Illustartion: © Lars-Erik Håkansson
NGOs from eleven countries in Northern Europe have evaluated national policies used to cut greenhouse gases. Result: some 150 measures. If all repeated some of the lessons learned by their neighbours, emissions would come down fast.
Deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions can be achieved in all eleven northern European nations. That is the message from a common NGO effort to rank the ten best mitigation measures. They are about the same everywhere: more renewables, better-insulated buildings and more efficient transport. The political instruments with which to achieve these ends are different. All are affordable, proven and mostly have positive side effects for the environment, jobs and quality of life.
Eleven NGO expert groups have each reported their ten best GHG mitigation measures: initially the eight Nordic-Baltic countries – Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – previously presented1 in 2013. Now three big countries with a Baltic coast have been added: Poland, Germany and Russia in a new report2.
Though the differences between these new entrants are enormous, the combined top ten list does not change very much.
It is not possible to give a fully objective and transparent rating of all the measures in all the countries, but they can almost all be grouped into eleven families of measures.
The top measure in northern Europe is CO2 and energy taxation. CO2 is by far the most important greenhouse gas and was responsible for 85 per cent of the warming effect3 in 2002–2012. The tax is well proven in Sweden, Denmark and Norway, and has also been effective in Germany. Economic instruments work: the first step is to stop subsidising fossil fuels, and then to tax them, upstream or downstream. The tax revenue can be used either for more useful spending or just to cut taxes. The essential thing is that the price signal is clear. The energy/CO2 tax works best for electricity and heating, but is problematic for heavy industry and not of much use for decarbonising transport.
Emission trading, once called the flagship of European Climate Policy, also belongs to this family. Everybody agrees that it is a great idea, but it has not delivered much. The reason for this is of course the ludicrously low target of 20 per cent emission reductions between 1990 and 2020, which has largely been achieved by now.The CO2 price is now way too low to influence decisions on energy use. Perhaps the leaking ship will be repaired someday, but meanwhile national economic instruments must keep the climate policies floating.
The reason why some national NGOs have not mentioned energy taxation is not because they do not think it is efficient, but because they have no experience to report.
The second best measure on the northern Europe list is feed-in-tariffs, which comes top of the German list. This is a well-proven measure in several countries, but best in Denmark and Germany. They brought wind power from nowhere to become the fastest growing low-carbon energy source in the world. Then Germany brought solar power from nowhere to a multi-gigawatt industry. Germany produced 30 TWh of solar power in 2013, making it the largest producer in the world – no mean feat for a country with Germany’s climate. Bio-energy has also grown spectacularly.
This success is now being replicated in much of the world, especially in China and (for solar) in Japan.
The tremendous success of the feed-in tariffs (FIT) has been pioneering for wind and solar. An alternative method for supporting renewables is renewables obligations or green certificates, which oblige consumers or producers to buy a certain percentage of renewable electricity. The difference is that FIT is tailored to give each technology as much support as needed, and then cut the subsidies as it takes off. Renewable obligations focus on benefits of scale and cost-effectiveness, fostering competitiveness between renewable sources and between projects.
Renewable obligations has also produced remarkable results. With this policy Poland and Sweden are nowamong the world leaders in wind power installation. On the world top 10 list of wind power in 2013, Poland and Sweden came in at number 9 and 10 respectively.
Energy-efficient buildings are prominent for all countries covered, sometimes divided by the kind of building (apartment, government, factories, commercial) or with respect to building codes for new buildings or requirements/subsidies for simple or extensive renovation. The technologies for reducing heat losses are essentially the same: better insulation, draughtproofing, better windows, recovery of heat from outgoing air, and better control systems and more metering. These also apply for cooling. The way to make this happen for new buildings is through building codes, energy efficiency requirements for energy utilities or white certificates for existing buildings, qualified subsidies, energy performance contracting and various innovative schemes for government buildings and energy labelling, for example.
Other areas for improving efficiency (aside from electricity and heating) include lighting, household appliances and office equipment. In the EU/EEA countries, in other words all except Russia, this is mainly an issue to be tackled at EU level. This is where the battles are fought, often within the Eco-design directive, such as the ban on incandescent bulbs and the very much improved efficiency of refrigerators.
District heating efficiency can be much improved in at least all former communist countries through better insulation, and through more cogeneration, where the heat is put to better use as it also generates power. In all countries district heating can increasingly be used to carry renewable heat from solar, heat pumps, and in some countries geothermal heat.
Vehicle efficiency standards are similarly dependent on EU legislation everywhere except Russia. But as Russia has as many people as the other ten nations put together, it is an important exception.
Other measures to reduce traffic CO2 feature in most NGO reports, varying from road tolls, vehicle taxation, CO2-related sales tax or annual vehicle tax, road tax for trucks, levies on air traffic, support for lightweight rail vehicles, and in some countries support for electric vehicles.
Whereas emissions from heat and electricity generation can be controlled by just a few instruments, the markets for cars and their usage need much more political intervention.
Traffic infrastructure and long-term planning may be grouped together. More railways do not constitute a quick and cheap way to cut emissions, but may be necessary for long-term sustainability. New railways take a long time to build, though closing old railways can happen rather fast. Sustainable urban planning is a prerequisite for good public transport and for higher levels of district heating and cooling. Another critical aspect for the integration of wind and solar power is more high-voltage transmission lines or cables.
Waste management is of importance in many countries. Reduction and sorting of waste at source are well developed in some countries, and contribute to resource efficiency, lower greenhouse gas emissions and reduced environmental impact in several ways. Methods to reduce waste include bans on landfill disposal of some waste categories, such as in Sweden and Denmark, and taxes on waste.
Land use is not a main theme in this report. NGOs are wary about LULUCF, as it invites cheating with emission statistics. It nevertheless features in the reports from Iceland (wetland reclamation, afforestation), Denmark (afforestation, though not top ten) Lithuania (afforestation), Poland (good agricultural practice) and above all Russia. Russia has by far the largest forested area in the world. What Russia does with its forests, and how they change with rising temperature and higher CO2 content in the atmosphere is important for the whole planet, for biodiversity, for air quality and for the climate. At stake in the 2050 perspective, this could represent a sink of 500 million tons CO2eq net – or a large source of carbon that could be released into the atmosphere. This is however by no means unique to Russia. All our nations are at the same crossroads, especially those that also have large forests.
The eleven NGO national reports are each different, but each one can also serve as a mirror for policymakers in every other country.
It is the differences that show the potential for change.
Denmark increased its solar power production from 104 GWh in 2012 to 518 GWh in 2013, or 92 kWh/capita. This pales into insignificance compared to Germany’s 30 TWh, almost 400 kWh/capita. But it is still an annual increase of 398 per cent, almost all due to one simple measure: net metering. There is a lot of sunshine in Poland and Sweden too, but they have almost no solar power.The opportunities to cut greenhouse gases are huge, and the knowledge to do so is right on our doorsteps. We need more of the same … much more.
Fredrik Lundberg & Gunnar Boye Olesen
1APC 30 The 10 best climate mitigation measures in the Nordic-Baltic region (2013)
2APC 31 the 10 best climate mitigation measures in Northern Europe (2014)