Sunday, November 15, 2020

Lomborg : german politicians are fooling themselves about the efficacy of renewables

 Another scathing account of Dane Björn Lomborg with Germany's energy policy. In an article for germany newspaper WELT he works out that Germany's measures to reduce CO2 are mostly ill-considered, useless, expensive and moreover strain emerging economies:

In a rational world, climate policy would be about finding the most cost-effective policy for the very real problem of global warming. But in the real world, many climate policy measures seem to be more about making us feel morally superior than using scarce resources effectively to have a noticeable impact.

Every spring, the lighting at the Brandenburg Gate, as well as on millions of buildings around the world - including the Eiffel Tower, the Sydney Opera House and the Empire State Building - is switched off for an hour under the campaign name "Earth Hour". The idea behind it is to jointly set an example for climate protection. But if you get people to turn off the lights for an hour, it doesn't have a noticeable effect on the climate. And if people light a few candles instead, that actually increases the net emissions.

Most public debates on climate change focus on similarly illustrative but insignificant approaches, such as to fly less or to be vegetarian. But even if we stopped all current flights for the rest of this century, that would only lower temperatures by 0.03 ° C in 80 years.

A vegetarian diet, while undoubtedly well-intentioned, would reduce average emissions in the world's affluent countries by only four percent. And since vegetarian food is cheaper, the money saved is e.g. spent on travel and clothing, which would lead to higher emissions elsewhere.

All over the world, people are currently obsessed with banning plastic straws - the EU will ban them from July - even though they make up less than 0.025 percent of plastic in the ocean and contribute even less to global CO₂ emissions.

In Germany, the focus for saving CO₂ has so far been primarily on the production of electricity. In fact, more CO₂ has been saved in electricity generation since 2000 than in all other sectors combined. The reason for this is that reducing emissions from wind and solar energy is relatively easy and politically very visible. So politicians can triumphantly claim that renewable energies today provide 42.1 percent of all electricity.

The problem is that all of these CO₂ reductions are already covered by the EU emissions trading system. Since the goals are set, the additional reductions in Germany simply lead to more certificates for other countries at lower costs. Although it makes Germans feel sublime, it reduces the EU's total emissions by zero tons.

More importantly, little attention has been paid to emissions from heating and transportation. Emissions from traffic have increased over the past ten years. And heating power is probably the greatest challenge, as it accounts for 50 percent of final energy consumption and around 40 percent of CO2 emissions.

Since both areas are not included in the EU emissions trading scheme, German measures would really make a difference here. But reducing those emissions is both difficult and low-headline news.

In the transport sector, the minor reductions are mainly due to the addition of biofuels to gasoline and diesel. However, across the EU, these biofuels are mainly made from food, such as palm oil. This in turn means that food prices are rising and natural areas are decreasing.

The demand for more electric cars requires huge subsidies to convince undecided consumers to buy the cars that are still expensive. And since their production causes significant emissions, the overall emissions are only slightly reduced.

The heating sector is heavily dependent on fossil fuels and supplies more than 80 percent of the direct heat to private households. When buildings are renovated and new houses are built, insulation and better heating systems can drastically reduce emissions. However, since 70 percent of all residential buildings in Germany are more than 35 years old and the annual renovation only accounts for half a percent of the building stock, it takes centuries, costs a fortune and is not very prestigious, especially for politicians.

Despite the enormous costs of the energy transition for relatively low CO₂ savings, Germany is pushing for an even more ambitious EU policy. Unfortunately, increasingly stringent regulations mean that emissions are increasingly being shifted elsewhere.

Instead of producing energy-intensive goods and services in Europe, they, including their considerable CO₂ emissions, are produced in Asia or Africa. If the finished product is imported back, Europe can deny its emissions and pretend to be climate-friendly, even if global emissions will be just as high or even higher due to the more polluting production.

That is already happening today - the EU national reports ignore imports that would increase our emissions by 21 percent. Ironically, one of the best examples of the most expensive part of an electric car is the battery. Most batteries in China are made using coal-fired power plants, which account for about a quarter of the total lifetime emissions of an electric car. But that's what happens in China. We import the electric car, only count its low emissions in Germany and we feel exemplary.

With ever stricter targets, more emissions will leave Europe unless China, India, Africa, Latin America and the US also plan to significantly reduce emissions. With the highest climate targets, almost two thirds of all reduced emissions in Europe could come from elsewhere. As the EU emphasizes, "Europe's efforts to become climate neutral by 2050 could be undermined by a lack of ambition from our international partners".

The EU is therefore now considering introducing a carbon tax on imports. This may sound politically tempting, but new research shows that it is both costly and primarily taxing the world's poor. When we indirectly impose our climate policy on other, mostly poorer countries, models show that we are not only diminishing the common good of the entire world.

Above all, we let the poorer countries pay for our climate policy because we tax their most competitive products. Even based on current, moderate climate policies in 2020, a carbon tax on imports would lower the average income of the world's poorer countries by more than 2.3 percent.

In addition, it is extremely difficult to set a correct CO₂ tax on imported goods. It is easy to imagine that many stakeholders would want to inflate such a tax in order to impede competition and stimulate domestic production. Such trade restrictions could result in retaliation and even a massive trade war.

Free trade has helped lift billions of people out of poverty, and it remains the greatest opportunity for greater human prosperity over the century. Endangering this achievement for a tiny climate benefit is irresponsible.

The problem with today's climate policy is that it quickly makes you feel good, even though it does little or no help. In addition, their low impact is often associated with high costs, which makes climate policy unsustainable in the long term.

Even if Germany could magically stop all emissions tomorrow, that would lower the global temperature by 0.03 ° C in 2100. And if the entire EU even managed to get to zero by 2050, that would reduce the temperature rise by only 0.12 ° C globally by the end of the century compared to inaction by the end of the century, according to UN climate models.

When it comes to tackling climate change, it is not about the Germans or even the EU feeling particularly exemplary. It's not about choosing enormously expensive solutions that only ever work for a few, well-meaning and very rich countries. The point is to ensure that all countries can reduce their emissions over the century and eventually eliminate them completely.

Such an energy transition will only take place reliably if green energy is more attractive than fossil fuels. Let's not forget that coal replaced wood because wood was unwieldy and became more and more expensive as demand increased. Oil was obtained because it was cheap and very flexible to use. Gas was cleaner and it's getting cheaper and cheaper.

Next, green energy has to become cheaper than fossil fuels in order to conquer the world. This requires innovations that drastically reduce the price.

Solar and wind energy are only cheap when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing. To make them really competitive we need to develop much cheaper batteries. Nuclear energy can deliver CO₂-free base load energy, but the new technology is still too expensive everywhere.

We have to develop much cheaper and even safer innovations for the fourth generation of nuclear power plants. Right now, few places can provide cost-effective geothermal energy, but innovations in drilling technology could change that dramatically. In fact, just 0.1 percent of the earth's heat content could meet all of mankind's energy needs for two million years.

The truth is that we are not going to inspire China, India and Africa to cut their carbon emissions because Europeans fly less, live vegetarians or subsidize solar and wind energy with 18 billion euros per year, as Germany does. The main concern of these countries is to lift their population out of poverty with cheap and available energy, mostly from fossil fuels.

But if we develop green technologies that are reliable and cheaper than current fossil fuels, these countries will of course switch. Two decades ago, Germany spent a little less than half a billion euros each year on investments in research and development in the energy sector, which would actually help most countries make the switch. At that time, Germany spent roughly the same amount on subsidizing inefficient solar and wind energy.

Today, the even richer Germany has doubled its investments in crucial green research and development. On the other hand, however, the expenditure for wellness measures such as subsidies for the current solar and wind energy have increased astonishingly by 33 times.

Sure, green research and development doesn't seem as spectacular or as virtuous as turning off the lights at the Brandenburg Gate. But if you not only want to feel good but also want to do something good, then this is the most effective way forward.

No comments:

Post a Comment