Now that the world’s politicians have decided that they can save the planet by taxing carbon, it’s time to ask ourselves what they are really up to. Why are they so po-faced and pompous about a doubtful proposition that, even if it is correct, will not be solved by the solutions they are proposing? The answer is simple: this is an ideal political issue; it offers everything politicians desire to justify their own existence. It has little or nothing to do with climate change.
For some it may mean saving their country, for most it’s about saving themselves. It doesn’t take much questioning to see that it has nothing to do with saving the planet.
The French will predictably be among the noisiest. They want the whole world to go nuclear, and a tax on carbon emissions will provide them with a significant economic advantage. As the head of Electricite de France, Laurent Striker observed: “France chose nuclear because we have no oil, gas or coal resources.” As they say in France, “No oil, no gas, no coal, no choice”.
France has problems with their very noisy and active farmers. That’s why President Sarkozy has welcomed the chance to threaten world political leaders with new tariffs against nations that refuse to tackle climate change. It’s another form of protectionism - very popular with the farmers.
France is the world’s largest net exporter of electric power, and one of the leading exporters of nuclear technology. For the French, emission trading schemes will be a godsend.
It’s a little more complicated in Germany. In 2000, the Greens, in coalition, gained power, and Jurgen Trittin became Minister of Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety. The government then reached agreement with energy companies to gradually shut down all of the country’s nuclear plants by 2020. The Nuclear Exit Law they introduced is still official policy.
In 2005 the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) won the elections, under Chancellor Angela Merkel. Since 2008 the CDU has openly opposed the phase-out, and Chancellor Merkel has just been returned for another four-year term, with a definite swing to the right.
Germany has a few problems. The International Monetary Fund has predicted unemployment of almost 11 per cent next year; annual budget deficits of more than $200 billion are predicted after the economy has taken a 5 per cent dive this year. At the moment, electricity consumption is gradually falling, and production is predicted to rise slightly - until next year. In 2010, 126,036 gigawatt hours of production is scheduled to disappear, and Germany will be in deep trouble.
“For the foreseeable future,” according to the CDU, “the contribution of nuclear energy to the production of electricity in Germany is irreplaceable”.
Merkel doesn’t have much choice. Electric power in Germany already costs twice as much as in the USA. Price rises will certainly adversely affect trade. They currently plan to open 26 new coal-fired plants, but this will increase prices and increase carbon emissions. They will probably also need to import natural gas from Russia, not a popular option.
Emissions trading schemes are just the excuse Merkel needs to abandon the phase-out and turn back to nuclear.
The USA has 104 nuclear power reactors which generate about 20 per cent of their electrical energy: 49 per cent comes from coal-fired plant, 22 per cent from gas, 6 per cent from hydro and the rest comes from other means. About half of US generating capacity is over 30-years-old. According to the World Nuclear Association “Today the importance of nuclear power in USA is geopolitical as much as economic, reducing dependency on imported oil and gas. The operational cost of nuclear power - 1.87 ¢/kWh in 2008 - is 68 per cent of electricity cost from coal and a quarter of that from gas.”
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