Economic stakeholders will continue play a huge role in the energy transition and have a real responsibility. Their (investments) decisions will be crucial in the struggle to tackle climate change. Two thirds of current greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to only 90 companies (mainly active in the fossil fuels sector). Their choices and actions will be crucial to prevent the world from warming up more than two degrees.

Some of these economic stakeholders are suggesting and lobbying for so-called “new solutions”, which are technologies or processes supposed to moderate or even eliminate climate change effects. Biofuels, shale gas or nuclear power are thus presented as new ways to make their industries eco-cleaner. In fact, these technologies, far from new for some of them, are wrong solutions for climate protection and instead of being real alternatives, they often worsen industrial impacts on the environment and human health. What’s more, these “solutions” are especially dangerous as they are diverting public resources from the real solutions, i.e renewable energies, energy efficiency and savings.

CAN Europe is here to explain why some of these “new solutions” are both dangerous and counter-productive.

Biofuels can be no better than fossil fuels
The argument used by proponents of biofuels in the fight against climate change is that they would be “carbon neutral”, as crops or trees (used to make biofuels) have absorbed the CO2 that biofuels produce when they are later burned. However, the large development of biofuels can have direct impacts on the food security of developing countries as they often use soil that is necessary for food production.

As a result, many developing countries are now faced with increasing deforestation, which actually cancels any positive effect of biofuels. The extenction of forests, trees, grass or other biomass means the amount of absorbed greenhouse is going down . Also because they involve vast applications of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and require enormous water resources, biofuels can under certain circumstances be more dangerous for the environment and human health than fossil fuels. Using computer models developed by the US Environmental Protection Agency, some researchers found the total environmental and health costs of gasoline are about 71 cents per gallon, while an equivalent amount of corn-ethanol fuel has associated external costs of 72 cents to $1.45. This is why it should be introduced a cap to limit the use of biomass for energy to levels that can be sustainably supplied.

Shale gas: the danger of methane
For some countries, shale gas is the panacea to assure a local energy supply, reduce energy imports and consequently reduce greenhouse gases. Inside Europe, Poland is the biggest supporter of this technology but has known many setbacks recently as more and more companies are dropping exploration programs for economic reasons . Notwithstanding the profitability of shale gas, the danger is especially that it is as polluting – or even more – than coal (yet often considered as the most polluting energy) because its exploitation entails huge amounts of methane, a gas with a global warming potential 34 times higher than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period . Not to mention the several other dangers of shale gas on environment: Toxic chemicals used whilst fracking can contaminate surface and groundwater, and pollute the air and soil; vast amounts of water are required to extract shale gas, creating significant social and environmental pressures at local and regional levels; fracking also increases the risks of earthquakes, with recorded cases across the US and UK.

Nuclear power: neither safe nor reliable nor competitive
Nuclear power, which is mostly used in a handful of countries, particularly in France – the COP21 host – is promoted by its lobby as a “clean” solution for the climate challenge, as its production theoretically emits zero greenhouse gases. Nevertheless, besides significant greenhouse gas emissions throughout the nuclear supply chain, this form of energy implies many risks and problems. First, one must bear in mind that uranium mines (necessary to nuclear plants) are very polluting just like the allowed rejection of radioactive and chemical substances directly in countryside. Moreover, highly radioactive nuclear waste, for which no solutions exists despite decades of research, will remain dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years and are leaving the burden on many future generations.

Then, as it was proved by the Chernobyl and Fukushima tragedies, the risk of accident does exist and any human mistake, technical problem or natural disaster can lead to terrible consequences on the environment, and above all, human health.

Finally, contrary to what is often argued by its defenders, nuclear power is not cost-competitive with other sources of energy, and with renewables in particular. For instance, while the cost of solar panels has dropped by 10% per year in the last decade, the price of new nuclear plants has on the contrary constantly risen.

The climate situation is too urgent to lose time (and vast amounts of money) with so-called “new” solutions, which are in reality wrong remedies often more dangerous for the environment and for health than fossil fuels are. That’s why the 2015 UN Climate Summit in Paris must be the moment the world decides to speed up the ongoing energy transition from fossil fuels and nuclear to 100% renewables.

Gaétan Arnould is intern at CAN Europe

Sources:
http://macop21.fr/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/COP21-livret-RAC-France.pdf 
http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2009/feb/02/biofuels-health 
http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/world-must-wake-up-to-the-dangers-of-biofuels-head-of-kew-gardens-warns-415197.html 
http://www.la-croix.com/Actualite/Economie-Entreprises/Economie/Vents-contraires-sur-le-gaz-de-schiste-en-Europe-2015-03-01-1286158  (in French) 
https://www.foeeurope.org/shale-gas-dangerous-experiment-240412