The real reason for doing nothing against global warming

Published in Les Echos newspaper, september 27th

While the crisis has overshadowed the issue of global warming, doubts still linger on the reality of this
phenomenon. And among those who acknowledge its existence, some now question
the need to act.

The issue of
global warming is indeed complex and depends on a variety of clues. The IPCC,
which was established by the United Nations, brings together thousands of
experts to identify the facts that meet consensus. The IPCC new report reasserts
that global warming is real and that human activity largely contributes to it,
especially via CO2 emissions. Global warming is bound to have such harmful consequences
that it will be necessary to seek to limit them. If the Earth’s temperature has
stabilized over the past ten years, this is likely to be temporary, while the melting
of glaciers, sea level rise or climate disasters have not stopped. Therefore, faced
with “Pascal’s wager” on whether to believe or not to believe in global warming,
the IPCC leans very strongly towards the first direction.

Since warming happens on a global scale, must Europe be waiting for large CO2
emitters – the U.S., China and others – to get involved in the energy
transition? Let us first get rid of a mix-up regarding two forms of energy
transition. There is first the call for an atomic transition, aiming to reduce
the share of nuclear power. If it is a democratic decision based on correct
information, it should not be disputed. But in the short term, it will not
address global warming: alternatives to nuclear energy now mainly consist of
carbonaceous fuels.

The second form
of transition, addressing climate change, aims to cut CO2 emissions. Of course,
we must do everything we can to reach, within a few decades, a largely
renewable energy coupled with storage solutions. But for now, the global energy
mix is mainly divided between nuclear, coal, oil and gas. At current prices,
refusing nuclear power and shale gas means privileging coal – the solution that
emits the most CO2.

For now, the
German transition does not address climate change, because coal is the main
alternative to nuclear power. Last year in France, coal grew at the expense of
gas in electricity generation, resulting in 2 million tons of additional CO2.
In contrast, the growth of gas in the United States takes place at the expense
of oil and coal, with a positive effect on emissions. Although China still massively
uses coal, it has just banned it in central Beijing and Shanghai and is rapidly
developing wind and nuclear power. It has become impossible to justify inaction
against climate change in Europe on the grounds that nothing happens in China
or the United States.

It is true, however, that global coordination remains necessary to prevent local
advances from being canceled elsewhere – in the same way that the U.S.
replacement of coal by gas has reduced emissions in the United States but
increased them in Germany where coal is exported. From an economic standpoint,
the solution would be to give CO2 a global price reflecting its polluting cost,
at around €30 per ton, which would be neutral with regards to competitiveness.
For instance, a tax levied on high consumption of CO2 with deductibility
agreements in cross-border transactions.

We can discuss approaches
to reach such coordination. But it first needs being identified as a priority,
when we see that coordination was possible at the OECD level on tax erosion –
or at the European level on a transaction tax whose benefits were much less
consensual than a reduction CO2 emissions.
In the end, the reasons that hinder the fight against global warming are neither
scientific, nor economic or diplomatic. It is primarily a key question of political
responsibility towards future generations.
À propos

Dédié à l'analyse des questions économiques, sociales et environnementales de long terme, L'Observatoire du Long Terme se fixe pour objectif de donner davantage de visibilité à ces enjeux dans le débat public. Dans ce contexte, il donne la parole à des contributeurs variés, avec pour seul critère le caractère étayé des arguments présentés.

L'Observatoire est indépendant, ne reçoit aucune aide financière et repose sur le volontariat de ses contributeurs, de son bureau, présidé par Vincent Champain et Bruno Fuchs.

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