Sweden as a Model for De-Carbonization

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 4/01/2016 05:13:00 PM

In Sweden, they don't have to pollute to generate income. But can the rest of the world emulate its example?
There's an interesting article in the journal of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists by Raymond Pierrehumbert on why Sweden can be a role model for other countries in reducing carbon emissions. Especially with the contentious debate in the United States in mind, the Swedish example is notable in using markets to help the cause and to generate marketable solutions to the problem. That is, reducing carbon emissions successfully is not equivalent to "socialism" since market mechanisms can be used to address these very problems. Income can be high and still rise while carbon emissions drop.

For him, the political right's denial is based less on science and more on ideological grounds:
In my experience, inaction on restraining carbon dioxide emissions does not stem from insufficient understanding of the science or insufficient fear of the consequences of warming. Instead, it is more due to excessive fear of the nature of the solutions. On the political right, this takes the form of a fear that it is all a thinly disguised leftist plot to impose socialism.
Speaking of which, those on the political left frequently deny that markets can be the part of the solution instead of a cause of climate change:
The problem is not too much capitalism, but rather too little, and even a lack of faith in the power of the ingenuity unleashed by capitalism to solve big problems. As currently practiced, US capitalism, far from being the archetype of a free-market economy, is riddled with fossil-fuel subsidies and hobbled by politically powerful corporate stakeholders who have used their influence to protect the value of their fossil-fuel assets, regardless of how bad this may be for the rest of the economy. 
Interestingly, the author cites often-belittled carbon taxes as instrumental in making progress in the  Swedish experience. It's not so much that carbon taxes are a faulty approach since much depends on their execution:
One of the ingredients in the Swedish success story is the early introduction of carbon taxes (Andersson and Lövin 2015). The strong scientific consensus underpinning concern over human-caused global warming is well known, but economists of all political persuasions are almost equally united behind the principle that carbon taxes are the most economically efficient way to bring down carbon dioxide emissions. Sweden introduced one of the world’s first carbon taxes in 1991, at a rate of about $110 per tonne of carbon. The tax was introduced as part of a package of tax reforms that eliminated most other forms of energy tax. These reforms partly offset the carbon tax and provided economic incentives to shift to low-carbon energy sources, without mandating what form that shift would take.
Another is introducing public transport largely powered by renewable sources:
Public transit is another area of substantial progress in decarbonization. The Arlanda Express is powered by renewable electricity, and whisks you from downtown Stockholm to distant Arlanda Airport in a mere 20 minutes (an amenity not available between Manhattan and JFK). Streets are populated by various kinds of biofuel and plug-in hybrid buses, and there is an excellent high-speed rail network, largely powered by renewable electricity, ready to take you farther afield. Hydropower is still a major source of renewable electricity in Sweden, but wind power has increased from 0.3 percent of the mix to 8.4 percent in 2014, and that is even before Sweden brings Europe’s largest wind farm online.
While the private sector has taken up the initiative, it was often up to the public sector to put incentives in place to encourage carbon-reducing action:
Even with carbon taxes, efficient buildings, and district heating, the necessary infrastructure did not miraculously come into being as a result of the invisible hand of the market, but required encouragement through building codes, judiciously applied regulation, and a certain amount of direct government investment. Likewise, it was important that an increasingly renewable-powered public transit and high-speed rail infrastructure stood ready to take over from automobiles. Even though most of this network is operated by private enterprise, substantial forward-looking public investments were required to bring them into being.
Lastly--and perhaps most controversially for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists--is that nuclear power is a viable carbon-limiting power source, with the implicit argument that potential hazards from using this form of power are outweighed by the risks posed by climate change:
Nuclear power also provides low-carbon electricity, and Sweden’s nine nuclear power plants produce 40 percent of the electricity used or exported. Nuclear power is not loved by the Green Party in Sweden, but nonetheless the 1980 decision to phase out nuclear power was repealed in 2010, in recognition of the fact that low-carbon replacements would not be available in time. Four of the older plants are scheduled to be closed in 2020, which will take 2.7 gigawatts of base load power off the grid, but this will be easily replaced by the expansion of wind energy in connection with abundant pumped hydropower storage.
It's interesting stuff even if you may not agree with all of it as the world's two largest superpolluters--the United States and China--attempt to fashion arrangements to help limit their emissions.