The idea for this first came to me in August, but I haven't wanted to tempt fate. Hopefully everyone will be reading this on November 7.

It is in the nature of US politics that the second term is for the legacy thing:  The posterity stuff. Barack Obama is still a young man but could he use a second term to burnish his legacy not only to his country, but also to the planet?

A great opportunity presents itself updating the Kyoto Protocol. I won't go into what's wrong with Kyoto. I still have faith in scientists and if the majority of them say climate change is real, that's good enough for me. But for multiple political, economic and scientific reasons, Kyoto simply hasn't delivered any noticeable CO2 reductions. We need to kick start it again and this time around we can start from something absent in 1997: The sudden emergence, and global prevalence of natural gas resources.

Let's turn back the clock before we go to the future. In 1997, natural gas was considered, when considered at all, as just another fossil fuel and one that was insecure and hard to find. There are still those, most especially in the UK, who either don't know about the size of shale resources, or would really rather not know. The reality of shale risks them being swept away on the shale tsunami, either domestically produced or imported from the almost bottomless bounty of North America.

The facts changed. Why do we tie ourselves to a Protocol written in another age? In 1997 coal was not only King but  the only way of keeping the lights on especially for developing economies. Natural gas was a mere noble, but one that wasn't really considered widespread enough to be of use. Today, we can see from the North American example that natural gas can do the unthinkable and replace coal. Just this week we've seen Jack Welch tell CNBC that natural gas could be bigger than the Internet.  Last week in Texas a speaker at Rice University said

 This will be the redefining global phenomenon, from a finite world to a surplus world,

Daniel Yergin noted this summer that

shale gas is the most significant energy innovation in our lifetime

Aubrey McClendon of Chesapeake, one not known to mince words simply said

This will be the biggest thing to hit the state of Ohio economically since maybe the plow,

Such historic events need visionaries to describe them. Which is where Barack Obama can lead others toward.

We need a Kyoto 2, based on the new reality. Obama will not lack for allies and he has one very dynamic duo to back him up: Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Another key ally, should be, could be Al Gore.  Gore has been quiet since the shale revolution hit, perhaps unwilling to be ahead of the base he played such a large part in creating. 

But even political opponents in the US Oi and Gas Industry would rally round the President. There’s no bigger shale booster than Aubrey McClendon who showed his rare international side at Copenhagen three years ago:

but it was too early

“There really has never been much debate about whether natural gas is a good fuel – its carbon light molecular structure guarantees that,” commented McClendon. “The issue has always been whether there has been enough of it to begin moving our electric generation system in the United States as well as other parts of the world away from carbon-heavy coal and oil. The major natural gas shale plays in the U.S. have made it clear we have enormous reserves of natural gas to successfully address our economic, environmental and energy issues now.”

We see now that  natural gas is almost ubiquitous. As I’ve been saying lately we don’t have a climate problem, we have a Chinese coal problem. But China gets shale. Unlike Europe, they see how shale gas changes everything. 

This is how it could work:

Kyoto 2 can start out with international agreement straight out from the US, China, India, Canada, Japan, Australia, South Africa, Brazil and possibly even Russia. The only people that need to be convinced are in Europe. Europeans themselves can be convinced, but it means sweeping past the failing elites who have so much money and beliefs invested in the total decarbonisation route they fervently believe in.

That leaves the other big enemy: Coal

We will need some compensation to the coal industry. Could they be tempted with a piece of the natural gas action? Similarly, the renewables lobby could be coaxed into agreement by a process of where R+D on next generation wind, solar and storage technology is funded by the some transfer of funds far smaller than those needed to fund the present plans for an energy transformation.

This needs someone like Obama, who would win President of Earth in a landslide, to tell the good news to a planet desperate for some. That would be a legacy worth having.

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People in this conversation

  • Martin Brumby

    "I still have faith in scientists and if the majority of them say climate change is real, that's good enough for me."<br /><br />Well, your faith is touching but I doubt if you'd find ONE scientist who doesn't say that "climate change is real", just like it always has been. Whether it is changing very much due to human CO2 emissions is another thing altogether. And I think you'll find plenty of scientists who say it likely isn't and that the liklihood of it being a problem is something else again. <br /><br />That's a good thing, because it is absolutely as clear as the nose on your face that unless and until the Chinese get their energy primarily from nuclear and shale gas there is NO chance of CO2 emissions reducing.<br /><br />But I suggest that it will be interesting to see what happens now in the US. You think Obama (and his attack dog, the EPA) will leave shale gas alone?<br /><br />Don't count on it.<br /><br />I think that, if you are very quiet and listen carefully, from where you sit you may just be able to hear the Chinese politbureau laughing their socks off.

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  • william

    I think you miss the point by using “China's use of coal” as a reason to do nothing – we have a clear and present danger HIGH Energy costs, Dirty (coal), unreliable (Wind) these need to be addressed now. The current obvious solution is an energy mix based primarily on Nuclear/Gas – a by product of this will be us meeting medium term CO2 targets.<br /><br />Once we have addressed our energy issues, we will then need to address those caused by climate change (however they are caused natural or man made), this will include Major improvements to flood management, a new Thames barrier, new farming practices, fixing the UK broken housing stock etc... <br /><br />We all saw what happened to the Easten coast of the US, and don't think that cannot happen here (1953 – 300 drowned, 24,000 homes damaged, 180,000 acres flooded) I understand that sea levels rose at 1.7 mm per year between 1950 and 2009, but this may have increased to 3.3mm from the mid 1990's. <br /><br />I have faith in the observations made by scientists - it just that there are too many theories.

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  • Martin Brumby

    Who suggested "China's use of coal" is "a reason to do nothing"?<br /><br />Certainly not me!<br /><br />We URGENTLY need to move forward with nuclear and gas in order to avoid shivering in the dark. The "do nothing" is what this government and the one before have been doing for at least 20 years. Oh! Except pouring hundreds of Millions into Big Wind. That doesn't work.<br /><br />There is no link between Sandy (or Katrina, for that matter) and CO2. And the majority of scientists will admit that.<br /><br />I do have pretty good trust (not faith) in "observations made by scientists". <br /><br />Faith in the results of unvalidated computer models with huge error bars?<br /><br />No thanks!

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  • Draughtsman

    Yes we are certainly going to need gas power stations ready to ramp up when the wind stops blowing. Apart from the engineering and grid problems intermittent energy sources cause, it will almost certainly be uneconomical to and inefficient to run gas plant merely as a back up to wind rather than at continual 100% output. The operators will undoubtedly want financial guarantees for return on investment i.e. subsidies from the government - if I can dignify this shower with that term. These subsidies will be piled on top of those already being paid to the 'renewables' so we will paying twice and three times over for guaranteeing a supply of power. And they wonder why we can't get out of recession.

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  • roger

    Anyone care to put a number on the amount of shale gas needed to displace coal in electricity generation and then do the same for the year 2030 when China and India demand is closer to European levels per head?<br /><br />I welcome shale but it will not reduce coal consumption from today levels<br /><br />The only thing capable of that is if China and India take the French route if 70% nuclear electricity

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