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An over-belief in electrification is harming the climate

An over-belief in electrification is harming the climate
An over-focus on electrification pushes politicians to postpone important climate decisions.

How to solve the climate issue? The obvious answer to that question must be to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. However, an over-belief in electrification is hampering other available technologies and risks delaying reduction efforts.

Although other greenhouse gases (GHGs) such as methane or factors such as soot and the albedo effect play a role in the planet’s warming and temperature, all other factors are so small in comparison that without an increase in carbon dioxide (CO2), there will be no climate change.

Thus, there is no other solution to the climate problem than to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

How to reduce the amount of atmospheric CO2?

According to the Global Carbon Project (GCP), 89 percent of the last ten years’ carbon dioxide emissions come from fossil energy sources and eleven percent from biogenic sources in the form of deforestation or land use change.

Gustav Melin, CEO of the Swedish Bioenergy Association
Gustav Melin, CEO of the Swedish Bioenergy Association (Svebio).

On the absorption side, 29 percent of emissions end up in new biomass, denser forests, or new forests.

Vegetation is thus able to absorb all deforestation plus a fifth of the annual emissions from fossil energy. The biomass goes up considerably every year.

At the beginning of November 2022, GCP published new figures showing that the total absorption of carbon dioxide in new biomass completely neutralized all emissions after deforestation that occurred from 1850 and onwards.

This applies regardless of whether deforestation took place in Indonesia, Africa, the United States, or Latin America.

Deforestation is a problem that needs to be addressed, but it is not the cause of climate change. How then can we reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? We can do four things:

  • Reduce fossil emissions;
  • Reduce deforestation;
  • Increase uptake in biomass; and
  • Deploy carbon capture and storage (CCS).

Deforestation and reforestation only part of the picture

Many people want to focus the climate debate on biomass and forests. But quite honestly, one can never solve the climate issue if you do not drastically reduce or completely stop using fossil fuels.

Brazil’s former President Bolsonaro is hardly the big villain in climate matters. In any case, he is not a bigger villain than for example Norway, which last year (2022) invested an estimated NOK 149.1 billion (≈ EUR 13.2 billion) to look for and exploit more fossil resources.

Nonetheless, it still feels positive that Bolsonaro lost power and that Brazil seems to be shifting toward a greater focus on climate and biodiversity around the Amazon rainforest.

Reduce the use of fossil energy

We all can reduce the use of energy in general, not least by improving energy efficiency. We can insulate buildings and install more efficient equipment. We can change our behavior – walk, cycle, take the train or bus instead of the car.

But we can also switch to smaller and more fuel-efficient vehicles, and above all, we can switch to using renewable energy in vehicles, vessels, trains, or aircraft. We can heat our homes with renewable heat, electricity, or biofuels.

One of the Swedish Bioenergy Association’s (Svebio) cornerstone values is that we advocate the Polluter Pays Principle, PPP. That whoever releases an environmentally harmful substance must pay for the damage caused to society by the pollution.

By increasing the tax level gradually and in a stepwise manner, households and businesses have been given time to adapt, which has improved the political feasibility of tax increases.
By increasing the Swedish carbon tax level gradually and in a stepwise manner, households and businesses have been given time to adapt, which has improved the political feasibility of tax increases.

This is why Svebio has always been positive toward general financial steering instruments such as carbon dioxide tax, sulphur tax, and nitrous oxide levy as superiorly effective methods of improving the environment.

Sufficiently high environmental fees in the right place make people and businesses act, adapt, and change behavior, it has a rapid and widespread effect.

But general policy measures are also the only way to give companies long-term stable rules of the game. It gives their development departments an opportunity to see into the future how policy decisions will evolve because they become logical.

Clarity and certainty reduce the risk for investors on where they should invest their money. The transition is faster.

The energy transition cannot be expedited by support and subsidies

However, it is difficult to be re-elected on increased carbon dioxide taxes and more expensive energy prices. That’s no excuse, as there are plenty of applications where biofuels or renewable electricity are cheaper than fossil energy.

There are also many opportunities to “help” citizens to switch to renewable energy sources, opportunities that are not being used.

Politicians are happy to use support and subsidies to bring about change. These are important for testing new technology, and for research and development. But for wider use, subsidies often have a detrimental effect by coercing investments into a specific technology or solution at the expense of others – a technology lock-in.

Upgraded biogas – biomethane aka renewable natural gas (RNG) is commonly used as a renewable transportation fuel in public transport in Sweden.

For example, what is the climate benefit of changing biomethane-powered buses in many Swedish cities to electric buses?

What is the climate benefit of the bonus-malus system when we know that a diesel car that runs on renewable diesel (HVO100) emits less CO2 during its life cycle than an electric car that runs on Norwegian hydroelectricity?

Why should society pay for electric car charging equipment at the homes of those who can afford to buy an electric car, when society has never otherwise paid for the refueling of cars?

Electrification is one of several possible solutions

Electrification is of course good in cases where it is efficient and better than energy efficiency or switching to renewable fuel.

However, electrification must compete on equal terms with other technologies and solutions. The cost of solving the climate issue with electrification on a global level is unreasonable and impossible within the time frame the climate issue is decided.

Many see electrification as a means to do away with harmful emissions from combustion. But renewable fuels in modern engines, stoves, and cogeneration plants do not cause dangerous emissions.

There is therefore no reasonable or logical environmental reason to give electrification a special position in climate work.

Overhead power lines require vegetation management.

On the contrary, one should be restrictive with building new power lines over forests and land. The environmental problems surrounding battery manufacturing including mining must also be addressed before they are sold on a large scale.

Above all, an over-focus on electrification pushes politicians to postpone important climate decisions.

Believing that you will solve the transport sector’s climate problems solely with electric vehicles is a typical climate disaster caused by propaganda around electrification.

This applies throughout Europe and it applies not least in Sweden if the new government implements its proposal to drastically reduce the use of renewable and sustainable biofuels.

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