Rhein on Energy and Climate

Angela Merkel carries the burden of presiding for a second time a G7/8 Summit, after Heiligendamm on the Baltic in 2007; this time, at Elmau in Bavaria, her major task should be to help preparing the crucial 21st International Climate Conference in December in Paris.

At Heiligendamm, the Group of Eight had committed to taking strong and early action to stop green house gas emissions from rising, to be followed by substantial global emission reduction. Seven years later, global green house gas emissions continue rising faster than ever. With the exception of the EU, Norway, Switzerland and, most recently, USA no country has taken significant action. Canada and Japan have even back pedalled, due to a change of political leadership and the Fukushima nuclear accident.

To obtain tangible results in Paris it needs only a commitment to phase out the use of essentially all fossil fuels by 2060. Without doing so the temperature on earth will rise by more than two centigrade, which will be mortal for the planet and human civilisation.

Oil, gas and coal producers and their respective governments will not like such a commitment because of its negative impact on profits and employment.

The USA, the second biggest producer country has,however, started the process of phasing out the production coal, the fossil fuel with the highest CO2 content and therefore most destructive to the climate.

It will therefore be up to consumer countries to initiate the process of decarbonising.

The EU is doing so. It has fixed an 80 per cent target for decarbonising its economy by the middle of the century.

EU companies are increasingly calling for higher carbon prices and start applying them as internal profitability gauge for energy-related investments.

At Paris, it is essential to shift the debate from abstract notions like the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to concrete actions which politicians can understand, even if they may be painful to take. It would be extremely helpful if all participants left the Paris meeting with the awareness that the age of fossil fuels will need to come to an end within the next decades and that is doable.

It is both possible and necessary to replace fossil fuels by a combination of renewable energies, energy efficiency (thermal insulation of buildings) and new technologies (electric cars, energy-efficient heating through heat pumps etc.).

Fossil energy resources will run out progressively, starting with oil and gas. Humanity should should therefore prepare in time for this eventuality.

The first action must be the abolition of all -direct and indirect- subsidies on fossil fuels.

They keep prices for fossil fuels below the market value and prevent consumers from being charged with the invisible costs of fossil fuels for human health /environment and investments in renewable energies and energy efficiency from competing at fair terms. According to the IMF the subsidies amount to $ 5.3 billion annually;their phasing out would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent (!), while helping governments to put their public finances in order.

The Paris Conference should therefore invite all countries to phase out their fossil fuel subsidies by 2025 ask the IMF to scrutinise the implementation.

After 2025, when most subsidies will have been abolished it will be time to start the second phase and raise/introduce consumer taxes on coal, oil gas or introduce equivalent measures.

Brussels 22.05. 2015 Eberhard Rhein

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  1. ” to phase out the use of essentially all fossil fuels by 2060. Without doing so the temperature on earth will rise by more than two centigrade, which will be mortal for the planet and human civilisation.”

    Oh dear … will we still have polymers and plastics then?

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