The Complex Politics of Climate Change
Greta Thunberg’s speech at the United Nations may have grabbed the climate change headlines. But for those who find policy prescriptions from someone not yet out of high school a publicity stunt, the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) 2019 International Energy Outlook was more interesting.
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) wants the world to reduce man-made net CO2 emissions to zero by 2050, in order to limit global warming to a further 1.5 degrees C. By contrast, the EIA expects energy-related CO2 emissions to grow at 0.6% annually, a third of the 1990-2018 rate but nonetheless in the wrong direction. This is because the EIA forecasts world energy use to increase by nearly 50%, with virtually all that growth in non-OECD Asia (often referred to as Asia ex-Japan).
According to Climate Tracker, only two countries (Morocco and Gambia) are on track to meet their goals under the 2015 Paris Agreement, which turned the IPCC’s recommendations into governmental commitments.
The goal of lowering emissions is at conflict with many other UN goals, such as eliminating poverty and hunger, and ensuring access to clean water and sanitation. Non-OECD countries are generally where these goals need to be met, and their pursuit is increasing energy consumption. The rich-country OECD world wants reduced CO2 emissions while poorer non-OECD countries additionally want higher living standards.
The charts in the EIA’s outlook provide a sobering picture of the incompatibility of these objectives. Rising non-OECD living standards will by 2050 remain still 25% less than in the OECD today, and less than half the 2050 rich world level. This is in spite of growth in world energy consumption being fully taken up by non-OECD countries. Indian per capita residential energy consumption is still expected to be less than a quarter of U.S. by 2050.
Emerging Asia is the major source of this growth. India’s population is projected to surpass China’s over the next couple of decades, driving India’s faster GDP growth and also making India the fastest growing user of coal. China will remain biggest overall.
Growth in Indian electricity demand will be primarily met with renewables. It’s easier to shift your mix of power generation when consumption is growing. Yet India will still double its output from coal-fired power plants.
The reason almost none of the signatories to the Paris Agreement are on track to achieve their emission goals is that public support is broad but shallow. One survey found most U.S. households wouldn’t spend more than $10 per month to fight climate change.
Yet, dramatic reductions in emissions require substantial lifestyle changes with more expensive energy. Renewables are slowly gaining market share, but regardless of the promises of environmental extremists, all serious forecasts show fossil fuels remaining the world’s dominant source of energy. The EIA projects that we’ll be using more of all sources of energy. Consumption of petroleum and other liquid fuels will grow by 20%; natural gas by 40%. Renewables are expected to almost double their share of world energy, to around 28% by 2050, but satisfying growing global energy demand will require substantial growth in hydrocarbons.
Few Americans realize that the U.S. would need to reduce its CO2 emissions by around 15% over the next decade to meet its pledge, and that we’re generating 3.5X the amount that’s scientists believe is consistent with 1.5 degree planetary warming. If the U.S. had a plan to meet its pledge on emissions reduction, cost would quickly become an issue.
A big shift to renewables in the U.S. would raise the cost of energy. This is indisputable, because otherwise renewables would already be dominant. Climate extremists rarely discuss the costs, whereas we’ll need to make informed decisions about costs versus benefits.
Moreover, those most exposed to rising sea levels live in poor countries where emissions will continue to increase in order to raise living standards. Rich countries are far better able to manage the effects of changing climate. No U.S. politician has yet had to explain why Americans should pay more for energy in order to protect other countries from rising sea levels, even while those countries increase CO2 emissions. Trump’s planned withdrawal from the Paris Agreement next year is grounded in domestic political reality.
Paris pledges allow India, China and other non-OECD countries to continue increasing their emissions, acknowledging that increased living standards require more energy. While there is a moral argument in support of higher CO2 emissions from poorer countries, U.S. public opinion is untested on the issue of expensively curtailing domestic emissions to accommodate more output elsewhere. This will eventually be a significant political problem. Domestic environmental extremists are completely mis-directed. Growth in emissions is coming from Asia.
How will the world resolve its conflicting goals?
There are some sensible solutions: Federal standards and fast-track approval process for nuclear energy, which is clean and safe; phase-out coal with its harmful emissions in favor of cleaner natural gas; a carbon tax; Federal R&D into cleaner use of what works, which is fossil fuels.
All these steps and more will be needed to tackle the problem. Unfortunately, Democrat solutions such as the Green New Deal (see The Bovine Green Dream) and banning fracking are hopelessly impractical. Because their ideas have little prospect of implementation, Republicans aren’t pressured to offer alternative ideas.
The EIA’s report shows what world energy consumption will look like without significant changes in policies. Practical, centrist solutions that acknowledge trade-offs will be needed to develop deeper support for combating climate change. Voters will want to understand what they’re paying for. Until that happens, fringe policy prescriptions will scare people away. Greta Thunberg’s political grandstanding isn’t helping.
The information provided is for informational purposes only and investors should determine for themselves whether a particular service, security or product is suitable for their investment needs. The information contained herein is not complete, may not be current, is subject to change, and is subject to, and qualified in its entirety by, the more complete disclosures, risk factors and other terms that are contained in the disclosure, prospectus, and offering. Certain information herein has been obtained from third party sources and, although believed to be reliable, has not been independently verified and its accuracy or completeness cannot be guaranteed. No representation is made with respect to the accuracy, completeness or timeliness of this information. Nothing provided on this site constitutes tax advice. Individuals should seek the advice of their own tax advisor for specific information regarding tax consequences of investments. Investments in securities entail risk and are not suitable for all investors. This site is not a recommendation nor an offer to sell (or solicitation of an offer to buy) securities in the United States or in any other jurisdiction.
References to indexes and benchmarks are hypothetical illustrations of aggregate returns and do not reflect the performance of any actual investment. Investors cannot invest in an index and do not reflect the deduction of the advisor’s fees or other trading expenses. There can be no assurance that current investments will be profitable. Actual realized returns will depend on, among other factors, the value of assets and market conditions at the time of disposition, any related transaction costs, and the timing of the purchase. Indexes and benchmarks may not directly correlate or only partially relate to portfolios managed by SL Advisors as they have different underlying investments and may use different strategies or have different objectives than portfolios managed by SL Advisors (e.g. The Alerian index is a group MLP securities in the oil and gas industries. Portfolios may not include the same investments that are included in the Alerian Index. The S & P Index does not directly relate to investment strategies managed by SL Advisers.)
This site may contain forward-looking statements relating to the objectives, opportunities, and the future performance of the U.S. market generally. Forward-looking statements may be identified by the use of such words as; “believe,” “expect,” “anticipate,” “should,” “planned,” “estimated,” “potential” and other similar terms. Examples of forward-looking statements include, but are not limited to, estimates with respect to financial condition, results of operations, and success or lack of success of any particular investment strategy. All are subject to various factors, including, but not limited to general and local economic conditions, changing levels of competition within certain industries and markets, changes in interest rates, changes in legislation or regulation, and other economic, competitive, governmental, regulatory and technological factors affecting a portfolio’s operations that could cause actual results to differ materially from projected results. Such statements are forward-looking in nature and involves a number of known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors, and accordingly, actual results may differ materially from those reflected or contemplated in such forward-looking statements. Prospective investors are cautioned not to place undue reliance on any forward-looking statements or examples. None of SL Advisors LLC or any of its affiliates or principals nor any other individual or entity assumes any obligation to update any forward-looking statements as a result of new information, subsequent events or any other circumstances. All statements made herein speak only as of the date that they were made. r
Certain hyperlinks or referenced websites on the Site, if any, are for your convenience and forward you to third parties’ websites, which generally are recognized by their top level domain name. Any descriptions of, references to, or links to other products, publications or services does not constitute an endorsement, authorization, sponsorship by or affiliation with SL Advisors LLC with respect to any linked site or its sponsor, unless expressly stated by SL Advisors LLC. Any such information, products or sites have not necessarily been reviewed by SL Advisors LLC and are provided or maintained by third parties over whom SL Advisors LLC exercise no control. SL Advisors LLC expressly disclaim any responsibility for the content, the accuracy of the information, and/or quality of products or services provided by or advertised on these third-party sites.
All investment strategies have the potential for profit or loss. Different types of investments involve varying degrees of risk, and there can be no assurance that any specific investment will be suitable or profitable for a client’s investment portfolio.
Past performance of the American Energy Independence Index is not indicative of future returns.
Leave a ReplyWant to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!