Valve Turner Micheal Foster’s Climate Necessity Defense

The Climate Necessity Defence for criminal acts to impede the lawful business of the fossil fuel industry cannot be justified. The acts will never of themselves have a significant impact in constraining global greenhouse emissions. In any event, there will always be more than sufficient proven fossil fuel reserves in countries out of the reach of any activist action, or even Government-backed action, to constrain aggregate cumulative fossil fuel emissions to anywhere near the levels commensurate with constraining temperature to 2°C of warming. What it does do is impose immediate harms on the actual victims of the crimes, and harms on the countries in which the crimes are committed. Some of the harms are from benefitting non-policy countries who produce fossil fuels. The conviction last week of climate activist Michael Foster is a clear case study.


The New York Times reports (hattip GWPF) on the conviction by the North Dakota Supreme Court of Seattle resident Michael Foster.

Foster took part in effort on Oct. 11, 2016, to draw attention to climate change by turning off valves on five pipelines that bring Canadian oil south. Foster targeted the Keystone Pipeline in North Dakota. Other activists targeted pipelines in Minnesota, Montana and Washington state.

A jury in North Dakota’s Pembina County on Friday convicted Foster after a weeklong trial of criminal mischief, criminal trespass and conspiracy. He faces up to 21 years in prison when he’s sentenced Jan. 18. The man who filmed his protest action, Samuel Jessup of Winooski, Vermont, was convicted of conspiracy and faces up to 11 years.

What I found interesting was the next sentence.

Foster had hoped to use a legal tactic known as the climate necessity defense — justifying a crime by arguing that it prevented a greater harm from happening.

The Climate Disobedience Center in its article for activists on the climate necessity defense says

The basic idea behind the defense — also known as a “choice of evils,” “competing harms,” or “justification” defense — is that the impacts of climate change are so serious that breaking the law is necessary to avert them.

Foster had his action filmed, shown from 2.07 here.

Keystone Pipeline. North Dakota. I’m Michael Foster. In order to preserve life as we know it and civilization, give us a fair chance and our kids a fair chance, I’m taking this action as a citizen. I am duty bound.

This was a significant action. The video quotes Reuters news agency.

Was this action “preserving life as we know it“? In shutting down the pipeline, (along with four pipelines others in the coordinated action) 590,000 barrels of oil failed to be transported from Canada to the USA that morning. It was merely delayed. If the pipelines are working at full capacity it would maybe have been transported by rail instead. Or more produced in the USA. Or more imported from the Middle East. But suppose that those 590,000 barrels (83000 tonnes) had been left in the ground, never to be extracted, rather than delaying production. What is the marginal difference that it would make climate change?

From the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2016 (full report), I find that global oil production in 2015 was around 92 million barrels per day, or 4362 million tonnes in the full year. Global production would have been 0.6% lower on Oct. 11, 2016 or 0.002% lower in the full year. Yet there is plenty of the stuff in the ground. Proven global reserves are around 50.7 years of global production. Leaving 590,000 barrels in the ground will reduce proven reserves by around 0.000038%. That is less than one part in a million of proven oil reserves. Yet in the last few years, proven reserves have been increasing, as extraction techniques keep improving. This despite production climbing as well. 2015 production was 21% higher than in 2000 and 56% higher than in 1985. Proven reserves in 2015 were 30% higher than in 2000 and 112% higher than in 1985.

I have divided up those 50.7 years of reserves by major areas.

The effect of turning off the oil pipeline is posturing unless it shuts down oil production in Canada and the USA. But that would still leave over 40 years of proven reserves elsewhere. Are Russia and Middle Eastern countries going to shut down their production because of the criminal acts of a few climate activists in the USA?

But oil is not the only major fossil fuel. Production of coal in 2015 was 3830 Million tonnes of oil equivalent, 88% of oil production. Proven coal reserves are 123 years of current production. Further, if oil prices rise to the levels seen over the last few years, it will become economic to convert more coal to liquids, a process which consumes four to five times the CO2 of burning oil.

Are China, Russia, India, Australia, Ukraine, Indonesia, South Africa and many other countries going to shut down their production because of the criminal acts of a few climate activists in the USA?

The third major fossil fuel is gas. Production in 2015 was 3200 million tonnes of oil equivalent, 73% of oil production. Proven reserves are equivalent to 52.8 years of current production levels.

The reserves are slightly more centralized than for oil or coal. Like with oil, a large part of available reserves are concentrated in Russia and the Middle East.

Leaving 590,000 barrels in the ground would reduce proven reserves of fossil fuels by around one part in ten million.

The 50+ years of proven reserves of oil and gas, and 120+ years of proven reserves of coal needs to be put into a policy context. The IPCC AR5 Synthesis Report gave a very rough guide to how much CO2 (or equivalent greenhouse gases) could be emitted to limit warming to less than 2°C. From 2012 it was 1000 GtCO2e.

With emissions in 2011 at around 50 GtCO2e, that gave 20 years. From next year that will be less than 15 years. The recent paper “Emission budgets and pathways consistent with limiting warming to 1.5C” (hereafter Millar et. al 2017) reevaluated the figures, with the 1.5°C not being breached for a further 20 years. Whatever way you look at the figures, most of the proven fossil fuels in the world will have to be left in the ground. That requires the agreement of Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran, Iraq, Qatar, Kuwait, Turkmenistan, China, India, Venezuela, alongside USA, Canada, Australia and a large number of other countries.

Further, there can be no more extractions of fossil fuels from unproven reserves, which will likely exceed the proven reserves.

The efforts of Micheal Foster and his mates could incite further criminal acts. But massive lawbreaking throughout the United States, it would still be insufficient in the USA to significantly dent the production and distribution of fossil fuels in the USA. Even if that happened, there are plenty of other countries who would willingly meet the existing demand. All that the action is likely to do is push up the costs of production and distribution in the USA, harming the US economy and the futures of people involved in the fossil fuel industries and energy-intensive industries.

It is the aspect of failing to make a significant marginal difference through the action – that is reducing global greenhouse gas emissions – than renders the climate necessity defense void. Even if large numbers of other actions are inspired by Foster and others, it would still be insufficient to get anywhere close to the constraint in emissions to constrain warming to 1.5°C or 2°C. On a larger scale, even if all major Western economies shut down all fossil fuel production and consumption immediately, it would merely delay by a few years the cumulative aggregate emissions from 2012 onwards exceeding 1000 GtCO2e.

It gets worse. A particular case must be decided on the damage caused to the victims of the crime. In this case the owners of the pipeline, the employees of the business, the customers who do not get their oil, etc. If there are beneficiaries, it is the billions of people in generations to come. The marginal difference to the victims of the action is tangible and has happened. The marginal difference to the beneficiaries is imperceptible and even then based on belief in what amount to nothing more than pseudo-scientific prophecies. But given that a shut-down of production in the USA is likely to be met by increased production elsewhere even these future dispersed and speculated benefits are unlikely to accrue.

More broadly, if specific people need to have their immediate interests sacrificed for the greater good, surely that is the function of Government, not some wayward activists? In that way the harms could be more equitably distributed. With random acts of criminality, the harms are more likely to be based on the prejudices on the activists.


The Climate Necessity Defence is an invalid justification for the criminal actions of Michael Foster and others in shutting down the oil pipelines from Canada into the USA. The marginal impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions by the action, if they were not made up by increased production elsewhere, is about one part in ten million. But given that most of the global proven fossil fuel reserves are concentrated in a small number of countries – many of whom have no commitment to reduce emissions, let alone leave the source of major revenues in the ground – the opportunity of producing more is likely to be taken up. Further, the harms the activist’s action is immediate, very definite and concentrated, whilst the benefits of reduced climate change impacts from reduced emissions are speculative and dispersed over tens of billions of people. 

Kevin Marshall

The Inferior Methods in Supran and Oreskes 2017

In the previous post I looked at one aspect of the article Assessing ExxonMobil’s Climate Change Communications (1977–2014) by Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes. I concluded the basis for evaluation of ExxonMobil’s sponsored climate papers – “AGW is real, human-caused, serious, and solvable” –  is a mantra held by people who fail to distinguish between empirical and verifiable statements, tautologies, opinions and public policy that requires some fanciful global political implementation. In this post I look at how the application of that mantra in analyzing journal articles can lead to grossly misleading interpretations.

Under Section 2. Method, in Table 2 the authors lay out their criteria evaluation in terms of how the wording supports (endorses) or doubts elements of the mantra. For AGW is real & human-caused there are quite complex criteria. But for whether it is “serious” and “solvable” they are much more straightforward, and I have reproduced them below.

The acknowledgment or doubt of “AGW as serious” or “AGW as solvable” are in relation to the mantra. That is the only criteria used. Supran and Oreskes would claim that this does not matter. What they are looking at is the positions communicated in the papers relative to the positions expressed by ExxonMobil externally. But there are problems with this methodology in terms of alternative perspectives that are missing.

First is that the underlying quality and clarity of results and relevancy of each paper is ignored. What matters to Supran and Oreskes is the language used.

Second is that ExxonMobil’s papers are not the only research on whether “AGW is real, human-caused, serious, and solvable”. The authors could also take into account the much wider body of papers out there within the broad areas covered by the mantra.

Third, if the totality of the research – whether ExxonMobil’s or the totality of climate research – does not amount to a strong case for anthropogenic global warming being a serious global problem, and nor having a workable solution, why should they promote politicized delusions?

Put this into the context of ExxonMobil – one of the World’s most successful businesses over decades – by applying some of the likely that it would use in assessing a major project or major strategic investment. For instance

  • How good is the evidence that there is a serious problem on a global scale emerging from human GHG emissions?
  • How strong is the evidence that humans have caused the recent warming?
  • Given many years of research, what is the track record of improving the quality and refinement of the output in the climate area?
  • What quality controls and KPIs are in place to enable both internal and external auditors to validate the work?
  • Where projections are made, what checks on the robustness of those projections have been done?
  • Where economic projections are produced, have they been done by competent mainstream economists, what are the assumptions made, and what sensitivity analyses have been done on those assumptions?
  • Does the project potentially harm investors, employees, customers and other stakeholders in the business? Where are the risk assessments of such potential harms, along with the procedures for the reporting and investigation of non-compliances?
  • Does a proposed project risk contravening laws and internal procedures relating to bribery and corruption?
  • Once a project is started, is it possible to amend that project over time or even abandon it should it fail to deliver? What are the contractual clauses that enable project amendment or abandonment and the potential costs of doing so?

Conclusions and further thoughts

Supran and Oreskes evaluate the ExxonMobil articles for AGW and policy in terms of a belief mantra applied to a small subset of the literature on the subject. Each article is looked at independently of from all other articles and indeed all other available information. Further any legitimate argument or evidence that undermines the mantra is evidence of doubt. It is all throwing the onus on ExxonMobil to disprove the allegations, but never for Supran and Oreskes justify their mantra or their method of analysis is valid.

There are some questions arising from this, that I hope to pursue in later posts.

1. Is the method of analysis just a means of exposing ExxonMobil’s supposed hypocrisy by statistical means, or does it stem from a deeply flawed and ideological way of perceiving the world, that includes trying to shut out the wider realities of the real world, basic logic and other competing (and possibly superior) perspectives?

2. Whatever spread of misinformation and general hypocrisy might be shown on the part of ExxonMobil from more objective and professional perspectives, is there not greater misinformation sown by the promoters of the “climate consensus“?

3. Can any part of the mantra “AGW is real, human-caused, serious, and solvable” be shown to be false in the real world, beyond reasonable doubt?

Kevin Marshall


Supran and Oreskes on ExxonMobils Communication of Climate Change

Over at Cliscep, Geoff Chambers gave a rather bitter review (with foul language) about a new paper, Assessing ExxonMobil’s Climate Change Communications (1977–2014) by Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes.
One point that I would like to explore is part of a quote Geoff uses:-

The issue at stake is whether the corporation misled consumers, shareholders and/or the general public by making public statements that cast doubt on climate science and its implications, and which were at odds with available scientific information and with what the company knew. We stress that the question is not whether ExxonMobil ‘suppressed climate change research,’ but rather how they communicated about it.

It is the communication of climate science by a very powerful oil company, that the paper concentrates upon. The approach reveals a lot about the Climate Change movement as well. In particular, this statement in the introduction:-

Research has shown that four key points of understanding about AGW—that it is real, human-caused, serious, and solvable—are important predictors of the public’s perceived issue seriousness, affective issue involvement, support for climate policies, and political activism [62–66].

The references are as follows

[62] Krosnick J A, Holbrook A L, Lowe L and Visser P S 2006 The origins and consequences of democratic citizens’ policy agendas: a study of popular concern about global warming Clim. Change 77 7–43
[63] Ding D, Maibach E W, Zhao X, Roser-Renouf C and Leiserowitz A 2011 Support for climate policy and societal action are linked to perceptions about scientific agreement Nat. Clim. Change 1 462–6
[64] Roser-Renouf C, Maibach E W, Leiserowitz A and Zhao X 2014 The genesis of climate change activism: from key beliefs to political action Clim. Change 125 163–78
[65] Roser-Renouf C, Atkinson L, Maibach E and Leiserowitz A 2016 The consumer as climate activist Int. J. Commun. 10 4759–83
[66] van der Linden S L, Leiserowitz A A, Feinberg G D and Maibach E W 2015 The scientific consensus on climate change as a gateway belief: experimental evidence PLoS One 10 e0118489

For the purposes of Supran and Oreskes study, the understanding that people have does not require any substance at all beyond beliefs. For instance, the Jehovah Witness Sect developing an “understanding” that Armageddon would occur in 1975. This certainly affected their activities in the lead up to the momentous history-ending event. Non-believers or members of the Christian Church may have been a little worried, shrugged their shoulders, or thought the whole idea ridiculous. If similar studies to those on climate activism had been conducted on the prophecy of Armageddon 1975, similar results could have been found to those quoted for AGW beliefs in references 62-66. That is, the stronger the belief in the cause, whether religious evangelism in the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses, or ideological environmentalism in the case of AGW, is a predictor of activism in support of the cause. They cannot go further because of an issue with scholarly articles. Claims made must be substantiated, something that cannot be done with respect to the prophesies of climate catastrophism, except in a highly nuanced form.
But the statement that AGW is “real, human-caused, serious, and solvable” – repeated five times in the article – indicates something about the activists understanding of complex issues.
AGW is real” is not a proper scientific statement, as it is not quantified. Given that the impacts on surface temperatures can muffled and delayed nearly indefinitely by natural factors, or swallowed by the oceans, the belief can be independent of any contrary evidence for decades to come.
AGW is human-caused”, is saying “Human-caused global warming is human-caused”. It is a tautology that tells us nothing about the real world.
AGW is serious” is an opinion. It may be a very widely-held opinion, with many articles written with confirming evidence, and many concerned people attending massive conferences where it is discussed. But without clear evidence for emerging net adverse consequences, the opinion is largely unsubstantiated.
AGW is solvable” could be whether it is theoretically solvable, given the technology and policies being implemented. But the statement also includes whether it is politically solvable, getting actual policies to reduce emissions fully implemented. If the “solution” is the reduction of global emissions to a level commensurate with 2C of warming (hence a partial solution), then COP21 in Paris shows that AGW is a long way from being solvable, with no actual solution in sight. Whereas the 2C limit requires global emissions to be lower in 2030 than in 2015, and falling rapidly, fully implemented policies would still see emissions higher in 2030 than in 2015 and still increasing.

The statement AGW is “real, human-caused, serious, and solvable” is, therefore, nothing more than a mantra held by people who fail to distinguish between empirical and verifiable statements, tautologies, opinions and public policy that requires some fanciful global political implementation. 

Kevin Marshall

Guardian Images of Global Warming Part 2 – A Starved Dead Polar Bear

In the Part 2 of my look at Ashley Cooper’s photographs of global warming published in The Guardian on June 3rd I concentrate on the single image of a dead, emaciated, polar bear.
The caption reads

A male polar bear that starved to death as a consequence of climate change. Polar bears need sea ice to hunt their main prey, seals. Western fjords of Svalbard which normally freeze in winter, remained ice free all season during the winter of 2012/13, one of the worst on record for sea ice around the island archipelago. This bear headed hundreds of miles north, looking for suitable sea ice to hunt on before it finally collapsed and died.

The US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) has monthly maps of sea ice extent. The Western Fjords were indeed ice free during the winter of 2012/13, even in March 2013 when the sea ice reaches a maximum. In March 2012 Western Fjords were also ice free, along with most of the North Coast was as well.  The maps are also available for March of 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008. It is the earliest available year that seems to have the minimum extent. Screen shots of Svarlbard are shown below.

As the sea ice extent has been diminishing for years, maybe this had impacted on the polar bear population? This is not the case. A survey published late last year, showed that polar bear numbers has increased by 42% between 2004 and 2015 for Svarlbard and neighbouring archipelagos of Franz Josef Land and Novaya Zemlya.

Even more relevantly, studies have shown that the biggest threat to polar bear is not low sea ice levels but unusually thick spring sea ice. This affects the seal population, the main polar bear food source, at the time of year when the polar bears are rebuilding fat after the long winter.
Even if diminishing sea ice is a major cause of some starvation then it may have been a greater cause in the past. There was no satellite data prior to the late 1970s when the sea ice levels started diminishing. The best proxies are the average temperatures. Last year I looked at the two major temperature data sets for Svarlbard, both located on the West Coast where the dead polar bear was found. It would appear that there was a more dramatic rise in temperatures in Svarlbard in the period 1910-1925 than in period since the late 1970s. But in the earlier warming period polar bear numbers were likely decreasing, continuing into later cooling period. Recovery in numbers corresponds to the warming period. These changes have nothing to do with average temperatures or sea ice levels. It is because until recent decades polar bears were being hunted, a practice that has largely stopped.

The starvation of this pictured polar bear may have a more mundane cause. Polar bears are at the top of the food chain, relying on killing fast-moving seals for food. As a polar bear gets older it slows down, due to arthritis and muscles not working as well. As speed and agility are key factors in catching food, along with a bit of luck, starvation might be the most common cause of death in polar bears.

Kevin Marshall

Guardian Images of Global Warming Part 1 – Australian Droughts

On Friday June 3rd the Guardian presented some high quality images with the headline

Droughts, floods, forest fires and melting poles – climate change is impacting Earth like never before. From the Australia to Greenland, Ashley Cooper’s work spans 13 years and over 30 countries. This selection, taken from his new book, shows a changing landscape, scarred by pollution and natural disasters – but there is hope too, with the steady rise of renewable energy.

The purpose is to convince people that human-caused climate change is happening now, to bolster support for climate mitigation policies. But the real stories of what the pictures show is quite different.  I will start with three images relating to drought in Australia.

Image 5

Forest ghosts: Lake Eildon in Victoria, Australia was built in the 1950’s to provide irrigation water, but the last time it was full was in 1995. The day the shot was taken it was at 29% capacity with levels down around 75ft.

Data from Lake Eildon (which is accessible with a simple search of Lake Eildon capacity) links to a graph where up to 7 years of data can be compared.

In 1995 the dam was not at full capacity, but it was full, for a short period, in the following year. However, more recently after the recent drought broke, in 2011 the reservoir was pretty much full for all the year.

But were the low levels due to more extreme drought brought on by climate change? That is very difficult to determine, as Lake Eildon is an artificial lake, constructed to provide water for irrigation occasional hydro-electric power as well as recreational facilities. The near empty levels at the end of the biggest drought in many decades could be just due a failure to predict the duration of the drought, or simply a policy of supplying irrigation water for the maximum length of time. The fact that water levels never reached full capacity for many years is indicated by a 2003 article in The Age

The dam wall at Lake Eildon, Victoria’s biggest state-run water storage, has been declared unsafe and will need a $30 million upgrade if the lake is to be refilled.

The dam, which is at its lowest level since being completed in 1956, will be restricted to just 65 per cent capacity because it no longer meets safety standards for earthquakes and extreme floods.

Image 6

Forest destroyed by bush fires near Michelago, New South Wales, Australia.

The inference is that this is caused by global warming.

According to Munich Re

The majority of bushfires in southeast Australia are caused by human activity

Bushfire is the only natural hazard in which humans have a direct influence on the hazard situation. The majority of bushfires near populated areas are the consequence of human activity. Lightning causes the smaller portion naturally. Sometimes, a carelessly discarded cigarette or a glass shard, which can focus the sun’s rays is all it takes to start a fire. Heat from motors or engines, or electric sparks from power lines and machines can ignite dry grass. Besides this accidental causes, a significant share of wildfires are started deliberately.

Humans also change the natural fire frequency and intensity. They decrease the natural fire frequency due to deliberate fire suppression near populated areas. If there is no fuel-reduction burning in forests for the purposes of fire prevention, large quantities of combustible material can accumulate at ground level.

Surface fires in these areas can become so intense due to the large amounts of fuel that they spread to the crowns of the trees and rapidly grow into a major fire. If humans had not intervened in the natural bushfire regime, more frequent low-intensity fires would have consumed the forest undergrowth and ensured that woodland grasses and scrubs do not proliferate excessively.

David Evans expands on the issue of fuel load in a 2013 article.

Like with the water levels in an artificial lake, forest fires are strongly influenced by the management of those forests. Extinguishing forest fires before they have run their natural course results in bigger and more intense fires at a later date. More frequent or intense droughts would not change this primary cause of many horrific forest fire disasters seen in recent years.

Image 7

Where has all the water gone?: Lake Hume is the largest reservoir in Australia and was set up to provide irrigation water for farms further down the Murray Basin and drinking water for Adelaide. On the day this photograph was taken it was at 19.6% capacity. By the end of the summer of 2009 it dropped to 2.1 % capacity. Such impacts of the drought are likely to worsen as a result of climate change. The last time the water was anywhere near this road bridge was 10 years ago, rendering this no fishing sign, somewhat redundant.

Again this is old data. Like for Lake Eildon, it is easy to construct graphs.

Following the end of the drought, the reservoir came back to full capacity. Worsening drought is only apparent to those who look over a short time range.

When looking at drought in Australia, Dorothea Mackellar’s 1908 poem “My Country” provides some context. Written for a British audience, the poem begins

I love a sunburnt country,

A land of sweeping plains,

Of ragged mountain ranges,

Of droughts and flooding rains

To understand the difference that human-caused climate change is having on the climate first requires an understanding of natural climatic variation over multiple time-scales. It then requires an understanding of how other human factors are influencing the environment, both intended and unintended.

Kevin Marshall

William Connolley is on side of anti-science not the late Bob Carter

In the past week there have been a number of tributes to Professor Bob Carter, retired Professor of Geology and leading climate sceptic. This includes Jo Nova, James Delingpole, Steve McIntyre, Ian Pilmer at the GWPF, Joe Bast of The Heartland Institute and E. Calvin Beisner of Cornwall Alliance. In complete contrast William Connolley posted this comment in a post Science advances one funeral at a time

Actually A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it, but I’m allowed to paraphrase in titles. And anyway he said it in German, naturally. Today brings us news of another such advancement in science, with the reported death of Robert Carter.

Below is a comment I posted at Climate Scepticism

I believe Max Planck did have a point. In science people tenaciously hold onto ideas even if they have been falsified by the evidence or (as more often happens) they are supplanted by better ideas. Where the existing ideas form an institutionalized consensus, discrimination has occurred against those with the hypotheses can undermine that consensus. It can be that the new research paradigm can only gain prominence when the numbers dwindle in the old paradigm. As a result the advance of new knowledge and understanding is held back.

To combat this innate conservatism in ideas I propose four ideas.

First is to promote methods of evaluating competing theories that are independent of consensus or opinion. In pure science that is by conducting experiments that would falsify a hypothesis. In complex concepts, for which experiment is not possible and data is incomplete and of poor quality, like the AGW hypothesis or economic theories, comparative analysis needs to be applied based upon independent standards.

Second is to recognize institutional bias by promoting pluralism and innovation.

Third is to encourage better definition of concepts, more rigorous standards of data within the existing research paradigm to push the boundaries.

Fourth is to train people to separate scientific endeavours from belief systems, whether religious, political or ethical.

The problem for William Connolley is that all his efforts within climatology – such as editing Wikipedia to his narrow views, or helping set up Real Climate to save the Mannian Hockey Stick from exposure of its many flaws – are with enforcing the existing paradigm and blocking any challenges. He is part of the problem that Planck was talking about.

As an example of the narrow and dogmatic views that Connolley supports, here is the late Bob Carter on his major point about how beliefs in unprecedented human-caused warming are undermined by the long-term temperature proxies from ice core data. The video quality is poor, probably due to a lack of professional funding that Connolley and his fellow-travellers fought so hard to deny.

Kevin Marshall

Indonesia Outflanks the Climate Activists in its INDC Submission

I have spent a few weeks trying to make sense of the INDC submissions. One of the most impenetrable appeared to that from Indonesia. This view is shared by The Carbon Brief.

Uncertain emissions

As well as being hazy on policy and financing needs, it is also difficult to gauge the ambition of Indonesia’s INDC emissions targets. This is despite the document including a projected figure for BAU emissions in 2030 of 2.9bn tonnes of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2e).

The pledge to reduce emissions by at least 29% compared to this trajectory means an effective cap in 2030 of 2GtCO2e. With the more ambitious 41% reduction compared to BAU, the cap would be 1.7GtCO2e.


Similarly the World Resources Institute states

(T)he current draft contribution still displays several important gaps in transparency and ambition, which must be addressed before submitting a final INDC to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). By eliminating these gaps, the Indonesian government could bring its contribution into line with international best practices on transparency, demonstrate leadership internationally by enhancing ambition, and help ensure success at COP 21.

The context from Indonesia’s perspective is stated in the opening paragraph of Indonesia’s INDC Submission.

In more basic language, Indonesia has more important and immediate priorities than “climate change“. From a national point of view, imposing drastic and ineffective policies will go against the Indonesian Government’s perceived duty to its people. This will happen regardless of the truth of the projected catastrophes that await the planet without global mitigation. The policies will be ineffective because most other emerging economies have similar priorities to Indonesia, and are taking similar measures of policy avoidance. In the case of Indonesia these are

  • Cherry-picking a base year.
  • Making reductions relative to a fictional “Business as Usual” scenario with inflated economic growth figures.
  • Making sure that even the most ambitious objectives achievable within the range of an objective forecast.
  • Focus the negotiations on achieving the conditional objectives subject to outside assistance. Any failure to reach agreement then becomes the fault of rich countries failing to provide the finance.
  • Allow some room to make last minute concessions not in the original submission, contingent on further unspecified outside assistance that is so vast the money will never be forthcoming.

The calculations to achieve the figures in the submissions are fairly simple to work out with a bit of patience.


Calculating the 2030 Business as Usual 2881 MtCO2e

The Indonesian INDC submission states that in 2005 total emissions were 1800 MtCO2e and combustion of fossil fuels were 19% of this total. That implies about 342 MtCO2e from the combustion of fossil fuels. The Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC1) has an estimated figure of 341.71 MtCO2e and the UNFCCC Country Brief in 2005 “CO2 emissions from fuel combustion” were 335.71 MtCO2e. For 20112 the CDIAC estimate is 472.53 MtCO2e, rounded to 473. Let us now assume a growth rate in emissions of 6.0% per annum from 2012 to 2030, against an economic growth rate of around 5.2% from 2000 to 2010 and 5.8% from 2005 to 20103. At 6.0% compound growth fossil fuel emissions in 20304 will be 1431 MtCO2e.

The non-fossil fuel emissions are a bit more problematic to work out. In 2005 the baseline estimate is 81% of 18005 is 1458. It is only a vague estimate, so round it down to 1450 and then assume it is constant for the Business as Usual (BAU) scenario.

The BAU 2030 total emissions forecast for Indonesia is therefore 1431 + 1450 = 2881 MtCO2e.

There might be other ways to derive this figure, but none are simpler and the figures do not fall out exactly.


How does Indonesia achieve the unconditional 29% reduction against BAU?

The easiest part to achieve is outside of fossil fuel emissions. The major cause of these emissions is in the reduction of the rainforests. The Carbon Brief is claims the biggest source of non-fossil fuel emissions is due to illegal forest clearances to grow palm oil. Although in 2015 the forest fires are closing in on the record set in 1997, it is safe to say that that these will reduce considerably in the coming years as Indonesia already has 52% of world palm oil production. By assuming a 3.34% reduction per annum in these emissions from 2005, they will reduce from 1450 MtCO2e to 611 MtCO2e in 2030. Total emissions of 2042 MtCO2e (1431+611) are 29.1% lower than BAU without an expense on the part of the Indonesian Government.


How does Indonesia achieve the conditional 41% reduction against BAU?

Indonesia claims that it needs international cooperation increase the reduction against BAU to 41%. In whole numbers, if BAU is 2881 a 41% reduction would make 1700. Not 1699 or 1701, but 1700. This is 100 less than the estimated 1800 MtCO2e total GHG emissions for 2005. This will be achieved without any “international cooperation“, a euphemism for foreign aid. The reason is simple. From the UNFCCC Indonesia Country Brief for Indonesia GDP growth for 1990 to 2012 average GDP growth per annum was 4.9% and CO2 emissions from fuel combustion was 5.1%. Normally GDP growth exceeds emissions growth. As a country develops this gap will widen until emissions growth ceases altogether and will even fall slightly. In India GDP growth from 1990 to 2012 averaged 6.5% and emissions growth was 5.7%. In China the respective figures are 10.3% and 6.1%. In China, emissions will peak around 2025 to 2030 without any policy change. It is reasonable to assume therefore that forecast fossil fuel emissions growth will be at a lower rate than the forecast GDP growth of 6.0%. A conservative estimate is that the fossil fuel emissions growth rate will be 25% lower than GDP growth rate from 2011 to 2030 at 4.50%. Rounding as before4 gives forecast emissions of 1089 MtCO2e as against a BAU of 1431.

The revised 2030 total emissions forecast for Indonesia is 1089 + 611 = 1700 MtCO2e. This is a 41.0% reduction on the BAU of 2881 MtCO2e.


Why should Indonesia have such a cynical manipulation of the numbers?

Indonesia is caught between a rock and a hard place. The stated major priorities for this country of 250 million people are at odds with doing its bit to save the world. In this Indonesia is not alone. India, China, and Vietnam are other major emerging nations who site other priorities. Ranged against them are the activist scientists behind the climate scare who hold the a priori truth of the prophesied global warming catastrophes that await the planet if we do not amend out wicked ways. Further, mitigation policies are good for the sole, regardless of their effectiveness, and the practice of these policies will lead others to enlightenment they have found. They will not recognize that any alternative points of view exist, whether morally, politically or scientifically. Rather than argue, the best policy is to outflank them. The activists will accept official policy objectives without question so long as it appears to fit the cause. So the Indonesians gave them massive cuts related to fictitious projected figures, cloaked with the language of climate speak to throw them off the scent. They should be applauded for protecting 250 million people, rather than inflicting ineffective burdens upon them. The real shame is that the leaders of the so-called developed economies have fallen for this rubbish.

Kevin Marshall


  1. Reference of the full global carbon budget 2014: C. Le Quéré, R. Moriarty, R. M. Andrew, G. P. Peters, P. Ciais, P. Friedlingstein, S. D. Jones, S. Sitch, P. Tans, A. Arneth, T. A. Boden, L. Bopp, Y. Bozec, J. G. Canadell, F. Chevallier, C. E. Cosca, I. Harris, M. Hoppema, R. A. Houghton, J. I. House, A. K. Jain, T. Johannessen, E. Kato, R. F. Keeling, V. Kitidis, K. Klein Goldewijk, C. Koven, C. S. Landa, P. Landschützer, A. Lenton, I. D. Lima, G. H. Marland, J. T. Mathis, N. Metzl, Y. Nojiri, A. Olsen, T. Ono, W. Peters, B. Pfeil, B. Poulter, M. R. Raupach, P. Regnier, C. Rödenbeck, S. Saito, J. E. Sailsbury, U. Schuster, J. Schwinger, R. Séférian, J. Segschneider, T. Steinhoff, B. D. Stocker, A. J. Sutton, T. Takahashi, B. Tilbrook, G. R. van der Werf, N. Viovy, Y.-P. Wang, R. Wanninkhof, A. Wiltshire, and N. Zeng 2014. Global Carbon Budget 2014. Earth System Science Data Discussions, doi:10.5194/essdd-7-521-2014
  2. 2011 is the baseline year for the IPCC reports.
  3. This can be obtained from two sources. First the INDC submission notes that “GDP Growth Rate has slowed between 2010-2015 from 6.2-6.5% per annum to only 4.0% per annum (first quarter of 2015).” A return to the higher levels of growth is an assumption of successful government policy.
  4. Each year growth of 6.0% is rounded to the nearest whole number.
  5. The 2005 total emissions estimate of 1800 MtCO2 is at odds with other estimates. The WRI CAIT 2.0 figure is 1600; the EDGAR estimate is 1171; and the UNFCCC estimate is 2828. There might be another method of estimation. Maybe it is being a bit too cynical to assume that someone could have taken the average of the three (1866) and rounded down.