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Coffee House

The deeper problem behind Europe’s rising carbon emissions

30 May 2012

5:49 PM

30 May 2012

5:49 PM

The Government takes a lot of stick for blaming the weather when there are queues at airports or lacklustre growth figures. Now the European Union is blaming a ‘colder winter’, as well as ‘economic recovery in many countries’, for emissions in 2010 being 111 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent higher – about 2.4 per cent –than they were in 2009. They are insistent that ‘the increase could have been even higher without the fast expansion of renewable energy. ’

Looking at the record of emissions in the European Union and the United States though, it is clear there is a deeper problem. Even ignoring emissions exports — the amount emitted in places like China instead of Europe — the developed European economies have been reducing the amount they emit for every pound of income at the same rate as the United States. Emissions intensity has fallen by about a third since 1990. So it is hard to see what Europe is really achieving with its far more drastic climate regulations. The regions’ emissions are only really growing more slowly because its economies have grown less.

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Supporters of continuing European exceptionalism in climate policy need to be able to show much more impressive results than that. Already, many countries within Europe are increasingly sceptical of subsidies for prohibitively expensive solar installations and offshore wind farms. Those subsidies add to energy prices at a time when families have huge pressure on their finances already — and from Germany to Spain to the Czech Republic there have been cuts to them. If people start to realise that the current approach is as ineffective as it is expensive, then that will add to the pressure for further cuts across the range of climate policies.

Our own government may think that the limited protections for energy intensive industry announced at the last Budget, along with the misdirection provided by Ministerial attacks on energy companies, will be enough to settle the issue of energy prices. As British policy continues to diverge from the international norm they will find that isn’t nearly good enough.

Increasingly, our current set of energy and climate policies will almost enforce high energy prices here relative to other countries, particularly if the International Energy Agency is right and a glut of gas hits the market. Genuinely enforcing the Osborne doctrine is just the start of what they need to do if they want to avoid unnecessary pressure on business, costing Britain jobs, and unnecessary pressure on families, costing them votes.

Matthew Sinclair is director of the Taxpayers’ Alliance and the author of Let Them Eat Carbon.

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