£319 billion on Climate Change for approximately nothing

The major reason for abandoning the Climate Change Act 2008 is not due to the massive financial burden imposed on families, but because it will do approximately nothing to curb global greenhouse gas emissions. Massive costs are being imposed for near zero prospective benefit.

At the weekend the GWPF published a paper by Peter Lilley MP on the costs of The Climate Change Act 2008. From 2014 to 2030 he estimates a total cost of £319 billion to ensure that in 2030 British greenhouse gas emissions are 57% below their 1990 levels.
Putting this into context, listen to then Environment Minister David Miliband introducing the Climate Change Bill in 2007.

The 2008 Act increased the 2050 target from 60% to 80%. Miliband recognizes that what the UK does is not sufficient to stop a global problem. That requires a global solution. Rather, the aim is for Britain to lead the way, with other industrialized countries encouraged to follow. The developing countries are given a free choice of “a low carbon path of development rather than to repeat the mistakes of the industrialized countries.

Over eight years after the little video was made and seven years after the Climate Change Act was passed (with an increased 2050 emissions reduction target of 80% reduction on 1990 levels) was the COP21 in Paris. The responses from other countries to Britain’s lead were in the INDC submission, which the UNFCCC summarized in a graph, and I have annotated.

The UNFCCC have four bands. First, in orange, is the Pre-INDC scenarios. Then in yellow is the projected global impact if all the vague policy proposals are full enacted. In blue is the least cost 2◦C pathway for global emissions reductions, whilst in green is the least cost 1.5◦C pathway.

I have superimposed lilac arrows showing the UK Climate Act proportionate emissions pathway achieving a 57% emissions reduction by 2030 and an 80% emissions reduction by 2050 compared to the baseline 1990 emissions. That is, if all countries were to follow Britain’s lead, then the 2◦C warming limit would not be breached.

What this clearly shows is that collectively countries have not followed Britain’s lead. Even if the policy proposals were fully enacted (an unlikely scenario) the yellow arrow quite clearly shows that global emissions will still be rising in 2030.

This needs to be put into context of costs and benefits. The year before David Miliband launched the Climate Bill the Stern Review was published. The Summary of Conclusions gave the justification for reducing greenhouse emissions.

Using the results from formal economic models, the Review estimates that if we don’t act, the overall costs and risks of climate change will be equivalent to losing at least 5% of global GDP each year, now and forever. If a wider range of risks and impacts is taken into account, the estimates of damage could rise to 20% of GDP or more. In contrast, the costs of action – reducing greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change – can be limited to around 1% of global GDP each year.

Britain is spending the money to avert catastrophic global warming, but future generations will still be subjected to costs of climate catastrophe. It not much worse in terms of wasting money if the Stern Review grossly exaggerated the likely costs of warming and massively understated the policy costs, as Peter Lilley and Richard Tol laid out in their recent paper “The Stern Review : Ten Years On“.

However, if the British Government had conducted some proper assessment of the effectiveness of policy (or the Opposition has done their job in holding the Government to account) then it would have been clear that sufficient countries would never follow Britain’s lead. Last year Robin Guenier published some notes on Supreme Court Justice Phillip Sands lecture CLIMATE CHANGE and THE RULE OF LAW. Guenier stated of the Rio Declaration of 1992

There’s little, if any, evidence that the undoubted disagreements about the science – the focus of Professor Sands’ concern in his lecture – are the reason it’s proving so difficult to come to an effective agreement to restrict GHG emissions. In contrast however, the Annex I / non-Annex I distinction has had huge consequences. These arise in particular from Article 4.7:

“The extent to which developing country Parties will effectively implement their commitments under the Convention … will take fully into account that economic and social development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of the developing country Parties.” [My emphasis]

When the Convention was enacted (1992) the effective exemption of developing countries from environmental constraint made some sense. But over the years Non-Annex I countries, which include major economies such as China, India, South Korea, Brazil, South Africa, Saudi Arabia and Iran, have become increasingly powerful: in 2012 responsible for 67% of global CO2 emissions.

Robin Guenier uses estimates for CO2 emissions not (the admittedly harder to estimate) GHG emissions, of which CO2 comprises about two-thirds. But estimates are available from from the European Commission’s “Emissions Database for Global and Atmospheric Research” (EDGAR) for the period 1990 to 2012. I divided up the emissions between the Annex countries and the Non-Annex countries. 

The developing countries accounted for 64% of global GHG emissions in 2012, up from 47% in 1990 and 57% in 2005 when the Stern Review was being written. From 1990 to 2012 global emissions increased by 41% or 15,700 MtCO2e, whilst those of the Non-Annex countries increased by 90% or 16,400 MtCO2e  to 34,600 MtCO2e. The emissions in the United Kingdom decreased in the period (mostly for reasons other than mitigation policies) by 25% to 586 MtCO2e or 1.1% of the estimated global total.

It would have been abundantly clear to anyone who actually looked at the GHG emissions figures by country that the Rio Declaration 1992 was going to prevent any attempt to significantly reduce global GHG emissions. Since 1992 the phenomenal economic growth of countries like China and India, driven by the low energy costs of fossil fuels, have made the impossibility of reducing global emissions even starker. Yet still the IPCC, UNFCCC, many Governments and a large Academic consensus have failed to acknowledge, let alone understand, the real world data. Still they talk about reducing global emissions by over 80% in a couple of generations. In terms of the United Kingdom, the INDC submissions produced last year should have been further confirmation that the Government has no rational justification for imposing the massive costs on families, increasing inequalities and destroying jobs in the process.

Kevin Marshall


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  1. Friends of the Earth distorting the evidence Fracking in the UK | ManicBeancounter

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