Dornadula Chandrasekharam
Former Chair Professor I I T Bombay, India

Carbon neutrality: Carbon dioxide emissions = Carbon dioxide removal

This is also termed as a zero carbon footprint. These terms are in use now in the media. This is mainly related to anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions and removal from the atmosphere.

According to the IPCC Working Group I report (Chapter 3-9), the time taken for 50% of the CO2 pulse to disappear from the atmosphere will be anywhere between 50 to 200 years. Air temperature to respond to CO2 rise is anywhere between 120 to 150 years. Transport of heat and temperature to the deep ocean is anywhere between 100 to 200 years. Sea level response to temperature change is ~10000 years. Change in energy end-use technology and energy supply technologies will take anywhere between 10 to 50 years.

Let us analyze each point logically so that all the CoP ( Conference/Convention of Parties: 197 countries are parties ) meetings will make sense to any reader.

The world is focussing on anthropogenic CO2 emissions from coal-based power plants and transportation. As of today, no one knows what is the volume/amount of CO2 emitted by the power plants globally. All are numbers- one can play with. To get this number, we should know the number of coal-based power plants that are in use in the world, the type of coal the plants are using, and the volume/amount of CO2 that is being emitted by each plant. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA, 2019) global CO2 emissions declined by 200 million tonnes (Mt) from the 2018 level (1.3%). The decrease in advanced economies (the USA and European Union) is 370 Mt (3.2%) mostly from the power sector. This decrease is compensated by the growth in CO2 emissions by developing economies (other than the above countries). For example, emissions outside advanced economies grew by close to 400 Mt in 2019 (Asian countries). The reason given for this reduction is the use of renewable energy sources by the power sector like wind, solar, and hydro. Somehow solar is always tagged as a zero-emission source while it is a misnomer. To get to the shape of a solar cell, the process emits an enormous amount of CO2 ( It is spreading like a virus. Solar PV is not a source of renewable energy… just converts Sun’s energy. Sun is a renewable energy source. Any dent in the solar PV industry will make the European economy to collapse!!! Cannot understand why so much of subsidy is given to this.

Coming back to the topic,  we are mostly focused on power from fossil fuels……..especially coal.  As  I said we have no data on the amount of CO2 emitted by the coal power, plants; we have no data on the amount of CO2 emitted by the steel industry; we have no data on the amount of CO2 emitted by the cement industry……all on a global scale. A few GW generated here and thereby renewable sources make big news in the media. These numbers are valid for that day. There is no sound data on the emissions by various industries on a global scale. World Energy Outlook and CO2 emissions status….both published by IEA is the only source people rely on. The data here is based on the data/information given by the individual country. When one applies science to these numbers, the fact emerges.  The world is just 60 years old since the year of the industrial revolution. This is a short period for the global temperature to respond to CO2 emissions (see above). Sea level response to temperature change is ~10000 years! 1997 was the year of the Kyoto Protocol. Twenty-three years is a short period for the Earth to respond to any changes. Earth’s years are in millions not in tens and hundreds. The ice age cycle is about  20000 to 60000 years. Ice age started during the Quaternary Period (2.5 Ma- Million years). The last glaciations ended at about 20000 years BP (before the present) and we are at present in the interglacial period. In the geological past, > 60000 years, the Earth was under the interglacial period when the Earth’s temperature was warmer….like what we are experiencing now. These are not just numbers like CO2 emissions and GW by solar PV. These numbers are based on oxygen isotope signatures in the ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica. These signatures will not change. If one takes cores from the North Pole or the South Pole the oxygen signatures will tell the same story about the global climate. That is science……..CO2 emissions that are being published and debated by CoP is not science. Those numbers are like COVID 19 numbers!!! Evolving mathematical models based on such numbers have no meaning. Leading academicians chairing some national scientific committees boast that they are discussing on COVID models……..with such numbers and are proud of their work. The outcome will be a paper in the history and nothing beyond this.    Such models cannot provide viable solutions to the current situation. Similar is the case with Zero carbon foot print models. Majority of such models are not validated.

The CO2 equilibrium to reach between the sea and the atmosphere will take a long period. That is the carbon cycle in place over the Earth for past  4.5 billion years.

Coming to carbon neutrality, the same volume of anthropogenic CO2 emitted into the atmosphere should also be removed through some means……carbon capture or whatever technology we are talking in the scientific community now. It is easy to emit but not that easy to capture and store. There are several ways carbon can be stored in the earth’s crust. In geological formations, where CO2 will be captured and transformed into calcite.  Or it can be utilized for heat mining from hot granites. Making carbon nano-tubes is another option. Coming to the geological climate cycles, since we are in the interglacial period, global temperature will rise, whatever you do. The Earth will not either follow 2D, 4D, and 6D  formula or  New policy, business as usual scenario (BAU), high economic growth scenario (HEG), or substitution and efficiency scenario (S&E).

All these meetings are basically to control the developing economies (Rest of the countries in the world) by advanced economies (the USA and the European Union).  Simple logic…….if developing economies are allowed to grow then the advanced economies will lose ground in all spheres. Especially business. This underlying philosophy is known to everyone……the developing economies are not stupid not to realize this. This is the reason why all the CoPs end without any fruitful outcome. Some compromise the countries make here and there and once the meeting is over it is all business as usual. A direct example is China. As I said before, (, coal and oil will rule the world for some more time and the renewables have to struggle hard to reach that level. As of now….simple question….can solar PV or wind support the steel or cement industry across the globe? The answer is very simple. These sources cannot generate base load electricity like geothermal energy. The aluminium industry in Iceland is supported by geothermal energy sources.

So these terms carbon neutral and zero carbon footprint are all jargon in the political circle. Does not mean anything for the scientific community. Other GHG gas is methane that is being discussed at length by these parties. One of the main sources of methane is livestock. Can you change the digestive system or life cycle of livestock to reduce methane production?? This a topic for discussion in the future.

About the Author
I am a Retired chair professor from Indian Institute of Technology Bombay and currently teach at IIT Hyderabad. I have 200 publications in the above fields and have supervised 25 Ph D students.