Thongchai Thailand

A CLIMATE ACTION CATCH-22

Posted on: May 22, 2020

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THIS POST IS A PRESENTATION OF AN UNRESOLVED ECONOMICS PUZZLE IN THE PROPOSED CLIMATE ACTION PLAN OF REDUCING FOSSIL FUEL EMISSIONS

 

  1. BACKGROUND: Climate scientists have determined that the use of fossil fuels since the industrial revolution has caused carbon dug up from under the ground to be released into the atmosphere. It is argued that because fossil fuel carbon is not part of the current account of the carbon cycle it acts as a perturbation that causes atmospheric CO2 concentration to rise and thereby to cause warming by way of the greenhouse effect of carbon dioxide. Climate scientists have also determined that such warming is unnatural, human caused, and harmful to nature and to the planet itself and that therefore it cannot be allowed to continue. Climate scientists have therefore proposed that human intervention in the form of climate action is necessary to moderate the rate of climate change to no more than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels or no more than 0.5C above current levels. The proposed climate action is to reduce global fossil fuel emissions and to continue to reduce global fossil fuel emissions until it is eliminated altogether.
  2. UNITED NATIONS CONFERENCE OF PARTIES: Since the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 that was later re-written as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or UNFCCC, the United Nations held a series of Conference of Parties (COP) to come to an international agreement for reductions in global fossil fuel emissions as a global project to which all nations will subscribe and with which all signatories will abide. All 25 COPs held so far have failed to produce such an international effort. Though the so called “Paris Agreement” at COP21 in 2015 is often advertised as an international agreement for reductions in global fossil fuel emissions, the language of the agreement as “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” and that the Agreement consists of a collection of “agreements” that don’t agree makes that interpretation impossible particularly so since the emission reduction is not an obligation but an intention. 
  3. POST PARIS AGREEMENT CLIMATE ACTION:  Since 2015, the UN’s role as a cheerleader in brokering a global effort to reduce global fossil fuel emissions has consisted mostly in holding more COPs, emphasizing the dangers of the extreme RCP8.5 “business as usual” temperature forecast, and demanding that national leaders show greater “AMBITION” in their climate action plans. This plan depends on the effectiveness of cheerleaders that include Antonio Guterres, Leonardo DiCaprio,  Sir David Attenborough, and Pope Francis.
  4. CLIMATE ACTION IN THE POST PARIS AGREEMENT WORLD: With the Paris Agreement for global fossil fuel reductions being an agreement to not agree, the state of global climate action today is dependent on the AMBITION of national governments or super-national governments such as the EU that has proceeded so far as a kind of heroism contest egged on by activists. In this contest, the European countries led by the EU along with the UK, Canada, and perhaps Australia have emerged as climate heroes as they have adopted aggressive climate action plans. However, these heroic climate action countries are up against an economics trap created by a non-global “agreement” to cut global emissions.
  5. THE ECONOMICS TRAP OF A NON-GLOBAL MOVEMENT TO CUT GLOBAL EMISSIONS: Although the world of humans is separated into nation states, they are connected by economics. This connection is vast and complex and involves cross border investments, stocks, bonds, monetary policy, technology, intellectual property rights, and so on and so forth but most importantly in this respect, the nations of the world are connected by trade. International trade is so important, that even though we think of our civilization in terms of the nation states, we are really one huge global economy because we are connected by trade.
  6. THE ANOMALY OF NON-GLOBAL EMISSION REDUCTION PLANS IN THE CONTEXT OF TRADE:  Because nation states are independent nations in some respects but global in terms of trade, a climate action decision by an individual nation state will not lead to global emission reduction. This is because any national climate action plan by a single nation state will increase the economic cost of production and make that nation state less competitive in international trade and hand over a cost advantage to nations that do not have a national climate action plan. The cost advantage of non-climate-action takers will cause their production and exports to rise by virtue of demand from climate action taking nations. The net result will be that economic activity {and fossil fuel emissions} will decline in climate action taking nations but with a corresponding rise in economic activity {and fossil fuel emissions} in non-climate-action taking nations. In the net there may be no emission reduction. This is the Catch-22 of national level emission reduction plans. 
  7. ECONOMICS PROFESSOR WUSHENG YU OF THE EU EXPLAINS:  The EU has an ambition of being climate neutral in 2050. It is hoped that this can be achieved through a green transition in the energy sector and CO2-intensive industries, as well as through altered consumer behavior such as food habits and travel demands among the EU population. However, should the EU implement its most ambitious decarbonization agenda, while the rest of the world continues with the status quo, non-EU nations will end up emitting more greenhouse gases, thereby significantly offsetting the reductions of EU emissions. This is the conclusion of a new policy brief prepared by economics experts at the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Food and Resource Economics. For every tonne of CO2e emissions avoided in the EU, around 61.5% of that tonne will then be emitted somewhere else in the world. This carbon leakage, as it is known, will result in a global CO2e savings of 385 kilos only. The policy brief is based on the conclusions of a purposely-built economic model. The model, part of the EU Horizon 2020 project EUCalc, seeks to describe various pathways to decarbonizing the EU economy. “Obviously, the EU’s own climate footprint will be significantly reduced. But the EU’s economy is intertwined with the rest of the world through trade relations, which would change as we implement a green transition in our energy sector, industries and ways of life. Part of the emissions that Europe “saves” through an extensive green transition could possibly be ‘leaked’ to the rest of the world through, among other things, trade mechanisms, depending on the climate policy of other countries,” according to economist and brief co-author Professor Wusheng Yu, of the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Food and Resource Economics. “If the world beyond the EU does not follow suit and embark on a similar green transition, the decline in global greenhouse gas emissions will effectively be limited and well below the level agreed upon in EU climate policy,” adds co-author, economist and Yu’s department fellow, Francesco Clora. Less exports, more imports. In the most ambitious 2050 scenario as calculated by the EUCalc model, the EU pulls all of the green levers for production and consumption in various sectors, including the industrial and energy sectors. In this scenario, a green transformation of CO2-intensive industries (e.g. concrete, steel and chemicals) will incur new costs for new green technologies, which in turn, will increase the price of products. This could impact the competitiveness of EU products on the global market and be advantageous to China and the United States, who would be continuing their production of similar, yet cheaper goods. The prediction is that fewer goods would then be manufactured in Europe, which would lead to an increase in new imports to satisfy consumer and commercial demand. Similarly, a phase-out of fossil fuels by the EU would lower global demand, thus making them cheaper. In response, non-EU countries would be likely to import and consume larger quantities of fossil fuels. Finally, more climate-friendly consumer behaviour in the EU could end up pushing part of the saved CO2e out into the rest of the world as well. For example, while a decrease in red meat consumption by Europeans may reduce imported feed grains such as soybean, it may also result in increased imports of food grains and other plant-based foods, the latter of which would increase emissions in the rest of the world. So what should the EU do? Should Europe simply throw in the towel and drop its high ambitions for a better global climate? Certainly not. But we must make sure not to go it alone. “A green transition in the EU alone cannot significantly reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. We need to find ways to get others on board. Otherwise, the impact of our efforts will be largely offset by increased emission elsewhere, making it impossible to meet the Paris Agreement targets.

4 Responses to "A CLIMATE ACTION CATCH-22"

Thank you for your usual collection of relevant information about particular problems.

As a side note, I would point out that virtually all of the climate discussion avoids the effects of subduction along many of the fault lines, primarily on the ocean floor. This process is moving trillions of kilotons of carbonate rocks back into the mantle below the continents and oceans. This cannot be an insignificant effect since volcanism isn’t moving mantle rock back to the surface.

Thank you sir. I will study that phenomenon further.

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  • chaamjamal: Thank you very much for this informative andcrelevant comment.
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  • chaamjamal: https://principia-scientific.com/japan-reveals-first-uv-lamp-to-safely-kill-coronavirus/
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