NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Seeming Green

November 22, 2011

In recent years, it has become increasingly popular politically to tout one's own policies as being the greenest of the green.  Rhetoric involving "green" jobs and sustainability has come to the forefront and symbolic shows of strength against climate change are on the rise as various countries' politicians each want to demonstrate their own personal commitment.  However, this piecemeal exercise in which a random smattering of countries takes action is unlikely to change anything at all, says Bjørn Lomborg, an adjunct professor at Copenhagen Business School.

For example, the Danish government intends to expand wind power dramatically by 2020.  That is a significant gesture, but, since the country is part of the European Union's emissions-trading scheme, it will mean absolutely nothing for global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.   It will simply make coal power cheaper in other EU countries.

  • Indeed, costly emission cuts in Denmark and elsewhere are likely to lead to a partial relocation of CO2 emissions to more lenient countries, such as China (where production is less climate-efficient), and thus to an overall increase in global CO2 emissions.
  • The EU has reduced its emissions since 1990, but, at the same time, it has increased imports from China, which alone has produced enough emissions to offset those reductions.

Politicians claim that a green economy will cost nothing, or may even be a source of new growth.  Unfortunately, this is not true.

  • Globally, there is a clear correlation between higher growth rates and higher CO2 emissions.
  • Furthermore, nearly every green energy source is still more expensive than fossil fuels, even when calculating pollution costs.
  • Moreover, while green-energy subsidies generate more jobs in green-energy sectors, they also displace similar numbers of jobs elsewhere.

Many politicians are drawn to photo opportunities and lofty rhetoric about "building a green economy."  Unfortunately, the green energy policies currently being pursued are not helping the environment or the economy.  More likely, they will lead to greater emissions in China, more outsourcing to India, and lower growth rates for the well-intentioned "green" countries.

Source: Bjørn Lomborg, "Seeming Green," Project Syndicate, November 14, 2011.

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