Climate News of the Week Roundup: The Distributional Impacts of Climate Policy and Why 4°C Warming is Really Not a Good Idea

This week’s roundup features more on unburnable coal, Australian support for scrapping the carbon tax dropping, a new World Bank report showing why missing the 2°C target is really not a good idea, Germany trying to water down EU car emission rules to project German car makers, people being happy to pay subsidies for nuclear that would be unthinkable for renewables, climate policy in the US and China, the 10 dumbest things ever said about global warming, and more.

This week brought another report on unburnable coal: The Australian Climate Commission has urged to leave the vast majority fossil fuel reserves in the ground. It notes that while Australia’s reserves alone are the equivalent of 51 Gt of GHG emissions, the world as a whole may only emit about 600 Gt by 2050 while maintaining a good chance to stay below 2°C. The Sydney Morning Herald notes that this call “puts the key science advisory body on a collision course with some of the nation’s biggest export industries.” Which is why climate protection is so difficult, it requires stepping on a lot of influential people’s toes. Or put more scientifically: Climate policy is effectively economic policy with significant distributional impacts.

In other news from Australia, new polling shows that nowadays only 1/3 of Australians is in favour of scrapping the carbon tax, down from 1/2 a year ago. Which rather puts a question mark on the Conservatives’ assertion that the upcoming election is a referendum on the tax. Labour looks still set to lose, though.

The rationale for the 2°C target was again underlined this week in a new World Bank report detailing what impacts a temperature increase of 4°C within this century would have in Africa and Asia. In a word, devastating. The Guardian has a summary here, the World Bank has a neat infographic comparing likely impacts 2°C and 4°C of warming here. Incidentally, the graphic shows that even 2°C, the goal set by the international community, is by no means “safe”, it would also lead to significant impacts on sea-level rise, water and food availability. And for the egoistically minded, we shouldn’t believe that things like massive food shortages in developing countries would leave us in the industrialised countries unaffected.

A current example of how the distributional dimension of climate policy is playing out is being provided by the German government, which according to reports is apparently putting all kinds of pressure, including thinly veiled references to the fiscal bailouts, on other EU members states to weaken planned EU car emissions rules in order to protect German car makers. Never mind that more efficient cars would equal money saved by the drivers.

And it’s funny how the same people who complain about the – alleged – high cost of renewables have no problem paying much higher subsidies for nuclear. The UK is set to pay Electricité de France a fixed price for electricity from a new nuclear plant for 35 years, much longer than the German renewables feed-in tariff, which investors only get for 20 years. And the price may be as high as 10 pence per kWh, around 11 eurocents, while for example onshore wind in Germay gets about 9 eurocents in the first five years and subsequently only around 5 cents. Even German solar PV is nowadays down to a range of about 15 cents for small arrays and about 10 cents for large ones. And the tariff is progressively decreasing. And the UK nuclear feed-in will be adjusted for inflation, which is also not the case in Germany.

Fits in nicely with a recent article by Craig Morris comparing the cost of German solar with nuclear.

The first Chinese pilot emission trading scheme launched in the industrial zone of Shenzen this week, but a country-wide scheme is still a ways off, as Reuters reports.

Ryan Meade had a rather balanced article on “China, Coal and Climate Change”. He concludes that “while it would be wrong to talk about “Green China” it would be equally wrong to succumb to the myth that China continues to drive headlong towards a high-carbon future without any consideration for environmental limits.”

Obama announced that he was going to announce his climate plan in a speech on Tuesday. The expectation is that it will include regulations for emission from existing power plants. Climate Progress has Obama’s announcement video with a transcript here.

The Rolling Stone has a collection of the 10 dumbest things ever said about global warming. All of them said by politicians and other influential people. As the Swedish 17th century statesman Axel Oxenstierna said, “Nescis, mi fili, quantilla prudentia mundus regatur.” – “Do you not know, my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed?”

May was a mess in Western Europe, but globally it was the third warmest May on record, according to data from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.


Stefan Rahmstorf bespricht in seinem Blog die erste globale Temperaturrekonstruktion der vergangenen 11,000. Sie deckt also das ganze Holozän ab, das ganze aktuelle Erdzeitalter nach dem Ende der letzten Eiszeit. „Der Klimaverlauf ähnelt einem „Buckel“. Zu Beginn des Holozän – nach Ende der letzten Eiszeit – ist die globale Temperatur gestiegen, in den letzten 5000 Jahren dagegen um 0,7 °C gefallen. Der bekannte Übergang vom relativ warmen Mittelalter in die „kleine Eiszeit“ erweist sich als Teil einer viel langfristigeren Abkühlung, die mit der rasanten Erwärmung im 20. Jahrhundert ein jähes Ende gefunden hat. In nur hundert Jahren wurde die Abkühlung von 5000 Jahren wettgemacht.“ Und wenn wir so weiter machen, steht bis Ende des Jahrhunderts ein weitere Anstieg von 3-4°C an – “Wir sind dabei, uns weit aus dem Holozän herauszukatapultieren.”

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