Rhein on Energy and Climate

The package of climate measures, which the European Council adopted December 12, has been heralded as an example for other countries to emulate. The EU is so far the only political entity to have adopted a broad set of measures meant to curb green house gas emissions in the coming years and decades.

But we should be prudent. The EU “size” might not fit many other countries. Basically each country will have to define its own type of climate policy with specific instruments, adapted to its particular conditions. The EU has run into difficulties by imposing on all member countries the same type of actions, regardless of their specific conditions. Poland would not have had to threaten with a veto if the EU had obliged it to use essentially all its payments from the Structural Funds for the refurbishing of its coal and power industries instead of abstractly insisting on C02 emission cuts below the level of 1990. To that end, it imposes emission caps on a few thousand power and energy-intensive companies. It can do so, as it disposes of the statistical and policing tools for such a micro-approach, as well as the administration able to verify data and ready to impose fines. Equally important, EU green house gas emissions rise by only 1-2 percent annually, which allows it to focus on cutback rather than curbing further growth of emissions.

Emerging countries are far from having reached this stage. They will need simpler approaches and implement an effective climate policy without emission trading.

To start with, they should choose a sector rather than a comprehensive approach and focus on their main types of emissions; power generation, buildings and cars.

Thus, to reduce C02 emissions from power generation, the most effective instrument in countries with fast economic growth would be to commission only new power stations operating with the most efficient technologies and say after 2020 only C02- free ones, like wind, water, solar, nuclear and carbon sequestration. This is easy to monitor and will lead within less than three decades to a low carbon power industry. If in addition governments impose to close down high-emission plants, say by 2030, the process can be further accelerated.

For automobiles, the EU approach of fixing progressively declining emission standards, e.g. 130 g/km as of 2015 and 95 g/km as of 2020, should be adopted by all car manufacturing countries. The EU should rapidly convene a meeting with Japan, USA, South Korea, India, China, Brazil, Russia and South Africa to explore the possibility of negotiating an international agreement based on the EU legislation being finalised.

The most important priority is to incorporate strict energy standards in the millions of new buildings to be erected in emerging countries in the coming decades. New buildings must become progressively autonomous for heating and cooling, through stricter insulation standards, architectural design and solar installations. If they fail to build what should come close to “zero- emission buildings”, humanity will not be able to cut its C02 emissions by some 80 percent before 2050, which is necessary to contain global temperatures within acceptable limits.

Technical standards only make sense if they are verified and operators are effectively penalised in case of non-compliance. This has been the weakness of the Kyoto Protocol. It is likely to become also the flaw in any successor treaty. Monitoring and proper policing will therefore be crucial for the credibility and effectiveness of the next international climate treaty. The EU has to insist on a putting in place a powerful UN Climate Administration with proper executive authority. Non-compliance should be treated as a “crime against humanity”!

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