At a time when the world’s top climate experts agree that carbon emissions must be rapidly reduced to hold down global warming, Italy’s major electricity producer, Enel, is converting its massive power plant here from oil to coal, generally the dirtiest fuel on earth.
Over the next five years, Italy will increase its reliance on coal to 33 percent from 14 percent. Power generated by Enel from coal will rise to 50 percent.
And Italy is not alone in its return to coal. Driven by rising demand, record high oil and natural gas prices, concerns over energy security and an aversion to nuclear energy, European countries are expected to put into operation about 50 coal-fired plants over the next five years, plants that will be in use for the next five decades.
Of course, the EU's commitment to fighting climate change has always been rather overrated, although they have made enormous progress in a variety of areas, ranging from carbon markets to renewable energy to more sustainable development patterns. During the Kyoto Protocol negotiations, the EU added in a provision allowing the member countries to form a "bubble," or a blanket reduction target, instead of having to follow individual reduction requirements. Of course, since the UK had at the time made massive reductions in GHG emissions, and Germany had recently absorbed a collapsed East German economy, this meant that the EU could piggyback off those two countries, and not have to reduce emissions all that much, even under the modest requirements of Kyoto.
This I learned from a talk recently by Richard Benedick, one of the key negotiators for the Montreal Protocol and a renowned diplomat in environmental matters generally. His recent article about the failure of the Kyoto process and how a more decentralized approach to climate change might work better is worth a read. I've become more of a Kyoto skeptic myself, though the danger there is that nothing will replace it when it expires in 2012. I see the most promise in a G8+5 approach of getting the biggest polluters to agree on a reduction target; or perhaps something like a global carbon fund I talked about a while back.