Coffee House

The deeper problem behind Europe’s rising carbon emissions

30 May 2012

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.


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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  • Cynic

    I find it hard to understand the horror of CO2 emissions since it encourages plants to grow. Logically it makes no sense to wreck industry and price heating out of range of pensioners when you’re encouraging the population to increase, since CO2 is a natural by-product of respiration. Concreting over green spaces reduces the amount of CO2 being recycled, too. Incidentally, has anybody noticed that the Govt is now going to levy a tax on people who’ve switched to greener cars owing to the drop in duty revenue? Joined up thinking is no more the current lot’s forte than it was the previous shower’s!

  • Draughtsman

    Siemens in Germany has developed a flexible electrolyser module that can operate on the intermittent power produced by wind turbines. On a commercial scale they would require a large investment and the process of creating the hydrogen and subsequently reconverting it to electricity is only about 20% efficient. In other words they would be getting back about one fifth of just about sod all. If you fancy putting your money into that idea then be my guest.

    It is high time that facts were faced. In the absence of any breakthrough in LANR or fusion power, which we must all hope we see sooner rather than later, the only game in town for bulk production of reliable power is fossil fuel. In the midst of a deep recession how this ship of fools that pass for a government can so airily dismiss a world class shale gas play such as the Bowland is beyond me. Hopes that low grade power sources such as wind can generate sufficient energy reliably enough at reasonable cost to power our civilisation are for the feeble minded and those who would see our industry fail and our old folk freeze to death in their own homes.

  • AliC

    John Bowman, how refreshing to see your anti CANUTE post. No we can’t stop the climate changing (if it is indeed changing). So lets deal with what the results are. And please let us build some new nuclear power stations as wind is only in excess in North London, the SW1 and Rue de la Loi areas.

    Lets get fracking. PS the Rance barrage cost billions to build. And most of France’s power comes from fission. Not wind or fiction.

  • Ed Hoskins

    Andrew Orlowski in The Register said it succinctly:
    “Binning green power would be like printing money – without inflation”

  • John Bowman

    If there is a flawed premise – that, a) global warming will lead to some unspecified catastrophic changes in climate at some unspecified point in the future, and b) carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels exclusively control global temperatures, then all that stands on the premise is flawed.

    It is then pointless discussing the latter and worse, a distraction, which gives credibility to the premise by joining in the debate on how best to deal with it.

  • Draughtsman

    Affordable abundant energy generated from high grade sources and continuously available is the bedrock of any advanced industrial civilisation. The motives of anyone advocating anything other than this should be viewed with the deepest suspicion.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    Daniel, why no mention of your Italians friends’ cold fusion? According to you a few weeks ago it was ready to supplant shale which we hadn’t even started to use. Whats up? Why no mention?

    As for facts. Give us some on how many MWs of power the Germans are producing from solar/wind derived methane. Not investments, not projections, not capacities – how much now.

  • Simon Stephenson.

    EyeSee : 9.25am

    “Climate Change is a scam used by the far Left to undermine capitalism”

    Yes, this is the best explanation. And in a world where the vast majority consider Machiavellianism to be a threat only in fiction, not reality, the processes by which the Left infects society with its ideology have every chance of success.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    Miners? You want to put up miners? They begged for their pits to be kept open. For the right to send their kids down there too.

    Operationally cheap? It will not wash. Wind and solar lack energy intensity, they do not provide our requirements alone, nor can they replace fossil fuels. Germany? Their energy policy is dafter than ours. But no matter what I say or what you think, green energy is already past its high-water mark. It cannot be sustained. It always was just a boondoggle for fat cats and landowners, and foreign companies.

  • EyeSee

    If people realised that ‘carbon’ emissions are irrelevant, then they really might wonder why they have to pay for wind turbines and then twice (or four times) as much for their energy. Climate Change is a scam used by the far Left to undermine capitalism. How would you say it is doing? So far it seems only ordinary people (and scientists) can see the scam for what it is. Politicians love the power it gives them, believing that they can contain the communism that underlies it. Selling your soul to the Devil is always like that.

  • daniel maris


    As for fossil fuels, they never pay their way. The community subsidises the increased incidence of lung disease, the beach clean ups, the air monitoring and so on. Do you know that coal ash is radioactive? Do you know how much has been paid out by the NHS dealing with miners’ diseases?

    There are a lot of hidden subsidies for fossil fuels.

  • daniel maris


    That’s a very naive view you are taking there.

    Both solar and wind (but also tidal, hydro and geothermal) are operationally cheap forms of energy. In fact tidal is the cheapest form of energy you will find in Europe (see La Rance in France).

    Land based wind energy is already as cheap as coal.

    We need to be a bit more sophisticated in our economic choices. Do you really want us to shovel money to the Sheikhdoms, Chavez and Putin’s Russia, rather than use it to employ our own people in good quality jobs producing indigenous energy?

    From a national perspective, capital investment in energy infrastructure is no different from capital investment in motorways, or bridges, and so on.

    I think we simply need to say it is a national priority for a few years, above motorway and bridge building if necessary. We can convert stamp duty into an energy independence levy. House buyers will pay the duty but receive in return an energy system in their home that reduces their bills and also a share in electricity generation, which will provide them with an ongoing income.

    Daniel, green energy is not cheap. It is universally subsidised, in this country be non-green energy. If it was economical, it would not need to be subsidised. We need to take the taxes and imposts off fossil fuel. It is not the essence of evil, it is the very stuff of prosperity. It can be ‘funded’ by doing away with Vince Cable’s department. There will be no need, the world’s industries will flock to base themselves where energy is cheap. You can take your windmills and stick em where the sun don’t shine.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    Daniel, green energy is not cheap. It is universally subsidised, in this country be non-green energy. If it was economical, it would not need to be subsidised. We need to take the taxes and imposts off fossil fuel. It is not the essence of evil, it is the very stuff of prosperity. It can be ‘funded’ by doing away with Vince Cable’s department. There will be no need, the world’s industries will flock to base themselves where energy is cheap. You can take your windmills and stick em where the sun don’t shine.

  • john

    Conservative energy policy will be as embarrassing as Brown selling off the gold at rock bottom prices, if changes in favour of natural gas at the expense of nuclear are not made soon

  • daniel maris


    Well we could make a start on cheap energy by giving up on nuclear.

    Use gas a stop gap while we develop a green energy structure, which despite all the propaganda, is actually operationally v. cheap.

    Convert stamp duty into a green investment tax. It will be one of the most painless taxes ever as the new home owner will pay for PV panels on their house which reduce their energy bills and produce an energy from electricity sales.

  • daniel maris

    Michael –

    Gas can be a green fuel if it is made from water and the atmosphere using green energy such as wind or solar.

  • Simon Stephenson.

    Yes Rhoda (7.22pm), but are we beyond the stage where the institution of government can survive the ridicule which would follow a switch to rationally supportable policy? Likewise with the Euro, fiscal deficits, Afghanistan, concentrations of power and so many other areas where the class of modern politicians have manoeuvered themselves so far out on a limb that there is no retreat which is sufficiently face-saving to allow them to embark upon it.

    This is the point of my earlier comment – do we still have a political process in which the participants understand the need to make only decisions which come complete with escape routes?

  • Bruce, UK


    What he said.

  • daniel maris

    And before anyone says wind energy cannot keep the grid going when the wind stops blowing, please get your facts right. The Germans are currently investing in facilities which will convert wind energy (and solar) into methane (using hydrogen from water and carbon from the air) – methane is the same as natural gas which use to heat our homes and fire our gas power stations.

    Wind energy will be a v. powerful part of the renewable energy mix.

    If you want to be at the mercy of the Sheikhs, big oil companies and Putin (there’s a nice mix) feel free to continue as at present.

    If you want energy independence, low cost energy , a clean environment and good quality employment for our people, then go for green.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    Cheap energy now. Stuff the emissions, they don’t matter. Cheap energy is necessary and sufficient to start recovery.

  • frosty the polar bear

    As a mere bear,
    i wonder if these figures have been adjusted for any population increase/decrease?
    After all, more people create more emissions, simples,
    as some meerkats i know would put it.
    toodle pip.

  • salieri

    So let me get this right. Because of ‘man-made global warming’ we have to spend billions of pounds which we don’t have on reducing it; but because in fact there isn’t any global warming we need to consume more fuel in order to keep warm; ergo, fuel has to be more expensive to pay for the taxes that aren’t needed for something that isn’t happening. Brilliant.

  • Michael

    Not sure if it’s true, but the most hilarious thing I’ve read recently apart from Teletubbie’s posts was an article in the Guardian yesterday stating that the EU’s energy classifications now include GAS as a green fuel!

  • Simon Stephenson.

    Mr Sinclair

    Can you tell me whether the level of importance attached to limiting carbon emissions is more about the actual need to limit carbon emissions, or about the wish to maintain the credibility of a political and bureaucratic class which has nailed its colours to the highly-speculative conclusions underpinning this policy, in order to appeal emotionally to the masses for whom sound reason is usually irrelevant?

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