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Posts Tagged ‘environmental policy’

A modern tragedy of the commons

In many parts of the world, life in the oceans is dying out. The term ‘dead zones’ is used to describe seas that are devoid of marine life. And these zones are growing in size and number.

It’s not just the decline in fish and other marine species that’s worrying environmentalists and many others; it’s a growth in rubbish. Part of this is caused by natural disasters, such as the 2011 Tsunami in Japan that washed huge amounts of debris into the Pacific Ocean. But much of it is caused by rubbish carried down rivers and into the seas, or rubbish jettisoned from ships. The problem is particularly acute in areas of the oceans where currents circulate the rubbish into huge rubbish dumps. There are two such areas either side of Hawaii in the Pacific. Both are vast.

The first article below tells the tale of Newcastle (Australia) yachtsman Ivan Macfadyen. He completed the 2013 Melbourne to Osaka double handed yacht race earlier this year as skipper of his yacht Funnelweb and then went on to bring the yacht home to Australia via America and race the famous Trans-Pac Yacht Race from Los Angeles to Hawaii along the way.

Exactly 10 years before, when [he] had sailed exactly the same course from Melbourne to Osaka, all he’d had to do to catch a fish from the ocean between Brisbane and Japan was throw out a baited line.

“There was not one of the 28 days on that portion of the trip when we didn’t catch a good-sized fish to cook up and eat with some rice,” Macfadyen recalled. But this time, on that whole long leg of sea journey, the total catch was two. No fish. No birds. Hardly a sign of life at all.

After reaching Osaka in Japan, they sailed on to San Francisco via Hawaii.

“After we left Japan, it felt as if the ocean itself was dead,” Macfadyen said. “We hardly saw any living things. We saw one whale, sort of rolling helplessly on the surface with what looked like a big tumour on its head. It was pretty sickening.”

“I’ve done a lot of miles on the ocean in my life and I’m used to seeing turtles, dolphins, sharks and big flurries of feeding birds. But this time, for 3000 nautical miles there was nothing alive to be seen.”

In place of the missing life was garbage in astounding volumes.

As economists, you should readily understand that here we have a case of over-exploited common resources – a Tragedy of the Commons of epic proportions. One ship’s rubbish may make a tiny difference, but when the cost of dumping is near zero and when the oceans are not policed, what is rational for a single ship becomes a disaster when repeated tens of thousands of times by other ships

Again, overfishing is the result of seemingly rational behaviour by crews of individual fishing boats. But as Economics (8th edition) points out on pages 328–30:

Common resources are not owned but are available free of charge to anyone. Examples include the air we breathe and the oceans for fishing. Like public goods, they are non-excludable. For example, fishing boats can take as many fish as they are able from the open seas. There is no ‘owner’ of the fish to stop them. As long as there are plentiful stocks of fish, there is no problem.

But as more people fish the seas, so fish stocks are likely to run down. This is where common resources differ from public goods. There is rivalry. One person’s use of a common resource diminishes the amount available for others. This result is an overuse of common resources. This is why fish stocks in many parts of the world are severely depleted, why virgin forests are disappearing (cut down for timber or firewood), why many roads are so congested and why the atmosphere is becoming so polluted (being used as a common ‘dump’ for emissions). In each case, a resource that is freely available is overused. This has become known as the tragedy of the commons.

… When I use a common resource, I am reducing the amount available for others. I am imposing a cost on other people: an external cost. If I am motivated purely by self-interest, I will not take these external costs into account.

Try doing some research to find out just what has been happening to the state of the oceans in recent years.

Articles
The ocean is broken Newcastle Herald (Australia), Greg Ray (18/10/13)
Our Planet Is Exploding With Ocean Dead Zones Business Insider, Dina Spector (26/6/13)
Health of oceans ‘declining fast’ BBC News, Roger Harrabin (3/10/13)
Chaos in the Oceans Huffington Post, Evaggelos Vallianatos (14/10/13)
Ocean Health Suffers from Overfishing, Index Finds Live Science, TechMedia, Douglas Main (16/10/13)

Information
Dead zone (ecology) Wikipedia
Common Fisheries Policy Wikipedia
Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy Fisheries DG, European Commission
Ocean Health Index OHI

Questions

  1. How does a common resource differ from a public good?
  2. What is the equilibrium use of a common resource? Demonstrate this with a diagram.
  3. What is the socially efficient use of a common resource such as a fishing ground?
  4. In what ways have modern ‘industrial’ methods of fishing compounded the problem of the overuse of fishing grounds?
  5. What criteria, other than social efficiency, could be used to determine the optimal use of a common resource?
  6. Explain how the Common Fisheries Policy of the EU works. Are there any lessons that can be learned by other groups of countries from the experience of the CFP?
  7. Are there any ‘good news’ stories about the state of any of the oceans? If so, to what extent are they the result of deliberate human action?
  8. To what extent is the Internet a common resource?
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CAPping agricultural support in the EU

The European Parliament, Council and Commission have agreed on reform to the Common Agricultural Policy as part of the EU’s long-term budget settlement for 2014–20. The CAP accounts for some 38% of the EU’s budget and, over the years, has drawn considerable criticism for resulting in food mountains and support being biased towards large intensive farms.

As section 3.5 in Economics (8th ed) explains, the CAP has been through a number of reforms since the early 1990s. Prior to that, the main form of support was that of guaranteed minimum prices backed up, where necessary, by levies (tariffs) on imported food. Any surplus of production at the minimum price was bought by the relevant EU Intervention Board and either stored or exported at world prices. The effect of minimum prices is shown in the diagram.

Assume that the EU demand is DEU and that EU supply is SEU. Assume also that the world price is Pw. This will be the equilibrium price, since any shortage at Pw (i.e. ba) will be imported at that price. Thus before intervention, EU demand is Qd1 and EU supply is Qs1 and imports are Qd1Qs1.

Now assume that the EU sets an intervention price of Pi. At this high price, there will be a surplus of de (i.e. Qs2Qd2). Assume for the moment that none of this surplus is exported. It will all, therefore, be bought by the appropriate Intervention Board. The cost to the EU of buying this surplus is shown by the total shaded area (edQs2Qd2: i.e. the surplus multiplied by the intervention price). Unless the food is thrown away, exported or otherwise disposed of, there will obviously then be the additional costs of storing this food: costs that were very high in some years as wine ‘lakes’ and grain and dairy ‘mountains’ built up. If, however, the surplus is sold on world markets at the world price Pw, this will earn the green area for the EU, leaving a net cost of just the pink area.

From 1992, there was a gradual move towards lowering intervention prices and paying farmers direct aid unrelated to current output. From 2004, the main form of support became these direct aid payments. Annual payments to each farm were based on the average support it had received over the three years from 2000 to 2002. At the same time, payments to large farms were gradually reduced, with 80 per cent of the money saved in each country being diverted to rural development. Payments were also made conditional on farmers making environmental improvements to their land.

A problem with this system is that farmers who had high average output in the years 2000–2 have been receiving the same large payments ever since, while farmers who had small yields in those years have received correspondingly small payments.

A proposal two years ago by Dacian Cioloş, the EU Commissioner for Agriculture, was for flat-rate payments per hectare. But objections were raised that this would benefit inefficient farmers who would receive the same as efficient ones. In the end a compromise agreement was reached which saw a capping of the amount of payment per hectare. The result is that the most intensive farmers will see a reduction in their payments by some 30% – a process that will happen gradually over the period 2014–19.

In addition it has been agreed that 30% of the direct aid payments will be conditional on farmers adopting various measures to protect the environment and wildlife.

Farmers will have to be ‘active’ producers to receive direct aid payments. This is designed to exclude businesses such as airports or sports clubs, some of which had been receiving support under the previous system.

It was also agreed to provide 25% extra support for five years to farmers under 35 in an attempt to attract more young farmers into agriculture. Other details of the settlement are given in the EU documents, videos and articles below.

Webcasts
The great shake-up of the Common Agricultural Policy EPP Group in the European Parliament (25/1/13)
Planned reforms of Common Agricultural Policy under fire BBC News, Roger Harrabin (24/6/13)
Mixed response to compromise CAP deal RTE News (26/6/13)
Farm reforms may not increase food production, warns MEP europeandyou, Diane Dodds MEP (26/6/13)

Articles
Big farms to see European subsidies slashed The Telegraph, Rowena Mason (26/6/13)
Common Agricultural Policy deal agreed at last RTE News, Damien O’Reilly (26/6/13)
CAP Reform: MEPs, Council and Commission strike deal FarmingUK (27/6/13)
EU agricultural overhaul puts onus on farmers to be green Financial Times, Joshua Chaffin (26/6/13)
CAP reform deal agreed in Brussels Farmers Guardian, Alistair Driver (26/6/13)
‘Bad for farmers and wildlife’ – CAP reform reaction Farmers Guardian, Alistair Driver (27/6/13)

EU dcouments
Political agreement on new direction for common agricultural policy Europa Press Release (26/6/13)
CAP Reform – an explanation of the main elements Europa Press Release (26/6/13)
Press release, 3249th Council meeting : Agriculture and Fisheries The Council of the European Union (25/6/13)

Questions

  1. Why will a system of agricultural support based solely on direct aid not result in any food mountains?
  2. Show in a diagram the effect of high minimum prices (plus import levies) on an agricultural product in which a country is not self-sufficient (and is still not made so by the high minimum price). How much will be imported before and after the intervention?
  3. What are the arguments for and against making direct aid payments based solely per hectare?
  4. Find out how sugar quotas have worked. What will be the effects of abolishing them by 2017?
  5. What ‘green’ measures are included in the agreement and how effective are they likely to be?
  6. Consider the arguments for and against removing all forms of support for agriculture in the EU.
  7. What are the effects of (a) price support and (b) direct aid payments unrelated to output for EU farmers on farmers in developing countries producing agricultural products in competition with those produced in the EU?
  8. Why may the environmental measures in the new agreement be seen as too weak?
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A shock for energy provision

EU environmental legislation is beginning to cause problems in the UK. As it prohibits coal-fired power plants from generating power, they will be forced to close. This means that the UK will be forced to rely more on imported energy, which could lead to price rises, as energy shortages emerge.

Ofgem, the energy regulator has said that the risk of a gas shortage is likely to be at its highest in about 3 years time, as the amount of spare capacity is expected to fall from its current 14% to just 4%. Energy shortages have been a concern for some time, but the report from Ofgem indicates that the predicted time frame for these energy shortages will now be sooner than expected. Ofgem has said that the probability of a black-out has increased from 1 in 3,300 years now to 1 in 12 years by 2015.

The government, however, has said that its Energy Bill soon to be published will set out plans that will secure power supply for the UK. Part of this will be through investment, leading to new methods of generating energy. The Chief Executive of Ofgem, Alistair Buchanan said:

‘The unprecedented challenges in facing Britain’s energy industry … to attract the investment to deliver secure, sustainable and affordable energy supplies for consumers, still remain.’

One particular area that will see growth is wind-farms: a controversial method of power supply, due to the eye-sore they present (to some eyes, at least) and the noise pollution they generate. But with spare capacity predicted to fall to 4%, they will be a much needed investment.

Perhaps of more concern for the everyday household will be the impact on energy prices. As we know, when anything is scarce, the price begins to rise. As energy shortages become more of a concern, the market mechanism will begin to push up prices. With other bills already at record highs and incomes remaining low, the average household is likely to feel the squeeze. The following articles and the Ofgem report considers this issue.

Report
Electricity Capacity Assessment Ofgem Report to Government, Ofgem (5/12/12)

Articles
Power shortage risks by 2015, Ofgem warns BBC News (5/10/12)
Britain faces risk of blackout The Telegraph (5/10/12)
Ofgem estimates tightening margins for electricity generation Reuters (5/10/12)
Electricity shortages are ‘risk’ by 2015 Sky News (5/10/12)
Future energy bills could give customers a nasty shock ITV News, Chris Choi (5/10/12)

Questions

  1. What is the role of Ofgem in the UK?
  2. Explain the way in which prices adjust as resources become more or less scarce. Use a demand and supply diagram to illustrate your answer.
  3. To what extent do you think the UK should be forced to close down its coal-fired plants, as a part of EU environmental legislation?
  4. Are there any market failures associated with the use of wind farms? Where possible, use a diagram to illustrate your answer.
  5. Explain why an energy shortage will lead to an increase in imports and how this in turn will affect energy prices.
  6. What are the government’s plans to secure energy provision in the UK? Do you think they are likely to be effective?
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Plastic peril

A campaign to introduce a tax on disposable plastic bags in England has been launched by various pressure groups, including The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), Keep Britain Tidy, the Marine Conservation Society and Surfers Against Sewage. Plastic bags, they maintain, litter streets and the countryside and pollute the seas, where they cause considerable damage to marine life.

They propose a tax of 5p per bag, which would be passed on to consumers. Such a levy has already been introduced in Wales in October 2011. As a result, plastic bag use in Wales has dropped dramatically (see also the full report from the Welsh Government). The Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Assembly are also planning introducing similar charges.

Many other governments have introduced taxes, charges or bans on plastic bags and many more are considering introducing such measures. Ireland introduced a 15 euro cent charge on single-use plastic bags as far back as 2002 and saw a 94% reduction in plastic bag use (328 per person per year to 21). The charge was raised to 22 euro cents in 2007 after bag use rose to 30 per person.

Other countries have banned plastic bags altogether: some, such as Rwanda and Somalia have banned all plastic bags; others, such as China and South Africa have banned very thin bags; others, such as Italy, have banned non-biodegradable ones.

In the USA, various states or districts have introduced levies and in the EU, where more than four billion bags are thrown away each year, the European Commission will soon publish proposals for limiting the use of plastic bags.

So what are the arguments for limiting the use of plastic bags? Why is it not enough to leave things simply to the market? And if the use of plastic bags is to be reduced, what’s the most efficient way of doing so? Are there any problems with alternatives to plastic bags? The following articles and reports consider these questions?

Articles
England urged to pick up Wales’ plastic bag levy businessGreen, Jessica Shankleman (1/8/12)
Wales’ plastic bag charge yields massive green savings businessGreen, Jessica Shankleman (5/7/12)
Supermarkets ‘should charge £1 a bag’ BBC Today Programme, Samantha Harding and Judith Holder (2/8/12)
Environmentalists team up to push for bag tax in England Plastics News, Anthony Clark (1/8/12)
Break the Bag Habit Keep Britain Tidy (1/8/12)
Plastic bag use ‘up for second year running’ Guardian, Rebecca Smithers (5/7/12)
Plastic bag use in Wales plummets due to 5p charge, figures show Guardian, Adam Vaughan (4/7/12)
Carrier bag charge ‘effective and popular’ figures reveal ITV News (4/7/12)
What should be done about plastic bags? BBC News Magazine, Chris Summers (19/3/12)
Irish bag tax hailed success BBC News, Chris Summers (20/8/02)
The Big Fix The Math Behind Sacking Disposable Bags Atlantic Cities, Nate Berg (26/9/11)
Fremantle moves to ban plastic bags ABC News, Lucy Martin (23/7/12)
Bans Plastic Bag Ban Report, Ted Duboise (updated)
Vote With Your Dollars, and Also Vote New York Times, Gernot Wagner (30/7/12)

Reports
Evaluation Of The Introduction Of The Single-Use Carrier Bag Charge In Wales: Attitude Change And Behavioural Spillover, Wouter Poortinga, Lorraine Whitmarsh and Christine Suffolk Report to Welsh Government by Cardiff University (June 2012)
Life cycle assessment of supermarket carrierbags: a review of the bags available in 2006 Environment Agency, Joanna Marchant (25/7/11)
Stakeholder consultation on options to reduce the use of plastic carrier bags … EC Environment (19/3/12)

Questions

  1. Draw a diagram demonstrating the externalities involved in the use of plastic bags. Show the marginal private and social costs and benefits and the socially efficient level of consumption.
  2. How would you set about establishing the amount of consumer surplus from the use of plastic bags at a zero price?
  3. Compare the relative social efficiency of a tax on plastic bags with a ban on plastic bags.
  4. Would education be an effective alternative to taxing plastic bags?
  5. Why might it be difficult to get supermarkets and other retailers to agree to a voluntary ban on giving out free plastic bags?
  6. Why might it be extremely difficult in practice to establish the socially efficient price for plastic bags?
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The road ahead

The Office for Budget Responsibility has said that the UK Treasury will face a shortfall of £13bn in motoring taxes within a decade. Although car usage continues to rise putting increasing pressure on the road infrastructure, the greener and more fuel efficient cars being produced are driving down the tax revenues generated from motoring.

A report by the IFS has put forward the case for replacing the existing system of taxes on cars and fuel by a new road charging system. If no such change occurs, the IFS has forecast that with more electric cars and hence lower revenues raised from fuel and vehicle excise duties, the shortfall facing the Treasury would require an increase in fuel duty of some 50%. Instead of this, the solution could be to charge individuals for every mile of road they use, with the ‘price’ varying depending on the degree of congestion. For example, at peak times the price would be higher, where as for those in the countryside where roads are traditionally much quieter, charges would be lower. The IFS said:

‘Such a move would generate substantial economic efficiency gains from reduced congestion, reduce the tax levied on the majority of miles driven, leave many (particularly rural) motorists better off, and provide a stable long-term footing for motoring taxes without necessarily raising net additional revenue from drivers.’

Government policy across the world has been increasingly focused on climate change, with targets for emissions reductions being somewhat ambitious. However, many car manufactures who were told to reduce emissions significantly are on the way to meeting these targets and this success is a key factor contributing towards this new road ‘crisis’ that could soon be facing the government. The following articles consider the possibility of a road charging scheme.

Report
The road ahead for motoring taxes? Institute of Fiscal Studies (link to full report at the bottom of the page) (May 2012)

Articles
Compelling case for UK road charging, IFS study says BBC News (15/5/12)
Fears tax shortfall may lead to road tolls Sky News (15/5/12)
Who’s going to pay to update Britain’s infrastructure? Guardian Business Blog (15/5/12)
Motoring taxes: a future headache for the Chancellor Channel 4 News (15/5/12)
For whom the toll bills – less traffic hurts M6 toll road owner Guardian, Ian Griffiths and Dan Milmo (14/5/12)
Charge motorists per mile, says IFS Independent, Nigel Morris (15/5/12)
Green cars to drive down tax receipts Financial Times, Mark Odell and John Reed (15/5/12)

Questions

  1. Illustrate the effect of a tax being imposed on petrol. What happens to the equilibrium price and quantity?
  2. Despite fuel duty pushing up the price of petrol, why has there been such a small decline in the quantity of petrol individuals use?
  3. Evaluate the case for and against a road charging scheme.
  4. Why are tax revenues from motoring expected to decline over the next decade?
  5. Climate change has become an increasingly important focus of government policy. To what extent is the current road ‘crisis’ a positive sign that policies to tackle climate change are working?
  6. If a road charging scheme went ahead and prices were varied depending on traffic, time etc, what name would you give to this strategy?
  7. Why would it be possible to charge a higher price at peak times and a lower price for cars using country roads?
  8. Is there an argument for privatising the road network? Is it even possible?
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Ore struck in Goa

My son Andrew Sloman (see also) is currently in Goa. My wife Alison and I went to visit him over half term – our first trip to India. Goa is a beautiful state, with wonderful beaches, fantastic food and perfect weather in February. But inland from this tourist haven lies an environmental disaster caused by the open-cast extraction of iron ore.

This tiny state by Indian standards produces more than 60% of India’s iron ore exports. Whilst, along with tourism, the iron ore industry has been one of the largest contributors to the Goan economy, its environmental footprint is massive. Deforestation and water and air pollution are just three of the environmental externalities.

So should a cap be placed on the amount of iron ore that is mined? Should the industry be taxed more heavily? Should tough environmental standards be imposed on the industry? Or should it simply be allowed to continue, given its large contribution to the Goan economy? Or, at the other extreme, should the industry be closed? The linked article looks at some of the issues. Try to identify, as an economist, what information you would require in order to come to a conclusion to these questions.

Greens’ shout for cap on iron ore mining falls on deaf ears Times of India, Paul Fernandes (28/2/12)

Questions

  1. What negative externalities are involved with the Goan iron ore industry? Are there any positive externalities?
  2. What difficulties are there in measuring the negative externalities?
  3. How would you set about doing a cost–benefit analysis of (a) expanding the Goan iron ore industry; (b) shutting it?
  4. Explain the following: “The net present value of the opportunity cost for 25 years at 12% social discount rate of giving it up is greater than its environmental cost by Rs 14,449 crore, the report states.” (A crore is 10 million and Rs is the symbol for an Indian Rupee, where £1 = approximately 78 rupees.)
  5. What difficulties are there in attempting to take distribution into account when doing a cost–benefit analysis?
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Capping the CAP

The total EU budget in 2010 was €123 billion. Just under half of this (€58 billion) was spent on supporting agriculture. The programme of support – the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) – has changed over the years. For a start, despite its being a large proportion of the EU budget, this proportion has actually been falling. In 1980, the CAP accounted for 69% of the EU budget; in 1990 it was 60%; in 2000 it was 52%; in 2010 it was 47%.

The types of support have also changed. The main method in the past was effectively to set minimum prices for various foodstuffs and for Intervention Boards to buy up any surpluses that arose from such prices being above the market equilibrium. Massive food ‘mountains’ resulted. Sometimes these surpluses were dumped on the world market; sometimes they were thrown away; sometimes they were simply kept in storage. Export subsidies and import levies (taxes) were also used to reduce surpluses. This, of course, was highly damaging to farmers in many countries outside the EU, especially in various primary exporting developing countries.

Reforms have taken place in recent years. The most important has been to replace high intervention prices with direct payments to farmers unrelated to current output. Whilst such payments still provide a substantial outgoing from the EU budget, being unrelated to current output, they do not encourage farmers to produce more and thus do not generate surpluses. Prices in most cases are allowed to be determined by the market.

The EU has just announced further reforms. These include:

• Capping total CAP spending at current levels until 2020
• Capping the total payment to any one farm to €300,000
• Relating subsidies to acreage rather than previous output
• Making 30% of the direct payments dependent on farmers meeting environmental criteria.

The following videos and articles examine the proposals and assess their likely benefits, their likely drawbacks and their likelihood of being implemented.

Videos
EU plans to reform Common Agricultural Policy for farmers BBC News, Jeremy Cooke (12/10/11)
EU unveils controversial agricultural reforms Euronews (12/10/11)
Towards a new Common Agricultural Policy Euronews (14/10/11)
Queen to lose out in shake up of Europe’s farm payments Channel 4 News (12/10/11)
Cautious welcome for EU agriculture policy shake-up STV News (12/10/11)
CAP reform proposals YouTube, Dacian Cioloş, European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development (in French with English subtitles) (12/10/11)

Articles
EU farm chief: CAP plans represent profound reform Reuters, Charlie Dunmore (12/10/11)
UK to dismiss Common Agricultural Policy reforms as inadequate Guardian, David Gow (11/10/11)
EU Farm Policy Debate Pits Top Receiver France Against U.K. Bloomberg Businessweek, Rudy Ruitenberg (12/10/11)
EU plans CAP reforms for ‘greener’ farm subsidies BBC News (12/10/11)
Common Agriculture Policy farm subsidy plan unveiled BBC News (12/10/11)
Q&A: Reform of EU farm policy BBC News (12/10/11)
CAP reform: Shepherd and steward of the land BBC News, Jeremy Cooke (12/10/11)
EU agriculture policy ‘still hurting farmers in developing countries’ Guardian: Poverty Matters blog, Mark Tran (11/10/11)
EU aid to farmers to continue over next decade Financial Times, Joshua Chaffin (12/10/11)

EU publications
CAP Reform – an explanation of the main elements Europa Press Release (12/10/11)
The European Commission proposes a new partnership between Europe and the farmers European Commission Press Release (12/10/11)
EU farm policy after 2013: Commission proposals welcomed with reservations European Parliament Press Release (12/10/11)
Legal proposals for the CAP after 2013 European Commission: Agriculture and Rural Development (12/10/11)

Questions

  1. Explain why the old system of price support under the CAP led to food surpluses. Use a diagram to illustrate your analysis.
  2. What is the significance of price elasticity of demand and supply in determining the size of these surpluses?
  3. What reforms have been introduced to the CAP in recent years? What effects have these had?
  4. Explain the new proposals for the CAP after 2013.
  5. What are the likely benefits of these proposals?
  6. What are the likely drawbacks of the proposals?
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The economics of body heat

It is widely acknowledged that the supply of oil and gas will eventually run out. As these resources are depleted, prices will inevitably rise. However, with heating and energy bills at extremely high levels, a new ‘resource’ in Sweden has been used to heat buildings: Body Heat!

Hundreds of thousands of people pass through Stockholm Central Station every day and rather than letting the body heat these people generate go to waste, a Swedish firm, Jernhusen, is now ‘collecting’ their heat, converting it into hot water and then using this as a new heating resource. Klass Johnasson, one of the creators of the system said:

This is old technology being used in a new way. The only difference here is that we’ve shifted energy between two different buildings.

The Swedish firm has found that the system is not only environmentally friendly, but it is also good business practice, as it has reduced the energy costs of the block by some 25%, which, during a recession and with high energy prices, is no small thing!

The costs and benefits of such a system will inevitably vary from country to country, but in Sweden’s case, it is a viable method of heating, given their high energy prices and low winter temperatures. They are not stealing the heat from anyone, but are simply converting the excess heat that is already there. Obviously, the fact that the firm owns the station, and also the land between the station and their building, is helpful in ‘transferring’ the energy, but the firm argues that even if this wasn’t the case, it’s nothing co-operation wouldn’t solve. Is this the future of low-cost and low-carbon heating?

Harvesting energy: body heat to warm buildings BBC News, Xanthe Hinchey (9/1/11)
How Sweden turns human body heat into useful energy BBC News (19/4/10)
Passengers passing by Stockholm Central Station reduce 25% of used heating energy The Green Optimistic, Mihai Sandru (12/1/11)
Body heat: the new energy source ecPulse (11/1/11)

Questions

  1. Think about how we define abundance. Is body heat an abundant resource?
  2. Why are energy and oil prices so high? How does scarcity affect their price?
  3. Could this source of heating be described as a market failure? If so, how could we illustrate this on a diagram?
  4. Consider the Swedish firm’s profit-maximising price and output. The new heating method is said to reduce their costs – will it affect their average and/or marginal costs? Show the impact on a diagram. What happens to the firm’s profits?
  5. Is this heating method something other firms could benefit from? How could they decide whether it is cost-effective?
  6. Is there a role for the government to encourage more firms to use this method? Explain your answer.
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An Accord from discord – reflections on Copenhagen

At the end of two weeks of often acrimonious wrangling between representatives from 193 countries, an agreement – of sorts – was reached at the climate change summit in Copenhagen. What was this agreement? It was an ‘accord’ brokered by the USA, China, India, Brazil and South Africa.

This Copenhagen Accord contains three elements. The first is a recognition of the need to prevent global temperatures rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The second is a commitment by developed countries to give $30bn of aid between 2010 and 2012 to developing countries for investment in green technology and to mitigate the effects of climate change. In addition, a goal was set of providing $100bn a year by 2020. The third is for rich countries to give pledges on emissions reductions and for developing countries to give pledges on reducing emissions increases. Developed countries’ pledges will be scrutinised by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, while developing countries will merely be required to submit reports on their progress in meeting their pledges.

But this is only an accord. It has no legal status and was merely ‘recognised’ by the countries at the conference. What is more, the target of limiting temperature rises to 2C does not contain a date by which temperature rises should peak. Also, as countries are not required to submit targets for emissions until February 2010, it is not clear how these targets will be kept low enough to meet the temperature target and there is no identification of penalites that would apply to countries not meeting their pledges.

Not surprisingly, reactions around the world have been mixed. The following podcasts and articles look at these reactions and at the economic mechanisms that will be required to meet the 2C limit

Podcasts and videos
Recriminations after Copenhagen summit (video) BBC News, David Loyn (21/12/09)
Copenhagen special: Climate change talks end in failure Guardian podcast (19/12/09)
Where do we go after Copenhagen? BBC Today Programme (21/12/09)

Articles
What was agreed and left unfinished in U.N. climate deal Reuters of India Factbox (20/12/09)
Copenhagen deal: Key points BBC News (19/12/09)
Copenhagen deal reaction in quotes BBC News (19/12/09)
Copenhagen climate summit fails green investors BBC News, Damian Kahya (22/12/09)
Why did Copenhagen fail to deliver a climate deal? BBC News (22/12/09)
Copenhagen climate accord: Key issues BBC News (19/12/09)
Harrabin’s Notes: After Copenhagen BBC News, Roger Harrabin (19/12/09)
Copenhagen climate conference: Who is going to save the planet now? Telegraph, Louise Gray (21/12/09)
Copenhagen’s One Real Accomplishment: Getting Some Money Flowing New York Times, James Kanter (20/12/09)
Copenhagen climate summit: plan for EU to police countries’ emissions (including video) Telegraph, James Kirkup, and Louise Gray (19/12/09)
The road from Copenhagen Guardian, Ed Miliband (UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change) (20/12/09)
Carbon Prices Tumble After ‘Modest’ Climate Deal Bloomberg, Mathew Carr and Ewa Krukowska (21/12/09)
Copenhagen deal causes EU carbon price fall BBC News (21/12/09)
Have the hopes of environmentalists been dashed? Financial Times, Clive Cookson (21/12/09)
EU reflects on climate ‘disaster’ Financial Times, Joshua Chaffinin (22/12/09)
China not to blame on climate China Daily, Zhang Jin (23/12/09)
Selling a low-carbon life just got harder Times Online, Jonathon Porritt (21/12/09)
Better than nothing The Economist (19/12/09)
Copenhagen has given us the chance to face climate change with honesty Observer, James Hansen (27/12/09)

Questions

  1. What incentives exist for countries to agree to tough pledges to reduce emissions?
  2. Was the very limited nature of the Copenhagen Accord a Nash equilibrium? Explain.
  3. Is the carbon price a good indicator of the effectiveness of measures to curb emissions?
  4. Must any agreement have verifiable targets for each country of the world if it is to be successful in curbing carbon emissions?
  5. Is a cap-and-trade system the best means of achieving emissions reductions? Explain.
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Making the cap fit

In the second of the linked articles below, Andy Atkins, from Friends of the Earth, argues that the European Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) has failed to make any substantial cuts is emissions and is creating the opportunity for carbon traders to become very rich in increasingly complex financial products based on carbon. “This risks the development of sub-prime carbon and financial crisis – with a double whammy this time of environmental catastrophe to match.” He thus argues for alternative methods of reducing carbon, such as green taxes, tough regulation and government investment in green technology

But is the ETS a failure? In the third article, Alexandra Galin, from the Carbon Markets & Investors Association, argues that the second phase of ETS (2008–12) is much more successful than the first (2005–7) and that substantial carbon reductions have been achieved. Her argument is that a carbon trading scheme’s success in cutting carbon emissions does not depend on the trading system, but on the tightness of the cap. In other words, in a ‘cap-and-trade’ system, it is the cap that reduces emissions; the trading simply achieves the reductions in the most efficient way.

Friends of the Earth attacks carbon trading (including video) Guardian, Ashley Seager (5/11/09)
Don’t let the reckless City trade carbon Guardian, Andy Atkins (5/11/09)
The European emissions trading scheme is now a success Guardian, Alexandra Galin (17/11/09)
Storm could follow calm in EU carbon market Reuters, Nina Chestney (11/11/09)
Carbon market clouded by uncertainty BBC News, Damian Kahya (11/11/09)
See also: Gathering momentum on tackling climate change? (May 2009 blog)

Details of the European Emissions Trading Scheme can be found at:
Emission Trading System (EU ETS) European Commission, Environment DG

Questions

  1. Explain how the European Emissions Trading Scheme works.
  2. What are the advantages and disadvantages of the ETS as a means of reducing carbon emissions?
  3. Compare theses advantages and disadvantages with those of green taxes.
  4. How does the market price of carbon traded within the scheme reflect the toughness of the policy? What else might the price reflect?
  5. What is likely to happen to the carbon price in the coming months? Explain.
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