Between 1990 and the present, a significant reduction in European greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions took place because coal based electricity generation was replaced by natural gas plants. Here’s the big question: should that switch be considered an act of climatic virtue on the part of the European states, and thus be taken into account when identifying their fair share of remaining necessary emissions reductions, or should it be ignored? This is in some ways akin to the matter of additionality, as mentioned here before
There are naturally arguments on both sides. It seems fair to say that at least some of the motivation for the switch came from concern about climate change and a desire to meet Kyoto Protocol targets for emission reductions. At the same time, it is very difficult to determine how much was driven by other considerations: from the state of gas production in the North Sea to concern about non-GHG pollutants to long-term estimates of the relative price of coal and gas.
Another issue to consider is long-term energy use. If the European states had chosen to stick with coal, but they had switched to natural gas at some point in the relatively near future, the impact would largely have been the same, in terms of climate. The same additionality problem that applies in the present exists for the recent past. Using the gas in the distant future would have less of an effect (assuming successful climate change mitigation does occur) since the timing of emissions is important for climate stabilization pathways.
Pragmatically, giving some credit to the Europeans for the transition may be a necessary step in negotiations. That being said, the conundrum is enough to make one wonder whether a metric ignoring ‘additionality’ would be more manageable in practice. Ignoring the question of whether emissions reductions were motivated by concerns over climate change or not, and instead focusing only on the magnitude of reductions, would probably be a more efficient form of calculation. That being said, it would arguably be less equitable. Also, it might be incompatible with the notion that different states or sectors should spend ‘comparable’ amounts on climate change mitigation.
Thoughts? Does it make the most sense to give the European states full, partial, or no credit? Secondly, is ‘additionality’ sufficiently ethically important to justify the headaches it produces?