European expansion and energy policy

2008-01-27

in Economics, Politics, The environment

The European Union is in the midst of a big internal fight about how to divide climate change mitigation obligations between members. The poorer states that joined recently say they should have easier targets so their economies will be able to grow more rapidly. States that have already made big investments in renewable technology think they should be called upon to improve by a lesser margin. France wants credit for its determined use of nuclear power. In many ways, the arguments are global disagreements writ small – an excellent illustration of which is Poland.

Poland has by far the biggest coal reserves in the EU – about fourteen billion tonnes worth. Germany is in second place with about six billion. The German GDP per capita is also US$39,650 at market exchange rates, compared to US$10,858 for Poland. Thankfully, the European Union has much more robust mechanisms for dealing with these distributional questions than exist in the world at large. There are European courts and European laws; there are also funds for regional development. Perhaps equally important is the recognition that interaction between EU states will be relatively intense for the indefinite future. This creates a stronger incentive to come to an acceptable settlement.

As such, the EU is an interesting test case for broader ideas. Given the lack of global institutions with similar strength, it is far from certain whether EU approaches could be applied worldwide. What does seem fair to say is that if Europe – with its relative wealth and strong institutions – cannot devise a system of burden-sharing for climate change mitigation, it will probably prove impossibly difficult on a global scale.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Litty January 28, 2008 at 11:53 am

Hopefully, the EU will be able to improve fossil fuel technology at the same time as they are deploying more renewables. Until India and China are rich enough to switch to renewables (a long way off, given that we don’t yet consider ourselves rich enough), we should aim to have some better coal and natural gas technologies to send their way.

Milan January 28, 2008 at 11:44 am

Clean coal isn’t cheap
* November 27th, 2007

Coal and climate change
* March 22nd, 2007

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