Rhein on Energy and Climate

According to the IEA, global green house gas emissions will have to decline substantially – from close to 40 billion tons in 2012 to only 23 billion tons in 2030 – to prevent average temperatures on earth from soaring beyond the 2009 international target of +2°C.

Such a decline is most unlikely to take place. In its global energy outlook 2010 -30, BP estimates that the 2030 global C02 emissions will be 27 per cent higher than in 2010.

Under the most favourable auspices the international community will have negotiated a comprehensive climate agreement by 2015 to enter into force after 2020, which will, however, not have a significant impact on global C02 emissions.

Whoever has seen the lack of leadership and resolution at the Doha COP 18 will have to share this sad conclusion.

Like the preceding climate conferences, Doha has been a “jumbo show” where 200 odd delegations have been busy demonstrating their countries` ”grandiose” climate actions, while fencing off any initiatives for meaningful action.

Like all international negotiations, annual climate conferences follow a bureaucratic momentum. Employing a technical jargon that outsiders are unable to understand, they constitute a closed circle, inaccessible to politicians. They are no suitable forum for deciding on the future of the planet.

Whatever formal results may come out of them, the absolute priority should be to curb the consumption of fossil energy, especially electricity, as the main driver of climate change.

To this end, the 20 major C02 emitter countries should urgently agree on a medium-term action programme containing six key elements:

  • Phase out all direct and indirect consumption subsidies for coal, oil and gas, by 2020 latest.
  • Impose high excise taxes on fossil energy, especially gasoline, diesel and coal as of 2015 latest.
  • Make carbon capture and storage mandatory for all new fossil power plants, steel and cement factories as of 2018.
  • Enact stringent insulation standards for all new public and private buildings and commit to retrofit the existing stock of buildings with the help of fiscal incentives before 2018.
  • Phase out incandescent lamps by 2020.
  • Phase in car fuel efficiency standards of 4 litre/100 km starting in 2015.

This action programme should provide for “graduated action” according to per capita fossil energy consumption: countries with higher the per capita consumption of fossil energy and C02 emissions will have to act faster, something difficult to digest for USA and other fossil energy “champions”.

To launch such a programme, the Presidents of the two principal emitter countries – China and USA – should jointly invite their colleagues from EU, Japan, India, South Korea, Russia, Brazil, Mexico, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Ukraine. Indonesia and South Africa to a private meeting in Beijing before the end of June 2013; and then meet annually for follow-up.

If adopted, it would be mile stone on the tortuous path towards a more sustainable planet. It has the advantage of being simple and parallel to the UN climate negotiations, while procuring precious extra budget revenues.

    Above all, it will place the issue of energy and climate to where it belongs: at the top political level in the world’s key countries. It is crucially important for the world population to see their top leaders determined to act in unison for preserving the planet, even if their action may lead to higher energy prices.

    Will political leaders have the courage to act with a long-term perspective in mind? Unfortunately, there is little reason to be very optimistic. But those who still care about the planet must not abandon their efforts of persuasion.

    The alternatives are too brutal to envisage.

    Brussels 06.12.2012 Eberhard Rhein

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