The highly respected scientist Franz Josef Radermacher is currently working with a high-ranking and interdisciplinary team of experts to take a holistic look at the interaction of renewable and other climate-neutral forms of energy. As a university professor, Radermacher has been distinguished for decades by his visionary, practice-oriented approaches to sustainability. He is considered a close advisor to federal ministers, state governments and businesses. A member of the international Club of Rome for nearly 20 years, Radermacher also served as president of the Senate of Economics for ten years, is a member of the UN Council of Engineers for the Energy Transition (CEET), and is vice president of the Ökosoziales Forum Europa.
Stand on Two Legs
Do Not Regard Climate Protection and Energy Needs as Contradictory
In the political discussion about a right way to prevent a climate catastrophe, the demands usually separate into different "truths": regulations and bans or preservation of conventional types of energy, exclusively renewable energy or conventional forms with climate neutrality. Often, a rather "black and white" reasoning is argued for one direction or the other. Mostly, these arguments are catered to a country’s specific region. These considerations can be correct if a country’s own transformations are not neglected by only focusing on other regions and the transformations they must undertake. There would then be a lack of financial support for successful transformations in the poorer parts of the world.
Under the guiding idea "For Prosperity and Climate Neutrality", FAW/n and Global Energy Solutions have investigated the question of whether and how a world of prosperity and freedom can be organized for ten billion people in 2050 in such a way that the quality of life, especially for the poorer part of the world, can be significantly improved, the climate system can be stabilized, biodiversity can be preserved and, more generally, the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can be achieved. The project was funded for the period 2021 - 2023 by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) with substantial participation of the then Federal Minister Dr. Gerd Müller and supported by a large circle of partners from the business community. The following 15 points present some surprising insights and proposals that often appear to be mutually exclusive in the public debate.
- The guiding idea is energy prosperity and freedom rights for all, not the management of energy scarcity and the perpetuation of poverty.
- The world is getting nowhere on climate action and on implementing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 1.5°C target is likely to be cracked as early as 2030. Implementing the SDGs by that date has no chance of success.
The population of developing and emerging countries will grow from five billion to seven billion in the next 30 years.
The sustainable activation of biological systems as CO2 reservoirs is a crucial contribution to solving the climate problem. Consistent rainforest protection is a particularly prescient immediate climate protection program that can be activated in a simple manner. This can and should be done immediately. Decisive action against methane leaks is also beneficial. The oceans are constantly absorbing more CO2 and are extremely valuable as well.
Graphic: Challenges in the area of energy and climate
Richer countries (extended OECD) have declared Net-Zero for 2050, and the CC group around China, Russia and the Arab states has done the same for 2060. However, the outcome of the climate is essentially decided in populous, developing, and emerging countries. Here, rich countries would have to get involved much more effectively. The attempt to force these countries into a renewables-only program by restricting funding instruments and refusing to finance alternatives is not fair and will fail.
Climate neutrality for the whole world can only be achieved on “two legs.” Renewables on one, green-fossil or nuclear as back-up on the other. Green-fossil requires carbon capture, i.e. the capture of CO2. Carbon capture is the wild card. By 2050, it will be possible to neutralize 30 billion tons of CO2 per year via carbon capture.
Electrolysis hydrogen instead of natural gas is not a full back-up option for the world today, so we cannot completely eliminate the need to use fossil fuels with carbon capture. To do so would require about 25,000 gigawatts (GW) of electrolysis capacity. However, no more than 4,000 GW is expected worldwide by 2050. Electrolysis hydrogen will nevertheless become important, especially for synthetic fuels in the mobility sector. In this context, methanol has the potential to be a game-changer as an important energy source for the world.
Mobility is a key issue for prosperity and freedom. Battery electrics are a building block for this issue, but not the globally effective solution for the world's mobility needs in the coming decades. Rather, synthetic fuels (re-fuels) are urgently needed for all areas of mobility. A central role can be expected for methanol in this context and beyond.
With thoughtful policies, international cooperation can increase the GDP of developing and emerging countries from 20 trillion today to 80 trillion by 2050 (six percent growth per year). The path to 80 trillion GDP can be designed to be largely climate neutral. This could significantly change the global distribution of economic weights.
Opportunity of global cooperation
For the development and restructuring of energy systems in the Global South, the North must assume differential costs. For example for CO2 capture and disposal and for the construction of national and intercontinental energy infrastructures (along the lines of the very successful Montreal Protocol in the area of the ozone shield). Richer countries will have to bear a burden of about 600 billion euros per year for the next decades – about 200 billion euros for EU countries. These costs are manageable for meeting the energy and climate challenges. Wealthy countries contribute about 100 euros per capita per year for the people in the developing and emerging countries. This is well below the average price of avoiding one ton of CO2 in the rich countries. In view of the high CO2 savings that can be achieved in this way in the developing and newly industrializing countries, taking into account all the direct and indirect effects of the proposed reference solution, we are talking about a CO2 avoidance price of around 40 euros per ton of CO2. This is a very low CO2 avoidance price. It will be hard to find a cheaper option.
The voluntary climate protection pledges (NDCs) of the countries according to the Paris Agreement, which often require massive financial aid (so-called conditional NDCs), should be further developed into condition-free pledges with the active support of the rich countries.
- A global understanding on nonconditional NDCs can be assembled into a viable global cap-and-trade system with financial support from rich countries.
- Rich countries can achieve Net Zero in many ways - but in some of these ways only at great loss of wealth. Developing and emerging countries are in a much more difficult situation. They therefore need substantial financial support to avoid wealth losses in the context of climate and energy issues.
Opportunities for global cooperation
A well-designed plan for the world has the potential to be a world economic miracle.
Disclaimer: This text is based on a published article from the background magazine SENATE.