CLIMATE CHANGE BUSINESS FIGHTS ON
Andrew McKillop August 23 2012
The downturn in public tolerance of being lectured and harassed about global warming and climate change “crisis” has accelerated fast. Calls by the starry-eyed for crash programs of adaptation to climate change no longer incite more than a yawn among most grown up persons, today. Conversely, the process of racking up energy prices “to fight climate change” is now perceived by the general public as a threat and a political challenge to hit back against profiteers and price gougers, who spout climate change slogans to disguise the real nature of their activity.
In previous articles I have covered the heroic struggle by the tiny band of bankers, brokers and traders who operate Europe’s forced trading of emissions credits (ETS) to avoid an almost inevitable collapse of their racket and keep it alive. Among the rationales, excuses and one-liners used by the band of bankers, brokers and traders who feed from the ETS trough we find the supposed urgent need to accelerate the development of renewable energy supply in Europe – but renewable energy, these days, can go it alone on basic energy-economic grounds without the tawdry props of inherently corrupt casino finance, or junk science.
The rationale of “financing energy transition” is however still heard from defenders of the climate change gravy train, who continue to claim that “everybody agrees” that – by about 2050 – Europe should obtain as much as 85% of its energy supply from renewable sources, but with no agreement on how to get there. Translated, the financial sector is asking for the right to invent new subsidies and not remove existing subsidies: when or if ETS falls by the wayside, or simply falls apart, new “energy finance” gimmicks can be cobbled up.
The key symbol of government subsidy and support to climate change business in Europe – as opposed to renewable energy business – is the emissions trading scheme (ETS). At this moment, the financial sector is pushing to extend ETS to the “next generation” of energy sector opportunities, for hopeful easy pickings. These include Europe-wide development and operation of electrical smart grids and super grids, the extension of gas grids, possibly costing much more than 500 billion Euros, enabling 24-hour 7-day trading of electricity, and gas, and possibly heat where that is technically possible.
To this mega-project for so-called “new energy infrastructures”, most of which are in no way necessary, and all are for profit (and many are only-for-profit), the climate change For-Profit business team adds European-wide CO2 transmission grids and CO2 burial and storage installations (CCS). The cost of building these massive installations, the utility of which is possibly zero, is suggested by analysts as probably well over 1 trillion (1000 billion) Euros, if it was in fact physically and technically feasible to build tens of thousands of kilometres of CO2 pipeline systems across Europe “by about 2040″. For the band of profiteers, the cherry on the cake would be 24/7 trading of CO2 cargoes and destinations.
In brief, ETS has been a big disappointment for the banker and broker “community”. Even the most optimistic estimates of trading turnover on a nominal “paper value” basis are only 60 – 75 billion Euros a year, with low profits for the financial players, and a minuscule “pass through” to real world and real life energy projects on the ground. The possibility of a crash landing for ETS is now strong, making it urgently necessary for the “carbon finance community” to work up new gimmicks
For the moment the “carbon finance community” almost exclusively focuses the electric power production and transmission sector. Institutions inside the “community” like the European Climate Foundation, Point Carbon (now a Thomson Reuters subsidiary), Bloomberg’s New Energy Finance division for Europe, and other promoters of huge government spending to fight the small (or non existent) menace of global warming remain fixated about “tremendous opportunities for the power sector”. Translated, this means the profiteers know their opportunities are policy-driven and depend on Big Government. The need to cozy up to government is permanent, to keep it onboard and supportive at all times. The result is the “business community” maintains a wall of unreal propaganda.
The goal of the talk-talk is what it always was, for any charlatan enterprise, anywhere. Behind the smokescreen, or talkscreen, the need is to create shortages and volatile supplies of energy – because these are literally the base for “massive opportunities” for trading. No modern trader-type market can be operated successfully, for its owners (not its victims) without scarcity and volatility of supplies. In the energy sector both European gas and European electricity supplies are targeted, but the menace (for finance sector charlatans) that ETS may collapse or be abandoned by politicians, makes it necessary for them to build up, or at least maintain the political and corporate elites’ “commitment” to climate change crisis, to strike while the climate is still warm and the going is still relatively easy, so to speak.
The European Climate Foundation is a good example of how climate change business operates in Europe. Founded with cash contributions from finance sector icons including George Soros, its supposed function is as a “bridge-builder”. After itself siphoning a part of subscription fees and donations, it passes on money it gets from big funders such as major international private foundations, banks and in its case, the Dutch National Postcode Lottery, to other and smaller NGO’s operating the “climate change advocacy business”. Like all other climate change business players, it obligatorily publishes “low-carbon roadmaps”, each one a landmark issue of course. Also like the others, it intensely and permanently lobbies the European Commission and related institutions, to lever more funding for itself, and the generality of climate change business.
ETHICAL ADAPTATION TO CLIMATE CHANGE
The climate change business lobby is nothing if not moralizing. Among its “do as I say – not what I do” examples of hypocrisy it claims to support a stable and honest society of the sustainable future, while it eagerly promotes emissions trading which is at least as corrupt as any other facet of the dysfunctional and parasitic global finance system. Also, because it is now threatened by an implosion of public, and then political support, European climate business needs to go further and faster. The EU’s official “decarbonisation policy” and 2050 Energy Roadmap have been launched, but public interest is now about zero, as the corporate and banking sector adopt a watchful attitude on where they place their own cash. In policy newspeak there is a clear need for “strong policy signals” to save the climate party.
Governmental confusion and hesitation is starkly shown by many EU governments, such as the UK with its already long-running “new build nuclear” controversy. At the same time as the UK government seeks to build the world’s biggest offshore windfarms by 2020, at a cost presently estimated at about 200 billion pounds (about $300 billion), it also wants new nuclear power plants – defined as “low carbon” – and even more expensive than offshore wind. Current forecasts, by the UK government itself on electricity tariffs needed to entice the only remaining French-Russian consortium to build new nuclear plants are around 165 pounds (about $250) per 1000 kWh.
Climate and sustainability are losing their interchangeable, synonymous green light status for corporate spending intentions but because this is above all an “internationalist or globalist” quest, the potential for climate and sustainability being teamed with European Federalism was always high. Until the late 1980s we can note, what is now the European Union of 27 states had a much smaller appetite for continent-wide political power. Electric power was in particular a national domain of competence, with “symbolic activities”, like the 1957 Euratom Community, for Europe-wide atomic energy development, remaining a tiny underfunded “nice idea’ taken care of by a few dozen bureaucrats in Brussels. There was no cooperation, except symbolic energy research and absolutely no Europe-wide energy trading and energy-derived trading.
The first “ethical adaptation” of the climate business lobby was to ramrod the trader mentality into place: one key need was therefore scarcity, which for the ETS has itself created its own problems. European institutions and member governments continually print and issue too many emissions credits, so their unit value declines. The ETS, of 2005, has been followed by the 2008 climate-energy package, but today this second “pillar” for creating higher more volatile priced, and increasingly traded energy supplies in Europe has already begun to seriously fade. Member state interpretations of this 2008 policy package are now widely different, and will go on diverging. The very predictable response from the banker, broker, trader and corporate “community”, and the NGOs who feed off climate change business, is the present, increasingly shrill call for further and more intensive “carbon caps” by the central institutions of Europe, the Union, the Commission, and its related and dependent agencies.
Creating fantasy visions of the past is critical to the success of the climate business “community”: the most critical and basic is the absurd notion that “until the 1990s” there was an almost total absence of value in the electric power sector: the value of power was “unknown in the old days”. From about 1995, inside the European Commission, the go-go neoliberals (after a 15 year incubation period) had taken power over policy in most domains, including energy. Their message was of course The Market. As any European energy consumer will tell you, “the energy market” resulted in plenty of rhetoric, of course, but it only delivered higher priced energy.
The next ethical adaptation was to destroy all “vertical integration” in the power sector, called “unbundling”, creating the parasitic market trading layer in the electricity production and distribution layer cake – with an absolutely obligatory increase of average power prices. The old monopoly system, and its profit and financing system, was replaced by a new and out-of-control, ever growing web of “power sector players”. Unbundling, to be sure, created a powerful notion of price – if not value – but due to the critical and basic need to destroy transparency and enable rich pickings from price gouging, the overall size of Europe’s power system has swollen massively since the 1990s. Today’s sure and certain risk is that this asset bubble is now so “mature” it will collapse.
In parallel, deregulation became the elite policy call for European energy. For the defenders of this policy or strategy – privatizing public assets and then price gouging – the key “market-based instrument” is the ETS, but its parlous and shaky state, today, is an open threat to the whole card castle of climate change business and the “ethical adaptation” that climate change supposedly demands. The new trick of the lobby is therefore as explained above: to seek political support for new and much bigger programs, like super grids and CO2 grids for CCS, while further intensifying ETS.
Related rationales are being put in place by the business lobby: put simply, their definition of “sustainable society” will need a lot more electricity. The 2050 European Commission energy roadmap sets an easy-to-memorize and repeat doubling, from 20% to 40% of all energy used in Europe being electricity by 2050 – in other word’s full scale electrification. To be sure, the present 20% (in fact 21.1% for 2011) share of electricity in Europe’s final energy use is one of the highest rates in the world, meaning that doubling it would be policy driven to a huge extent. Without rock solid political support on a long term basis there is zero chance this electrification process could be achieved – and no corporate players will be risking their own cashflow on this quest, without it.
This sets the climate change business lobby back to “saving ETS”. The corporate players in the lobby (such as the Big 4 electric power producers of Germany, France’s EDF, and Spain’s heavily troubled renewable power producers like Iberdrola and Acciona), and their climate business NGO acolytes are therefore now pushing for “clear, trustworthy prices” of new-issue ETS paper. The most massive and splendid irony is that only in the period since 2005, and almost unrelated to the symbolic but parasitic presence of ETS, the amount of CO2 emissions by Europe’s 12 000 controlled emitters (mainly power producers and heavy industries) has declined by at least 12% – 15%. CO2 emissions have fallen – and so have the prices or “value” of emissions credits printed by European governments and institutions.
The classic response is highly predictable: less tradable paper must be printed, and previous oversupply must be destroyed. In other words scarcity must be created, even with emissions credits, proving the “market based” nature of this parasitic paper chase layered on top of the electric power cake. To be sure, the corporate and NGO explanation of “why it all went wrong” bemoan the post-2008 economic and financial meltdown, explaining this was such a surprise their computer programs ran amok – but for a policy seeking less CO2 emissions this is a success. What are they whining about?
More sinister for all Europeans who do not operate at corporate level nor trade ETS paper (about 99.99% of Europeans) the pat response of the energy-intensive industries is that ETS is working as it should, reducing emissions at the lowest possible cost to them, as they delocalize and as emissions credits get ever-cheaper, because they are fundamentally worthless. Above all, the idea of energy taxation is resisted by all corporate players, notably because it is transparent and easily understood by ordinary persons. However, the corporate and NGO defenders of climate change business, in the past 6 months, have “opened up to taxation”. They want very high taxes, to fund the CO2 CCS pipedream, of putting CO2 in pipes and sending it around Europe, north to south and east to west.
The new corporate-NGO stance is therefore what we can call the best of all worlds – for them. They want more expensive ETS tradable emissions credits, and they want higher energy taxes. Unsurprisingly, this ultimate in regulation for a “deregulated market”, calls on the European Commission to take the lead role on “coordinating and harmonizing” the new support schemes – based on higher energy prices – that would build on what started in the 1990s.
BLAME IT ON RENEWABLES
It is even betting that Europe’s political and corporate elites had no inkling of the technological and industrial success that would happen to renewable energy in Europe in at most 10 years. Ten years ago the power companies did not have special renewables divisions and inside the European Commission’s energy directorate renewable energy was still a pigeonhole in the nuclear power and energy conservation bureau. Activity has exploded since then and the industry has moved on.
The supposed role of renewable energy forcing “integration” in Europe, needing a Federal European system, is based on the notion that increasing volumes of energy produced from renewable sources mean member states will obligatorily be more dependent on each other. The whole decarbonisation process will supposedly make member states more and more dependent on each other. To use these widely distributed and different energy resources you have to cooperate and to do this you need a Federal Europe – in theory.
Arguing the exact opposite of this is easy: the German stadtwerke and their “renaissance” is a good example of decentralized energy favouring decentralized energy asset ownership and operation with high levels of public participation.
Avoiding this much more efficient and democratic alternative is now a key goal of Europe’s climate business lobby and its corporate friends. Their first concrete target is to force political deciders and energy policymakers to move forward on a European Super Grid. The corporate and NGO newspeak is that more grid capacity and stronger grid “cooperation” are part and parcel of the deregulation issue – but today they are forced to admit there is almost no progress at all. Knowing that the costs of a 42 000 kilometre Super Grid (as projected by the EU-related power transport agency the ENTSO-E), would be extreme, the first argument of the lobby is that – relative to “full decarbonization of electric power” – transmission will take less than 10% of the total spending need
In approximate terms this would place “fully decarbonized” power production as costing around 3.5 to 4 trillion Euros, and a full-blown EU Super Grid costing a mere 375 billion Euros. The time horizon, which is constantly dragged nearer the present “due to the urgency of the global warming crisis” would be about 2030 – 2035. Talking around these numbers is the meat of the climate business NGOs, who regularly produce “landmark” studies showing that “everything will be more expensive” when and if it concerns energy. Continuing to use fossil fuels can only drive costs even higher.
Due to this getting harder and harder to say with a straight face – notably because renewables are getting cheaper and massive new supplies of shale and stranded gas are in the offing – the fallback is to exaggerate the “imputed costs” for climate change effects. In turn this explains why, even today, old time video clips of ice cliffs crashing into the Arctic sea are still to be found (at least on late night TV viewing channels) – because the threat to not only society, but also the planet obviously comes with a giant size price ticket. Showing the extreme coordination of European corporate and climate business NGOs, all recent studies produced by the well populated climate lobby, that I have seen, show extremely small cost difference between their different scenarios, often no more than a few percent.
WHERE’S THE MONEY?
The simplest question is how far do current policy initiatives, such as the European energy infrastructure package go towards solving the problems they fThe simplest answer is that no present problem created by “climate crisis” and deregulation can be solved without finding a lot of money, very fast. The proposed Connecting Europe Facility (CEF), a very small-sized cousin of the Financial Stability Fund – but similar in not having any real cash – and faces the same “residual national jurisdiction” problems as the unfunded and low credibility sovereign debt and bank bailout fund. Making resources available needs a stronger European dimension because power grid operators are mostly national and their international role is very unclear.
Just like the FSF will finally have to get its cash from the pockets of consumers and taxpayers, through new consumption and revenue taxes, and reduced government services, the CEF’s money will have to come out of power consumers’ pockets through government-dictated regulated tariffs, further racked up and very occasionally down, by traders hunched over their playstation trading consoles. Relative to the actual physical cost of power transmission, which is low, the “overheads”, including the corporate and trading rake-offs, are extreme high making it sure and certain that power prices must grow.
The CEF infrastructure package is seen as a good start by the climate business lobby. Hectic horse trading is now under way, in corporate energy Europe, on cross-border cost-benefits. Unlike the bad old days of what the neolibs call “almost Stalinian” nationally owner power generating and transmission monopolies, where financing an interconnector was done through a trade contract between two monopolies, today’s broken down “unbundled” jumble of players makes things an awful lot more complicated when it doesn’t simply make it impossible. In turn, this throws up yet another unwanted and sinister shadow on the wall, for the climate business lobby: micro grids, which are of course highly adapted to decentralize energy production by locally-owned and controlled assets. The pat answer of the lobby is that this solution is bad – because it needs a lot of small new grids.
Strictly limited in its role in climate lobby scenarios, like the potential role for stadtwerke-type ownership of power assets and the development of micro grids, the place of energy efficiency and “de-electrification” of the economy is avoided. The basic reason is simple: the return on investment with these alternatives is so much higher than the “corporate and NGO friendly” big spending solution. Minimising investments in new transmission infrastructure, reducing electricity demand and using a rational strategy for renewable/fossil energy mixes will always be more economic.
To be sure, any less expensive and more rational solution is avoided like the plague, by the climate business lobby. Its ace card for nearly unlimited spending is carbon capture and storage (CCS). Showing the strange mixture of outright arrogance an naivety we find in these “ethical adapters” to future fuel poverty for millions of persons – but not them – the argument is that CCS is most urgent and vital in China and India, but for Europe it will only be obligatory to have continent-wide system of CO2 transport and burial by “about 2030″. Costs for continent-wide CCS are so extreme it is not necessary to give them – due to public acceptance of CCS being close to zero.
DYING ON ITS KNEES
The international context in determining where Europe goes on climate and energy policy is impossible to ignore – despite the brave attempts of the lobby to ignore each European defeat in every major international climate conference since the ill-fated Dec 2009 Copenhagen conference. The lobby puts a breezy spin on these serial defeats, arguing that there is “considerable progress on climate issues” in China, India, and “even the USA”, but that coordination is bad, and this explains the delay in fixing up a global ETS with a high carbon price.
We are therefore almost 100% certain to see a return of naked climate global warming crisis material in government-friendly mainstream media, in coming weeks and months from Summer 2012. The loss of public support, and lack of public support for “building a more sustainable climate future” is now very actively perceived by the climate change business lobby as a major handicap. The mentality of the corporate and NGO lobby – elitist, arrogant, greedy – makes it certain their new propaganda blitz will be yet more laughable than previous, because they refuse to understand that people in Europe, today, do not want their version of a “more sustainable future”, meaning lining the pockets of a tiny minority at a time of economic stress and challenge.
The future of so-called “adaptation to climate change” will very surely include a sharp political reaction to the sewer-level “ethics” of the lobby in its mindless quest for easy pickings. The tricks used to force public acceptance of “climate crisis” are wearing mighty thin – by adding the blunt instrument of price gouging and energy tax gouging, the loss of public support may soon be total.