NET ZERO How We Stop Causing Climate Change – Dieter Helm
The one sentence summary: We can stop causing climate change if we adopt a clear unilateral plan and get on with it fast.
WHAT THE BOOK SAYS
- This is a manifesto for how we stop causing climate change. The inconvenient truth is that our carbon intensive lifestyles are causing the climate crisis and that fixing or even slowing it will affect all of us.
- We have wasted the last 30 years, so the goal of net zero carbon emissions needs a rethink. If we enact this plan, we make no further contribution to global warming, but there isn’t much time left.
- In fact, far more fossil fuels have been burnt in the past 30 years than in the entire 19th century. Everyone wants what the first carbon economies have got. If you think we are kicking the fossil fuel habit, think again. Global emissions are still going up.
- This is because of burning ever more fossil fuels, the (relative) irrelevance of renewables so far, and the destruction of the natural environment’s ability to sequestrate carbon.
- The golden age of the fossil fuels is based on burgeoning demand, notably from China, the coming of gas and new technologies (notably shale), and the absence of any effective climate change policies. China represents over half the world’s coal trade and 28% of the world’s CO2 emissions.
- In the UK, the public now believes that we are making good progress and it is not going to cost them much. Cakeism suggests that you can have it all without making any sacrifices, but it’s not true.
- If the UK wants to make no further unilateral contribution to global warming, then it is the altogether harder net zero carbon consumption that matters, not just the easier bit of net zero carbon production.
There are 3 critical principles to designing a sustainable economy:
- The polluter pays: pollution has to be costed and everyone must pay. That means everything will be more expensive and carbon border taxes are essential.
- The provision of public goods: these are non-rival and non-excludable, and governments must create them.
- Net environmental gain principle: any damage done must be compensated for by more than the expected damage (the precautionary principle).
The author says that, unilateral approaches are the ones that work – we can do it ourselves. No international treaties are required.
We need to work out how to price carbon, invest properly in net zero infrastructures, and make sure that carbon is properly sequestrated.
Sequestration can be achieved by natural processes (trees, peat bogs, recarbonization of soils) or industrial ones (carbon capture and storage).
The free rider problem. In any cartel, each party has an incentive to encourage the others to restrict output (carbon) and benefit from collective gains (less global warning). But each party faces costs. So they get the others to do the hard graft, promise to join in and then cheat. You get the benefits but not the costs. Put simply, why should you do anything if no one else does, and even if they do, why not take a free ride on their efforts?
WHAT YOU HAVE TO WATCH
The author is clearly exasperated, so this is something of a polemic. He is also extremely well-informed so there is a huge level of detail that the lay reader may find overwhelming.