15 October 2009

More from the Korholas: EU Has to Stop its Climate Gimmickry

Another interesting op-ed from Atte Korhola and Eija-Riitta Korhola, published earlier this week in Helsingin Sanomat in Finnish, and translation provided by Atte Korhola.
EU Has to Stop its Climate Gimmickry


The EU is not serious in its fight against climate change. If it were, it wouldn't merely shift emissions from one place to another but would instead focus its efforts to stop the emissions from growing globally. It would concentrate its efforts on the most challenging problem of the climate change, coal, and reducing its use especially in the developing countries.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the global usage of coal increased by 4.8 per cent between the years 2000-2007. This increase was three times as big as the increase in oil consumption and twice as rapid as the increase of natural gas use.

The IEA estimates, that in the coming decades, 40 per cent of the increasing energy needs of the countries outside of OECD will be met by coal power. This will account for more that 90 per cent of the growth of greenhouse gas emissions to take place in the developing countries.

Within a couple of years, China and India will build 850 coal plants in total. At least 50 coal plants are being built in Europe, mainly in Great Britain and Germany. The import of coal powered energy in Europe has increased by 40 per cent in the last ten years.

If the increase in the amount of the carbon dioxide found in the atmosphere is to be halted at 450 parts per million (ppm), which is considered as the critical level (now 386 ppm), this means that all use of coal should be ceased immediately - or one should develop means to produce energy from coal completely emissions free. The EU climate policy does not support these goals.

The EU is practising the kind of climate policy, which is expensive and flashy, yet bureaucratic and lacking results. The main focus is in the reduction of the Union's own local emissions, not the overall emissions to the atmosphere.

When the criteria for the policy are the emissions resulting from production, instead of consumption, the cause for the problems can be shifted elsewhere. With the carbon leakage resulting from this, it is even possible that as the local emissions decrease, the global will increase.

In order to decrease the use of coal in China and India, it would require a massive technological programme of which the primary target would be to develop the techniques used in carbon capture & storage (CCS) as well as clean energy sources that would truly substitute fossil energy.

The eight CCS technique demonstration plants currently included in the EU climate targets are embarrassingly little, given especially that their financing is still unclear, to say the least.

The EU decision to increase the amount of renewable energy to 20 per cent by 2020 does also not promote abandoning coal but instead seems physiologically to act as a justification for increasing the use of coal.

The Australian example is very illuminating. This island state increased the share of the renewable energy by 10 per cent from 2007 to 2008. At the same time, the usage of coal increased by a couple of per cent, which resulted in the overall emissions of Australia to grow.

With the current energy choices, the year 2020 also comes too soon to be able to reach the renewables goal in an environment conserving way, for instance by avoiding over logging or damaging the scenery.

The renewables target and the EU emissions trading scheme work together like a belt and braces: this means overlapping legislation, which partly disturbs one another. The previous pre-defines the share of a certain technology, while the latter would leave it to the markets to decide what share various mitigation methods may have.
The EU should, instead, abandon its renewable energy target and replace it with a clean energy target. At the moment, for instance, Europe practically cannot increase the share of an emissions free nuclear energy, as nuclear energy is not counted in as a renewable energy source.

USA seems slowly to become frustrated with the European gimmickry policy. As the minister of energy Steven Chu recently has been quoted, in Copenhagen's December climate change conference one should agree on what actually can be delivered, instead of merely throwing around big percentage figures.

Mr. Atte Korhola is Professor on environmental change in the University of Helsinki.
Mrs. Eija-Riitta Korhola a Member of the European Parliament.