Oxford economist Dieter Helm co-edits an upcoming book, The Economics and Politics of Climate Change, that he says takes “a colder and harder look at the challenge”. In a Q&A on Nature Reports Climate Change this week, Helm gives his take on a long-term strategy for reducing emissions. Here’s an excerpt:
Where, in your view, has policy gone wrong?
Let’s remember what lies behind Copenhagen. The Kyoto Protocol measures countries’ production of carbon, not consumption. It’s no accident the Europeans like Kyoto. It’s a set of measures which, as they de-industrialize and production moves to countries like China, makes them look good. But the carbon consumption record of Europe, once you take those imports back, is pretty awful. That’s why Kyoto looks like a success, and yet it hasn’t caused even a blip in the emissions path.
Do we also need to re-think climate economics?
What we have learnt is that politicians tend to choose the most expensive options first. Faced with climate change, what’s our solution? In Europe, it’s to devote most of our energies to a rapid build-out of wind power. This is the sort of thing that makes nuclear power look cheap. Climate change is about the massive increase of coal burning internationally, especially the growth of China and India fuelled by coal-based energy — and America too, where the Obama plans are also small relative to the problem.
What exactly will windmills across Europe do to address that overwhelmingly dominant effect? Of course they’ll play some role, but it’ll probably take a couple of weeks for China to add sufficient new coal power stations to cancel out any renewables effort in Britain. It’s time to grow up. It’s time to realize that coal is where the core of the problem lies, and to think cleverly about solutions towards that.
Read the full interview here.