Monday, 12 October 2009

UK on a collison course with China?

I will report more fully on Thursday about the Committee on Climate Change's first report which was published today. I attended what as a fascinating launch addressed by Lords Turner and Stern.

The top-lines of the report are: we should not be fooled that we are hitting the underlying targets for carbon emissions by the fact that we are in recession. This reduces emissions but, more worrying, lowers the price of carbon so disincentivising low-carbon investment which will slow the transition to a low-carbon economy. To hit our targets, i.e. to meet the government's carbon budget, there needs to be a step-change in three main areas: energy, buildings, and transport.

Most intriguingly though, the discussion took an interesting turn when Tim Yeo MP, Chairman of the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (and who was very supportive of the report), questioned the panel about the UK exporting its emissions. Tantalisingly, Lord Turner indicated that investigating the consumption model of emissions (current policy is geared towards production of carbon rather than consumption) was beyond the legal remit of the Committee. However, it was absolutely clear that he would welcome that remit being widening so as to investigate the question further.

The problem with measuring production of carbon without considering consumption alongside that is that off-shore emissions are not taken into account, i.e. so the emissions embedded in the products and services we import and international transportation are not properly considered.

Lord Stern made it clear that as part of their evidence base feeding into the 12th five-year plan, the Chinese will be publishing the historical data of emissions of each country going back to the 19th century.

China seems to have an interest in provoking this discussion as they are a surplus nation exporting products that they manufacture and we consume. They could make an argument that the West, and the UK is majorly implicated here, is not consuming either its historical and current smoke.

However, as someone pointed out to me, it may not be in China's interests to push the issue too far. It may provoke a discussion about global imbalances and the rate of the Renminbi. Why would the resolution not be to appreciate the Chinese currency so that production was moved elsewhere?

China is likely to have many developing world allies with this argument but it could become explosive. At the very least, the UK will need to have its own assessment of the impact of its consumption patterns (net environmental impact.) So it is right that the Committee's legal remit should be expanded.


  1. Please read the BBC and New Scientist pieces. The shift in opinion on the origins of climate change are undergoing a major rethink, and it is time for some sensible engagement around what the real issues are, including pollution and resource management. Both are much more grounded, and scientifically proveable issues.

  2. Please see the previous blog post:

    The great BBC global warming swindle

    I promise you that for every New Scientist article (and you don't link to one) appearing to question climate change, there are 100s that point in the other direction.

    It's like the lone scientific objector.

    The issue is not whether, it is how to deal deal with climate change.