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Emissions goals are looking sick

Climate change falls foul of the corona virus

30 May 2020

9:00 AM

30 May 2020

9:00 AM

With the Covid-19 pandemic starting to recede, activists are again moaning that industrial emissions are destroying climate. But having wrecked national economies once to fend off the virus, policymakers are proving reluctant to wreck them again for the climate cause.

In mid-May, governor of California Gavin Newsom proposed cancelling much of the $US12 billion worth of climate initiatives originally announced only in January, which included feel-good programs for encouraging companies to buy electric cars and more useful spending on projects to prepare for floods, droughts and bushfires. This caused a major outcry in a state which has proved a haven for green activists and with the vocal US green industry sore over President Trump leading America out of the Paris Agreement. However, faced with an estimated budget deficit of $US54.3 billion thanks to the virus lockdown Governor Newsom has little choice but to throw green policies under a bus.

In late April, leader of Germany’s Christian Democratic CDU/CSU grouping in the European parliament, Markus Pieper, declared to the German media that after the coronavirus economic bloodletting the much trumpeted green deal promoted by EU Commission leader Ursula von der Leyen was not financially viable.As the CDU remains the ruling party in Germany, headed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel until late 2018 (Ms Merkel plans to remain as chancellor until 2021), and Germany remains Europe’s banker Pieper’s comments threaten to derail the EU deal which the European parliament has agreed to in principle. Pieper has been careful to say he wants a watered down version of the carbon neutral plan, rather than its abandonment.

Then there is the problem of the updated climate goals announced to date by major emitters. Under the Paris Agreement each country sets its own climate goals which are to be updated regularly, with the first updates expected before yet another conference in November, the fifth anniversary of the Paris conference, to be held in Glasgow. The updates posted to date by major emitters Russia and Japan have proved disappointing to activists.

Russia’s original pledge amounted to little and the updated pledge with promises on such matters as promoting increased insulation in buildings and boosting renewable energy is little improvement. Japan, with double the CO2 emissions of Australia, released new goals that are virtually unchanged from those of Paris. Japan is also one of the few developed countries still building coal-fired power plants.

Back in Europe the EU green deal and a similar vague promise from Boris Johnson’s Britain is about all that’s left of all the strong action to reduce emissions promised at Paris. Although the EU deal is largely uncosted and, like almost all zero net declarations, lacking in any real detail – public statements mention two €100 billion funds – the deal aims to make Europe carbon neutral by 2050. The aim seems to be to muddle through to that goal. (Poland, which is happy selling its coal-fired power, wants to be left out.)

In normal times the response to all this climate policy sabotage would be a rush to podiums to give speeches. The problem is that the usual climate jamborees and talkfests have been cancelled due to the virus.

One of the architects of the Paris Agreement, Christiana Figueres, expressed disappointment to the German press that she was unable to speak at the big event planned for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in Washington in April – one of a number of rallies that had to cancelled. She had to make do with an online conference. A host of other lesser-known talkfests to be attended by delegates arriving on emission-intensive international flights, such as Africa Climate Week due to be held in Uganda in April, have been cancelled or postponed.

Those cancellations have come after the annual post-Paris Agreement conference held in Madrid in December fizzled out with little apparent progress in countries agreeing to wreck their economies for the sake of the climate.

However, it did not help much that the conference had to be relocated twice.

Originally due to the held in Brazil, newly elected right-wing Brazilian President Jay Bolsonaro (also no fan of the Paris Agreement although Brazil is a top carbon emitter) moved it on, saying that it was too costly to host the event. He gave the conference organisers a year’s notice to go elsewhere. A highly inconvenient alternative of Chile was arranged but the event had to be moved again, with just four weeks’ notice and with many delegates sailing (as opposed to taking emissions-intensive flights) over the Atlantic to attend.

Another problem for the now vast green political-industrial complex is the carbon price, the centrepiece of the EU Emissions Trading System. After nearly a decade of carbon prices below €15 ($A25), and mostly well below €10 a tonne – prices that aren’t going to affect company behaviour – and after reforms limiting the ability of participating governments to hand out free certificates to their own industries, the main carbon price came within a whisker of €30 in July. Then the pandemic caused prices to crash to almost €15 before a recovery pushed it back to €20 a tonne, which is borderline effective.

To add to the climate industry’s troubles, iconoclastic documentary maker Michael Moore, known for a string of anti-capitalist documentaries, has produced one targeting the green energy industry. The documentary Planet of the Humans argues that electric cars and solar energy are unreliable and require fossil fuels to function.

This theme is hardly surprising to those who know anything about electric cars and solar energy, but Moore had previously been one of the green industry’s own and the documentary attacks individuals, notably former US vice president Al Gore for bolstering corporations that push flawed technology. The green industry has reacted with fury calling for the documentary to be withdrawn.

All this adds up to intractable problems for the climate industry. It is increasingly apparent that despite the endless activism and 18 months’ worth of protesting by school children, most of the major carbon emitters are simply going through the motions required by the Paris Agreement with little interest in making major changes. Thanks to the immense cost of fighting Covid-19, the nations that might take Paris seriously do not have the financial capacity for strong action. The climate goals for emissions and temperatures which activists continue to scream about are receding into the distance.

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Mark Lawson is a regular science writer Go to: www.clearvadersname.com

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