Economic inflation is clearly on the decline, but we’re about to witness a massive outbreak of rhetorical inflation in Dubai. That’s where the world’s leading politicians, public figures, climate change activists and celebrities are gathering for COP 28, where we’ll hear the usual array of big promises and bold declarations. They’ll tell us it’s our last chance to avoid disaster and our best opportunity to save the future of our planet. I’m here to tell you that now, more than ever, none of this matters.

This isn’t reflexive cynicism or reactionary pessimism, both of which I regard as lazy forms of punditry. Instead, it’s optimism about the energy transition already underway and the inability of even the most obstructionist governments and large corporations to meaningfully slow its progress. We are, without question, on a path that will see us exceed the 1.5 C target in the Paris Accord. But we are also on a path that will get us much closer to it than many people realize.

My optimism begins in China, of all places, where a new report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) documents the breathtaking scale and scope of that country’s renewable energy buildout. Back in 2021, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the creation of so-called “renewables bases” in the country’s massive western and northern deserts. These bases would contain massive solar and wind installations along with energy storage technology to help capture and integrate their power into the national grid. Now, with some new data becoming available on what these look like and how quickly they can be built, everyone is going to need to update their assumptions and their spreadsheets.

“The speed at which projects are being deployed has already led several forecasters to upgrade their estimates for renewables adoption this year,” says Bloomberg Green. “China will install more than 300 gigawatts of solar and wind capacity in 2023, almost double the volume a year earlier, according to BNEF forecasts. The entire global total in 2022 was 338 gigawatts. As Cosimo Ries, a Shanghai-based energy analyst with Trivium China told Bloomberg Green, “There’s nothing in history you can benchmark this against.”

If China’s renewable industry and provincial governments can hit their targets here, they’ll add 455 gigawatts of wind and solar energy — roughly equivalent to the size of India’s entire power network — to a grid that already has more clean power than any other nation on Earth. And because it’s being built on deserts, where the land has effectively no value, it will be some of the cheapest power on Earth, too.

China isn’t doing this out of the goodness of its heart or because it cares about the well-being of all mankind. It’s doing it because it understands that relying on imports of oil, natural gas and other fossil fuels makes it dangerously dependent on other countries. It also understands that by effectively cornering the market on the construction of wind turbines, solar panels and other renewable energy technologies, it can grab a huge slice of the biggest growth industry of the 21st century. In other words: It’s the economy, stupid.

The developments in other parts of the world aren’t quite as breathtaking, but they’re still important markers of an energy transition that continues apace. As Goldman Sachs noted in a new report, the cost of electric vehicle batteries is falling much faster than recent projections predicted. Its research department now sees battery prices falling to $99 per kilowatt hour by 2025, a 40 per cent drop from 2022 levels. So much for all that talk about “greenflation.”

This means that so-called “cost parity” between gasoline-powered vehicles and electric ones could arrive even sooner than expected. As a result, the ongoing adoption of those electric vehicles (EVs) will be powered far more by their underlying economic advantages than any government subsidies. “Our analysts see the EV market transitioning to a new phase that is more heavily influenced by consumer adoption than government largesse as battery prices drop,” the Goldman Sachs report notes.

Yes, investors should continue to press companies to lower their upstream emissions, and climate activists should keep pressuring elected officials to implement good, thoughtful policy. But focusing on the oil and gas industry and its unwillingness to co-operate with efforts to prevent catastrophic climate change is a bit like pressing McDonald’s and Burger King to help fight the obesity crisis in America. It is abundantly clear by now that the oil and gas industry, regardless of where it’s located, will never voluntarily wind itself down. The aborted attempts at a pivot to lower-carbon solutions by companies like Shell, BP and even Suncor show when the going gets even a little tough, these companies fold like a $5 tent.

The latest United Nations climate conference will almost certainly fail to meet its stated goals. But as a flurry of recent news shows, the energy transition is already well past the point of no return — and picking up speed every day.

In the end, though, that’s not as big of a deal as it might seem. As the International Energy Agency noted in a recent report of its own, “Many producers say they will be the ones to keep producing throughout transitions and beyond. They cannot all be right.” Indeed, many of them are already quietly coming to this realization and scaling back ambitious plans to increase production in favour of increasing profits and dividend payments to their shareholders.

This isn’t the sort of clean, satisfying victory many climate activists want to see, whether it’s at COP 28 or some other international conference. But right now, it’s the only one they’re going to get. Rather than being disappointed about the inevitably disappointing outcome of COP 28, they can take heart in the fact that climate progress no longer depends on things like that.

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It's good to see Max in an optimistic mood, but: carbon emissions are still rising, especially in Canada. The growth in renewables means nothing for the climate unless they are *replacing* fossil fuel sources. Adding more renewables on top of continuing fossil fuel use means nothing unless the fossil fuels are *subtracted* from the equation. And this is still not happening.

Sure it's happening. But it's an exponential curve, and it started from very small. The thing is, if you've got the whole economy growing at, say, 3%/year, compounding, and then you've got the no-carbon, electrified economy growing at 50%/year compounding, obviously at some point the no-carbon economy will eat the fossil fuel economy. But at the point where it's only 0.1% of the economy, all the compounding doesn't look like much--it can be growing like crazy and the growth of the overall economy swamps the effect.

Only now are we starting to get into territory where that growth makes a dent. But at that point, it only takes a few more years of exponential growth before the impact is huge. This year well over a third of car sales in China will be electric or plug-in hybrid. At the rate of growth, next year it'll be half, in three years probably well over 80%. The fleet will lag, but it's obvious where things are going. And much of the world will be importing their cars from China. Europe is only a couple of years behind China on that curve, as are BC and Quebec--our percentages look small, but they're much bigger than a couple years ago; add a couple years of compounding and we'll be in that same league. The US and the rest of Canada are a couple years further back still, but the trajectory is there.

Those huge renewable energy plantations with wind, solar and storage . . . in a few years China will be finished doing them. But then what? They'll have all that labour force and expertise they don't want to be unemployed. The obvious answer, contracts with developing countries to build them there, just like all the trains and infrastructure they're building all over Asia and Africa. In a while the only place without much renewables will be Alberta if they keep on banning 'em.

Great comments!

Renewables are most definitely at the very beginning of an S-shaped growth curve where the upward angle is about to get very steep, and where the plateau at the top will not be reached for decades.

If the average lifespan of a car is 10 years, then every EV removes its own decade long demand for petrol fuel production. A million+ EV sales in North America will carve a big hole in the oil industry's heartland.

While EVs get an excessive amount of attention, which reflects our egregiously high car dependency, the more powerful emerging story is the role of clean electricity everywhere.

EVs started the process to catalyze deep R&D into batteries, and in a relatively quick period they are now grid-ready with huge leaps in advanced chemistry using less problematic materials, in energy density, in recycling, in cold weather performance and in affordability coming down the pipe.

This is a very exciting decade for climate action, but the petro party version of COP today has little to do with that.

The environmental movement needs to pay more attention to the role the economics of renewables is already playing to realize their goals and hopes. It's unfortunate many of them are more interested in smashing capitalism and the state to come up with viable solutions of their own that benefit all members of society.

Fawcett: "I’m here to tell you that now, more than ever, none of this matters."

Emissions are going to fall anyway, so let's give the fossil-fuel industry a free pass. Is that the idea?

The goal was to keep warming below 1.5 C. Because 2.0 C would be far more dangerous. We are going to blow past both targets, no small thanks to fossil-fuel industry obstructionism.

A matter of life and death.
The 2018 IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C spelled out dramatic differences between a 1.5 C and 2 C warmer world.
"Limiting global warming to 1.5 C instead of 2 C could result in around 420 million fewer people being frequently exposed to extreme heat waves and about 65 million fewer people being exposed to exceptional heat waves, assuming constant vulnerability."

It matters to the six hundred of Mr. Fawcett's B.C. neighbours who perished in June 2021's unprecedented heatwave. It matters to the more than one billion marine organisms that broiled under the sun. It matters to the thousands of Canadians forced to evacuate their towns and cities each summer due to wildfire.

"Scientists warn of 'dangerous future' if global emissions aren't cut (CBC)
"The [Lancet Countdown] report in The Lancet projected heat-related deaths and food insecurity will skyrocket by mid-century — particularly in the developing world.
"New projections outline the rapidly growing risks to population health if the target of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels is missed, with every health hazard monitored by the researchers predicted to worsen if temperatures rise by 2 degrees by the end of the century.
"Under this scenario, yearly heat-related deaths are projected to increase 370% by mid-century, with heat exposure expected to increase the hours of potential labour lost globally by 50%.
"More frequent heat waves could lead to around 525 million more people experiencing food insecurity by 2041-2060, exacerbating the global risk of malnutrition.
"Already, more frequent heat waves and droughts were responsible for 127 million more people experiencing moderate to severe food insecurity in 122 countries in 2021, compared with 1981-2010.
"One of the most severe cases of drought has been unfolding in the Horn of Africa, where there have been extended dry periods punctuated by periods of short intense rainfall since 2020.
"Climate scientists calculated earlier this year that droughts like the one in the region have become roughly 100 times more likely because of human-induced climate change, driven primarily by the burning of fossil fuels.
"More recently, floods — by some estimates the worst in decades — have driven close to half a million people in Somalia from their homes.
"The UN World Food Program warned Tuesday the floods, in the wake of the drought, will push the country to the brink of famine."

Don't put away your protest signs. Global emissions have yet to peak.
Don't worry about Max Fawcett, though. His air conditioner works just fine.

You may have missed the point.

COP has become a party for petro states and industry to D3 (Deny, Doubt, Delay). Danielle Smith is bringing a party of 100 to this "climate" conference, and she doesn't intend to lower Alberta's emissions any time soon. COP is now hosted by one of the top oil states on the planet. Moreover, the agreements reached after weeks of wrangling are so watered down and unenforceable they are akin to Neville Chamberlain's Peace In Our Time paper signed with Hitler who smirkingly promised not to invade Poland. Paris is now toast -- and that is from climate scientists.

Today, the best climate action results are achieved by direct investments in renewables and electrification, not by politicians, lobbyists and PR flacks or even 10,000 youthful protestors marching in the streets or blocking traffic.

Economics is succeeding where politicos fail.

"Paris is now toast… Economics is succeeding…"

Economics is succeeding, but not on pace to meet 1.5 C and 2.0 C targets. Not on pace to stave off climate disaster. We are heading for 3 C by the end of the century, barring unforeseen tipping points and feedbacks that accelerate warming.

The costs of failure — economic, infrastructure, public health, ecology — will be catastrophic. Hundreds of millions of excess deaths. Ecosystem collapse. Loss of coral reefs. Glacial melt. That does not meet any definition of success.

We do not have time to wait for market forces to put fossil fuels out of business. Which is why we cannot rely on market forces, augmented by carbon pricing, to reduce our emissions trajectory fast enough. Fossil fuel subsidies, visible and invisible, defeat economic signals that guide us towards more sustainable choices.

Alex wrote: "Today, the best climate action results are achieved by direct investments in renewables and electrification."
Offset and undermined by billions of dollars in government investments in the fossil-fuel industry. As long as the fossil-fuel industry is expanding, emissions will continue to rise. What matters in global warming is total emissions, not the amount of renewables.

I am under no illusions as to the effectiveness of COP meetings under siege by the fossil fuel industry and industry-captured politicians across the spectrum.
Petro-progressive governments under Trudeau, Notley, and Horgan can lead us over the climate cliff even without Danielle Smith's help.

Does it matter what the world decides at COP meetings? If fossil fuel obstructionism spells the difference between 1.5 C and 3 C, it most certainly does.

I'm in the lower part of my eighth decade and I don't have enough time or a strong enough sense of pessimism to respond to so many bulleted points. I will continue the good fight in my own way, mainly in essays and online comments.

"We do not have time to wait for market forces to put fossil fuels out of business." - Geoffrey

I think consumers will have something to say about that, and respond enough to affordability in renewables in the next few years that Big Oil will become very afraid. Invested interests taking over a petro party formerly known as COP is one thing, but ordinary people being able to afford heat pumps, solar panels, home battery back up, compact to mid-size suburban EVs, electric transit, passive houses and so forth will bring great fear to the board room of Suncor and Exxon Mobile.

Every EV sold deducts about 10 years of car-scale petroleum fuel from the market. Every heat pump sold takes a building's lifespan of gas for heating and cooling out of the demand cycle. You get the picture.

"The world is heading for considerably less warming than projected a decade ago, but that good news is overwhelmed by much more pain from current climate change than scientists anticipated, experts said.
"… Scientists underestimated for decades how much destruction just a little warming would cause, several scientists said. And that damage we are feeling far outweighs the gains made in reducing future warming projections, they said.
"Climate Analytics CEO Bill Hare points to more than 60,000 heat deaths in Europe in 2022. Others point to thousands dead from flooding in Pakistan and Libya.
"'The more we know, the more severe impacts we see at lower temperature changes,' said Anne Olhoff, chief author of the UNEP Emissions Gap report. 'The impacts happen much faster than we thought previously and much harder than we thought previously.'
"The damage the world is seeing 'is scarier to me than almost anything else,' Stanford University climate scientist Rob Jackson said. 'We are seeing the world’s weather start to unravel and there’s no evidence that that will stop.'
"… Heading into negotiations, world leaders have crowed about tentative agreements to triple the amount of renewable energy use and double energy efficiency. But that’s not enough, said Johan Rockstrom, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research.
"'It requires the tearing out the poisoned root of the climate crisis: fossil fuels,' said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
"… Activists and even UN officials also said they are disturbed by countries pointing to their efforts to reduce coal and increase renewable energy, as they also approve new oil drilling projects, especially after Russia invaded Ukraine.
"A report by the activist Center for Biological Diversity said that while new efforts by the Biden Administration in its Inflation Reduction Act would reduce nearly 1 billion metric tons of carbon emissions by 2030, 17 different oil and gas projects it has approved would add 1.6 billion metric tons of emissions.
"'Governments can’t keep pledging to cut commitments to cut emissions under the Paris Agreement and then greenlighting huge fossil fuel projects,' UNEP Director Inger Andersen said. 'This is throwing the global energy transition and humanity’s future into question.'"
"Climate contradictions key at UN talks. Less future warming projected, yet there’s more current pain" (AP, Nov 29 2023)

I appreciate the effort, and I certainly agree

But here's the problem: renewable energy isn't replacing fossil fuel energy generation and consumption, it's augmenting it. To give a lengthy quote from Jem Bendell's "Breaking Together":

:Every single form of renewable energy generation is utterly dependent upon
fossil fuels for its manufacture, construction, operation and maintenance. We
cannot currently build a dam without using fossil fuels. Nor can we mine the
minerals, smelt the metals or manufacture the components of photovoltaic
cells and turbines. Put simply, without fossil fuels there is no hydro, solar,
wind, biomass or geothermal power—or for that matter nuclear power. The
very renewable energy future that we are being told will save us from fossil
fuels is currently itself utterly dependent upon fossil fuels. This fact also
reminds us that if some renewables are now so cheap, it is because the fossil
fuels used to manufacture them have, so far, been cheap."

The ludicrous COP pony show doesn't matter, it's true, but the fossil-based energy consumption underpinning the global economy (and also the renewables industry) matters a lot, and the only solution is either a mindful end to growth as we know it, or a mindless end to everything as we know it. My money would be on the latter, but in that scenario, money wouldn't matter anyway.

No, sorry, this is nonsense. Yes, factories and transportation currently mostly rely on fossil fuels, simply because that is what we had until now. But this does not mean something mystical about the necessity of fossil fuels. Early car factories depended on horse-drawn delivery wagons to get their raw materials, so what?

If you have an electric grid powered by coal, and you use that electric grid to power factories which build solar panels and batteries, and you use what you produced to power the electric grid, the factories do not stop working because the electric grid is no longer powered by coal. If you have a supply system that uses trucks and trains with internal combustion engines, and you use it to supply factories that make trucks and trains that use electricity instead, the factories do not stop working once they are being supplied by electric trucks and trains.

As to the addition-rather-than-replacement claim, I've never seen anyone explain why it is supposed to work that way. They've made analogies, noting that after oil arrived, people were still using coal for stuff. But there are actual reasons for that. It's not a universal thing; the horse economy and the whale-oil-for-lighting economy both went away when they were replaced by other things. Sure, there are still a few horses, but there isn't a whole horse transportation system any more. And the reasons that various different things you burn didn't replace each other (which basically comes down to "the economics of burning things are close enough overall that different things you burn can be the cheapest or most effective in different circumstances") don't apply to the new electric revolution. Renewables are cheaper than all the fuels. Electric things are better than all the combustion engines for most applications. They will largely replace, not complement.

The last cog to be put in place on renewables is price. That is now happening.

Unfortunately, you seem to be aware only of the great inertia fossil fuels have had historically and not on the change in course fostered by renewables. However, renewables are now building a great inertia of their own with affordability now starting to arrive with the most powerful form of propulsion of all.

Time will prove you wrong.

You could have proved me wrong simply by presenting evidence that energy consumption from renewables was replacing that from fossil fuels, which would be a simple matter of seeing whether total fossil fuel production had decreased as renewable energy production increased.

But you can't. Because they haven't. And they won't.

And I get that this conclusion is upsetting, trust me. But it isn't coming from me:

We either reduce net consumption or we crash and burn even more catastrophically.

Gavin wrote: "a simple matter of seeing whether total fossil fuel production had decreased as renewable energy production increased"

Not that simple.
Both renewable and fossil fuel production are increasing in line with the growth in global energy demand. Global energy demand, not growth in renewables, is the main factor driving growth in fossil fuel demand. Renewables displace far more fossil fuels than they consume in their manufacture. Without the growth in renewables, growth in fossil fuel production would be even higher.
To reduce the fossil-fuel share, renewables must expand faster than fossil fuels expand. We are not there yet.

Yes, renewables use a small amount of fossil fuels for now — a lot less. Nothing like today's 100 MMbpd.
As renewable supply chains become electrified and increasingly powered by renewables, renewables' smaller footprint will shrink further. A virtuous cycle.

U.S. Dept of Energy: "…LIFE CYCLE greenhouse gas emissions from solar, wind, and nuclear technologies are considerably lower and less variable than emissions from technologies powered by combustion-based natural gas and coal."
U.S. Dept of Energy National Renewable Energy Laboratory: Life Cycle Assessment Harmonization

In China, the share of coal generation has gone down: from 78% in 2000 to 61% in 2022. The share of renewable generation has gone up: from 17% in 2000 to 31% in 2022. (Ember)

In 2023, Texas will get more electricity from solar and wind than from natural gas.
"Solar and wind to dethrone gas next year in US fossil heartland Texas: EIA" (Recharge, 2022)
"Solar and wind combined will provide more electricity than natural gas for the first time in 2023 in ERCOT, the power market that serves 90% of Texas, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecast in a new report."

Global investment in renewables is far outpacing investment in new fossil fuel power projects. New capacity additions in renewables far exceed new capacity in fossil fuel power generation.
"In 2022, for the first time, wind and solar generated more electricity in Europe than did gas and coal." (NYT)
"Solar power due to overtake oil production investment for first time, IEA says" (Reuters, 2023)

"In 2022, for the first time, wind and solar generated more electricity in Europe than did gas and coal."
"Europe Turned an Energy Crisis Into a Green Energy Sprint" (NYT)
"Solar exceeds coal for first time, as renewables set new records on Australia's main grid" (Renew Economy, 2021)
The growth in wind and solar met 80% of the rise in global electricity demand in 2022 .
"Wind and solar hit record 12% of global power generation last year" (Reuters, Apr 11, 2023)

The power sector represents about a third of global emissions. Fossil fuels still dominate the power sector (60%), with a near total capture of other economic sectors.

We have a long way to go, and we must go much faster.

We must also reduce net consumption, no argument.

Don't confuse energy demand with fossil-fuel demand.
Most of the energy in a barrel of oil is wasted. Internal combustion engines are 20% efficient. 80% of the energy from combustion is wasted as heat. Hundreds of millions of vehicles idling in traffic jams makes the equation even worse.

The fossil-fuel system consumes energy and generates emissions every step of the way. Extracting fuel. Transporting it around the world via pipelines, rail, tankers, and trucks. Refining it. Distributing it.
Electric motors are far more efficient with lower maintenance costs. Electrification alone cuts energy use by one third to one half. A mostly local renewables system requires much less energy. Efficiency measures help even more. Smart thermostats, insulation, better windows, passive heating design, LEDs, heat pumps, etc..
Smarter urban design is a must. Sprawl is hugely inefficient and wasteful.

Using WWS (wind/water/solar) electricity and improved energy efficiency reduces total energy demand by 42% in 2050:
"Averaged across sectors, there's a 23% reduction in energy demand just by switching to electricity. And when that electricity comes directly from renewable sources like solar and wind instead of coal, the savings keep getting better. According to Jacobson*, 12.6% of global electric energy use goes toward mining, refining, and transporting fossil fuels (and uranium for nuclear power). Electrification plus a switch to renewables leads to a 36% reduction in demand—with no significant change in quality of life." (Popular Science)

Electrification alone cuts energy use by one third to one half. The renewables system will be far more efficient, using much less energy than current fossil fuel systems, which consume and waste energy every step of the way.

You can't because there hasn't been enough of it, so it's not readily measurable. And yet, measurements are starting to come in; even the International Energy Agency, which is basically a pretty conservative institution originally dominated by fossil fuel interests, says oil demand will soon peak. China says their oil demand will start dropping in a year or two, or may already be peaking this year.

But I'm not sure how the "it won't replace" idea is supposed to work. As renewable energy and electrified vehicles and so forth are produced and used more and more, is this supposed to just vastly increase overall economic growth so that fossil fuel use will just continue to increase at the same rate as before? As renewables produce more and more electricity, is this supposed to lead to twinned electricity grids where everybody uses energy twice? In Norway, where 70-80% of new car sales are already electric, does that mean they're still selling just as many ICE cars but on top of that, four times as many electric cars? If you've got, broadly, two things, say A and B, doing the same stuff, and the amount of A is growing exponentially, how does that lead to still having the same amount of B you would have had if there weren't any A?

Solar power is now the cheapest form of energy ever invented. Wind power is second. They ARE replacing coal all over the world and a couple of the best references to the evidence for this remain in the regular peer-reviewed reports published by the IEA and the research done by Bloomberg Energy. There are many, many other respected journals citing similar evidence on the increasing affordability of renewables and the displacement of fossil fuels, which is literally in its infancy.

Sorry, I don't have time to locate individual articles and indexed links to this as a response to a minor comment here that should have anticipated them, but certainly do in my own essays.

While it is uplifting to read about some of the encouraging trends towards increased energy being derived from renewables, there are some sobering data emerging about EV uptake. Interest in EVs seems to be falling in North America and some car manufacturers plan to scale back their EV production since it is easier for them to make profit from ICE SUVs and monster pick-up trucks. Contributing to this decline are new findings from Consumer Reports that EVs are much more unreliable than ICE powered vehicles. While this is not totally unexpected, given the relatively brief time that EVs have been on the market versus ICE automobiles, lower reliability, along with cost and range anxiety will likely take out much of the wind from EV sales.

Much more unreliable? Seems unlikely. I mean, a mechanical device is going to tend to be unreliable somewhat in proportion to the number of moving parts, and EVs have far fewer. In general, electric motors are far more reliable than internal combustion engines, and everything else I've seen on the topic says that maintenance is a major savings for EV owners relative to ICE vehicle owners. So my guess would be, someone got to the people putting out that particular consumer report.

It does seem as if the North American bigs are looking to drag their feet on EV production lately. At the rate they're going they could actually shut themselves out of the California, Canadian and some other markets in a few years. But much as I dislike Elon Musk, Tesla will happily eat the North American bigs' lunch if they fail to get with the program (admittedly the Cybertruck isn't a great step in that direction). So will VW and other European firms. China would like to but I expect they'll be tariffed out of the American market. I can imagine a situation in which parts of North America (red states, Alberta and Saskatchewan) for some time form a weird island of ICE cars in an international sea of EVs, but that's not viable for all that long and is kind of a blip in the big picture.

Much more unreliable? That has certainly NOT been my experience with my 2019 Hyundai Kona BEV; approaching 60 k and I have only had to replace the 12 volt battery. I cannot afford to go back to ICE powered vehicles.

I am thinking the Consumer Report findings might be unreliable…