Dieter Helm has long been frustrated that, despite more than two decades of international negotiations, the world has failed to tackle climate change. So he got angry, he said, and decided to write a book about it: “The Carbon Crunch: How We’re Getting Climate Change Wrong — and How to Fix It.”
Dr. Helm, a professor of energy policy at Oxford and an economic adviser to Britain’s secretary of state for energy and climate change, recently discussed what he views as America’s lucky break with natural gas and what we can learn from Europe’s energy policy mistakes. Following are excerpts, edited for brevity and clarity.
Why has the world failed to tackle climate change?
It’s not for want of trying. We tried very hard. But if you look at the Kyoto framework [a climate pact to which the European Union was party] between 1990 and today, there’s a continuously upward increase in carbon emissions from two parts per million in 1990 to three parts today. Kyoto has had no effect whatsoever. Kyoto is fatally flawed.
What we did in Europe was essentially shut down deteriorating rust-bucket manufacturing, swap production from energy-intensive industries and import the stuff from China. In Europe, Britain did the best and drove down carbon emissions from 1990 to 2005 by 15 percent. If you factor in imports, our emissions on a consumption basis went up 19 percent in the same period.
Kyoto is a framework to make Europe look good. That’s the climate merry-go-round. It was badly structured and bound to fail. It has failed. And as soon as possible it should be taken off life support.
Is the United States in a better position than Europe to reduce carbon dioxide emissions?
The paradox of all this is the Europeans put all this effort into global leadership on carbon emissions, and that has failed. And the Americans arguably have no sensible energy policy at all, and no climate change policy, and have done much…