAWED CONCEPT. OTHER ISSUES IN NET ZERO CLIMATE ACTION PLANS IS PROVIDED IN A UNIVERSITY OF MANCHESTER ARTICLE BELOW LINKED BELOW. 

http://blog.policy.manchester.ac.uk/energy_environment/2019/04/setting-climate-targets-when-is-net-zero-really-net-zero/  

Net Zero - The UK's contribution to stopping global warming ...

UK's 2050 Zero Carbon Target - The Carbon Literacy Project

7 Responses to "WHAT DOES NET-ZERO MEAN?"

To my knowledge all net zero postulations are based on incomplete data, as no successful, closed system accounting of CO2 absorption by plants has ever been completed. I know of one that was abandoned (reasons unknown) and a second that is an open system construct, which to my mind is worthless. So the equations are flawed as they are based on unsupported assumptions. For all we know the absorption rate may be greater than that suggested.

For all we know, what we actually know, is that we don’t know.

Unfortunately this kind of humility, necessary for rigorous research, is thoroughly lacking in climate “science”. Diagrams conjured for six year old, patronizing speeches light on facts, are lofted at the so called deniers (which is the term used as we know, to describe anyone who disagrees with their view) to explain the error of their ways. It is a sad attestation to the scientific community at large in that there are not more questions about this ideological runaway train.

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