16 August 2007

Meaningless environmental targets

It seems EU leaders agreed at their summit in March that there should be a 10 percent target for biofuel use. There is also a 20% target for the proportion of EU energy from renewable sources by 2020.

This is exactly the sort of political gesture that gets us into trouble. Targets like these are not valid ends in themselves. They are a means to uncertain, unspecified, vague environmental objectives. So why not specify exactly the objectives we want to achieve and target them directly? Politicians would actually be quite good at that: one thing they do well is to articulate society's goals and raise the revenue necessary to achieve them. Where they fail is in specifying how our goals shall be achieved. Biofuel use is contentious on many grounds, and renewable energy is not necessarily better for the environment than, for example, energy conservation. When it comes to deciding how to achieve objectives politicians' record of failure is abysmal.

Thankfully these particular follies are being widely challenged before they can create and enrich interest groups whose raison d'etre will be to oppose them. A contrast to agricultural support programmes and other perverse subsidies, which do so much to waste billions of dollars, transfer wealth from the poor to the rich, and devastate the rural sector's physical and social environment, and which persist decades after their failings became known.

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