German economist Hans-Werner Sinn (IFO – Institute for Economic Research) makes the excellent case in today’s Financial Times that as long as climate policies do not focus on energy supply instead of demand they achieve very little and even have perverse effects. “… Instead of mulling over for the thousandth time which technical fixes could be applied to reduce CO2 emissions, we should turn to the core question of how to induce resource owners to leave more carbon underground”.
He also provides a good reality-check for the dreamers of carbon capture and storage: “The process of capturing CO2 from a chimney and turning it into a liquid consumes a third of the energy generated by burning the fuel in the first place. On top of that, the amount of storage volume required would be gigantic, as each carbon atom is joined by two oxygen atoms upon combustion – and they all need to be stored. Carbon captured from anthracite coal would occupy five times as much space underground as the coal itself; in the case of crude oil, three times the volume would be needed”.
His critique of current climate policy is hard-hitting: “The silence of politicians on how to slow down fossil fuel extraction smacks of denial. Gesture politics go a long way towards soothing green-tinged souls (and firming up business for the environmental industries), but whether they actually achieve anything appears to be of no interest”.
Sinn’s theory about the “green paradox” is not new. He has been writing on this issue for the last three years. Other climate experts have been critical of his approach but it seems to me that he has some interesting points which need further discussion. For a good critique of Sinn’s ideas, see Claudia Kemfert (head of the energy department at the same IFO): “There is no green paradox” in European Energy Review.