80% and the Climate Change Aristocracy

Posted by admin on October 8, 2008
Oct 082008

The Independent newspaper announced yesterday that

The UK should cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 per cent by mid-century, the Government’s climate change committee recommended today.

The committee said a more stringent target than the 60 per cent cut currently in the Climate Change Bill was needed, because new information suggested the dangers of global warming were greater than previously thought.

The dangers of climate change were worse than previously thought? What possible worse scenario could there be, than the barrage of catastrophic visions we have been subjected to by activists, politicians, and the media, over the last few years?

When we started this blog in April 2007, we said:

Because of a perception that the public mood demands action to mitigate climate change, the UK government has used the IPCC findings to justify committing the country to a 60% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050. Like much environmental policy, this has gone largely unchallenged by opposition parties.

Nobody in UK politics was challenging the often very tenuous claims that climate change would mean catastrophe. And even fewer people were challenging the even less credible idea that the only way to prevent catastrophe was to prevent CO2 emissions. And worst of all, everybody involved in UK politics seemed to be using the looming catastrophe to demand that people use less, expect less, and obey the tenets of environmentalism. There being no challenge to this orthodoxy, and no questions asked about either its effectiveness or its consequences, how could the process of the greening of the UK be seen as democratic?

In March last year, the government published a Draft Climate Change Bill, proposing that the UK reduces its CO2 emissions by 2050. This lead to criticism that it hadn’t gone far enough. The Conservatives said they would reduce emissions by 80%, and the Liberals 100% by 2050. The Government wasn’t taking the threat of climate change seriously enough, they said, and the 60% figure proved it. This shows that there is only one way that the politicians in the UK can respond to the perception of a crisis; they have to make it worse, and worse, and worse, and promise that they are the only party that can hope to solve this terrible mess, and that the other parties are so incompetent, that only a terrible catastrophe can follow their inevitable failure.

Following this game of politics-by-numbers, on October 2007, the Environment Secretary announced changes to the bill:

The changes to the draft Bill, set out in a Command Paper entitled ‘Taking Forward the UK Climate Change Bill’ published today, include:

  • As announced by the Prime Minister in September, asking the Committee on Climate Change to report on whether the Government’s target to reduce CO2 emissions by at least 60 percent by 2050 should be strengthened further;
  • Asking the Committee to look at the implications of including other greenhouse gases and emissions from international aviation and shipping in theUK’s targets as part of this review;
  • Strengthening the role and responsibilities of the Committee on Climate Change, including by requiring the Government to seek the Committee’s advice before amending the 2020 or 2050 targets in the Bill;
  • Strengthening the Committee’s independence from Government, by confirming that it will appoint its own chief executive and staff, and increasing its analytical resources;

It would no longer be the responsibility of politicians to determine the level of CO2 emissions that the UK would allow. It would instead be determined by an expert committee. This would end the silly squabbling between parties about which percentage cut in CO2 best reflected the ‘scientific’ advice. But it also removes the possibility that we or you might influence the environmental policies of the UK through the democratic process. As we’ve pointed out many times before, environmentalism is a political idea; it aims to reorganise society around its values and ethics. Yet this ideology has never been tested democratically. It hasn’t won any seats in the UK parliament, yet almost the entire house of commons has embraced environmentalism. Its as though, one morning, the House of Commons turned up for a debate, not as the Labour Party, the Conservative Party, the Liberal Democrats, and the independents, but as members of the Green Party. This is a failure of UK politics and democracy.

Today, as the changes to the Draft bill stipulated, Lord Adair Turner of Ecchinswell, the chair of the committee, wrote to the Environment secretary that, as the Independent reported, ‘The UK should cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 per cent by mid-century’. What a surprise. So what lay behind the decision to increase the UK’s target from 60% to 80%? The letter said:

The Committee looked at whether the UK’s current target for a 60% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050 was likely to be sufficient given what we know about the latest developments in climate science. This target was recommended in the report by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) published in 2000. Since the report, however, new information has become available. This suggests that the dangers of significant climate change are greater than previously assessed which argues for larger global, and thus UK, reductions.

This gives the impression that the scientific basis of the bill was the 2000 Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution(RCEP). But curiously, there is no mention of the RCEP in the March Draft Climate Change Bill. The report is, as you’d expect it to be, based principally on IPCC AR4, and the Stern report. The figure of 60%, it seems, stems from a 2003 White Paper.

The Government would therefore like to enshrine the commitments in the Energy White Paper 2003 to reduce CO2 emissions by 60% on 1990 levels by 2050; and to achieve “real progress” by 2020 (which would equate to reductions of 26-32%) towards the long-term goal within a new legal carbon management framework (outlined in Section 5).

This White Paper does mention the RCEP2000 report.

We therefore accept the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution’s (RCEP’s) recommendation that the UK should put itself on a path towards a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of some 60% from current levels by about 2050.

The October ’07, amendments to the bill called Taking Forward the UK Climate Change Bill gave the CCC its responsibilities to check the 60% figure:

Bearing in mind however the weight of scientific evidence before the Committee that a target of more than 60% is likely to be necessary, we believe that as soon as possible after it is established, the Committee on Climate Change should review the most recent scientific research available and consider to what extent the target should be higher than 60%, with a view to making recommendations on the appropriate amendment to the long term target.

The very next paragraph mentions the RCEP:

The figure of 60% was arrived at by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) in 2000, following extensive research and analysis. We recognise the significant recent advances in scientific understanding, but also note that no comparable crosscutting research and analysis has been done since the RCEP report and there is no broad consensus around what the figure should be, if it is not 60%.

If the figure of 60% was based on the 2000 RCEP report, why was it not mentioned in the March Draft Bill? And if there has been no process since 2000 to determine what the level of CO2 emissions reduction should be, how can any figure be determined as appropriate?

It is clear that the October ’07 document created an opportunity for the CCC to reject 60% in favour of 80%. It might as well have said ‘the figure of 60% has given the opposition an opportunity to embarrass us, therefore, we have set up the CCC to report back in one year that the figure ought to be 80%’.

Last month, Lord Adair Turner was appointed chair of the Financial Services Authority (FSA), the body which regulates the financial sector. It seems that the world’s problems are on his shoulders. But wouldn’t it be better to make the economic and ecological crises that we face the subject of political debate, rather than appoint people like Turner to make ‘expert’ decisions. After all, the FSA was unable to prevent today’s current economic problems from manifesting.

It is also interesting to note that Turner was until recently, a trustee of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and a member of the Advisory Board of Climate Change Capital, a firm offering services as an ‘investment manager and advisor specialising in the opportunities created by the transition to the low carbon economy’. As a member of the Advisory Board, he ‘assist[ed] senior management to develop the group’s medium-term strategy, extend the company’s network and evaluate opportunities’.

Had Turner emerged from an advisory role at a company lacking such spotless ethical credentials – let’s say, for example, one such as Exxonmobil – and had he suggested that 60% was a bit too strong a figure, and perhaps 40% was a better one, would there ever be an end to claims that this process was corrupt and undemocratic?

Yet here we see a man, with associations to commercial interests in the implementation of environmental policy (contrast with the speculation that surrounds sceptics who have worked with the oil industry), with a clear commitment to the environmental ethics espoused WWF, who is responsible for determining the UK’s policy over the next 45 years.

Working alongside Lord Turner on the CCC are:

Sir Brian Hoskins - a dynamical meteorologist and climatologist at the University of Reading and Imperial College London. He worked on the Stern review of climate change, and Director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change, which aims ‘To be a world-leading institute generating and communicating the highest quality research on climate-driven change and translating this into sustainable technological, political and socio-economic responses’. 

Lord Robert May - erstwhile President of the Royal Society, and a climate change alarmist second to none. As we have reported many times, Lord May’s involvement in the climate change debate has generated more heat than light.

Professor Jim Skea – Research Director at the UK Energy Research Centre and former Director at the Policy Studies Institute and the Economic and Social Research Council Global Environmental Change Programme, and contributor to the Stern Review.

Dr Samuel Fankhauser - a visiting fellow in climate change economics at LSE, and Managing Director of IDEAcarbon, the parent company of which Sir Nicholas Stern is Vice-Chairman, and ‘an independent and professional provider of ratings, research and strategic advice on carbon finance. Our services are designed to provide leading financial institutions, corporations, governments, traders and developers with unbiased intelligence and analysis of the factors that affect the pricing of carbon market assets.’

Professor Michael Grubb - Chief Economist at the Carbon Trust, a Government-funded private company, and a Senior Research Associate, Faculty of Economics at the University of Cambridge.

Amongst these men are very clear interests in climate change policy, with lots to gain, both professionally, and economically from climate change policies. In other words, just as the political process failed to subject environmental ideas to scrutiny, so too does the outsourced task of determining our future.

This is not to say there is a conspiracy here, nor that this is corrupt. Yet having such an interested old boys club is clearly corrupting of the process by which policies that affect all our lives are determined. Lord May has made a hell of a lot of noise in recent times about the existence of a ‘well funded denial machine’ doing the work of the oil industry. Yet as we have shown, this ‘well funded’ effort is the beneficiary of a tiny fraction of the quantity of cash available to, for example, the Carbon Trust (£70+ million / year), whose aim is ‘to accelerate the move to a low carbon economy by working with organisations to reduce carbon emissions and develop commercial low carbon technologies’. And it is likely to be a lot less than the returns seen by IDEAcarbon and Climate Change Capital, when their services are made more profitable by climate change policies.

The problem is simply that there is no opposition allowed into this process, either to question the science, or the way the science informs the policy decision, nor to ask whether emissions reductions is the best solution in terms of the interests of the UK population, or throughout the world. Worst still, the shrill complaints made about people who challenge climate orthodoxy by Bob May effectively close down any possibility of debate. Indeed, on at least one occasion, we have found Bob May making stuff up about ‘deniers’. No, let’s call it what it is… Bob May is a liar. And he lies – while accusing others of lies, and conspiring – seemingly in order to secure his position in what is clearly a climate change aristocracy, not only in name.

So what is behind the decision made by the group that 80% is the right target? What ‘new information has become available’ which makes ‘the dangers of significant climate change greater than previously assessed’?

The CCC’s letter to the Environment Secretary says,

Firstly, we know more about how rising temperatures will reduce the effectiveness of carbon sinks: the science now tells us that for any given level of emissions, concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and temperatures will increase by more than the RCEP report anticipated.

The principal basis of climate change alarmism has always been that positive feedback mechanisms will produce ‘runaway climate change’. As the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change(UNFCCC), to which the UK is committed, says, lack of understanding should not be used as a reason not to act. This embodiment of the precautionary principal means that, regardless of the state of knowledge in an area of climate science, the response is the same. It makes no difference how much is understood. The effect of new research emerging since the 2000 RCEP recommendation therefore ought to make no difference to policy. What matters is the ‘what if…’, not the ‘what’.

Pedantry aside, it is hard to work out what this ‘new understanding’ is, and what its effect on the outcome of global warming actually is. No new research is cited. Although we know more about carbon sinks, maybe, that they will respond to increases in global temperature in a way which is worse than previously thought should only be understood to inform a policy decision in the context of the total effect of climate change and society’s vulnerability to it.

The chapter relating to global temperature and sinks in the RCEP 2000 report uses a graph to consider the effect of CO2 on the atmosphere, under several different scenarios relating to CO2 emissions policies (left figure). The IPCC do the same thing in their Assessment Reports, the most recent (AR4, 2007) is also shown below, for comparison (right).

As the graphs show, if the RCEP 2000 report reflected the best available knowledge, then the understanding which has emerged since then does not, as has been reported, indicate that the situation is ‘worse than previously thought’. In fact, the IPCC 2007 graphic is far more optimistic than RCEP2000. So what basis is there for extending the 60% figure?

Secondly, unlike the authors of the RCEP report we had the benefit of models that included the warming effects of gases other than CO2. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report (IPCC AR4) shows that, for the stabilisation level outlined by RCEP, non-CO2 gases will increase the equivalent CO2 concentration in the atmosphere by approximately 100ppm.

This is not true. The RCEP report said ‘The concentration of methane has also been increased by human activities, more than doubling over the last 200 years. It is thought to contribute about one-fifth of the current enhancement in the greenhouse effect.’ This claim was cited to
IPCC (1996b) The Science of Climate Change 1995. Summary for Policymakers, page 8. Curiously, the SPM referred has only 5 pages, as far as we can tell, so it is hard to establish what the basis was.

Whatever it was, clearly methane at least was part of the RCEP’s calculations, and the IPCC AR4 gives a good indication that in 2000, we had a fairly good understanding of the contribution other gasses make to global warming. The IPCC’s 1995 report (SAR) gives methane (CH4) a 100 year ‘global warming potential’ (GWP ) figure of 21 (relative to carbon dioxide = 1). The 2007 report gives CH4 a global warming potential of 25. Not a massive increase, especially as the SAR gave Nitrous Oxide a GWP of 310, downgraded in 2007 to 298. As the basis for RCEP, IPCC SAR includes nearly all the greenhouse gasses included in AR4, and upgrades some, and downgrades others.

But this is pretty meaningless anyway. A DEFRA report published earlier this year showed that by 2006, ‘Methane emissions, excluding those from natural sources, were 53 per cent below 1990 levels’ and that ‘Nitrous oxide emissions fell by 40 per cent between 1990 and 2006.’

The UK clearly has reduced its CH4 and N2O levels substantially. What is more, the claim that new evidence has emerged with respect to the global warming potential of other greenhouses gasses is barely credible. The RCEP had access to the data relating to non-CO2 GHG’s GWP in 2000, which is almost identical to today’s. Therefore, there is no good reason to make this ‘new information’ the basis for increasing the target to 80%.

Thirdly, the reduction in the summer Arctic sea ice in recent years has been greater than predicted by any of the models. Also the summer melt of the Greenland ice sheet has accelerated. These observations have led to new concerns about the pace of global warming, particularly as it affects the Arctic and possible rates of sea level rise.

Presumably, this statement is based on the single paper published last year by the National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC). And let’s remember that such evidence does not bolster the claim that global warming is worse than previously thought, just that Arctic summer ice melt has been greater than the models predicted. If the models used to base policy on are wrong, then they are just wrong, and no further conclusion can be safely drawn. Wrong is wrong. It does not mean that things are ‘worse’ than expected’, it just means that the expectations and assumptions were wrong. And they still are wrong. Furthermore, there are only 30 years worth of data on which to base these models, from an area which is necessarily one of the most changeable and dynamic regions on earth. We know for example, that parts of the Arctic in the early C20th saw rates of change not dissimilar to, and possibly greater than today’s.

This argument clearly also rests on the news story of the year. But as the NSIDC told us, the record low 2007 ice extent was not the result of global warming, but principally a ‘perfect storm’, as part of natural variation. In much the same way, the unusually hot 1998 has not been attributed by scientists to anthropogenic climate change, but to natural variation. This is the same natural variation which was used by the Hadley Centre to explain its failure to accurately predict the temperatures of 2007, and the cold weather which has followed the La Nina event.

The ‘possible rate of sea level rise’ referred to has been substantially reduced by the IPCC from their previous estimates, and the range between upper and lower estimates narrowed. This has caused something of a split in the climate change community, with the increasingly lunatic James Hansen claiming that the IPCC estimate is dangerously conservative. This surely makes Hansen as remote from the ‘consensus’ as any ‘denier’, yet he is still celebrated by environmental activists, and we can assume, the CCC.

Again, the reasons given by the CCC for increasing the target to 80% lack substance.

Fourthly, it is now realised that atmospheric pollution has probably masked some of the greenhouse gas warming that would have occurred. As air quality improvements continue to be achieved, so even more warming can be expected.

We look forward to seeing the evidence for this statement presented in the report proper. It was only this year, for example, that a major and well-publicised (albeit for the wrong reasons) study found that components of atmospheric pollution are responsible for up to 60% as much warming compared to CO2. That’s not to say that other components (eg, sulphates) don’t have a cooling effect – they do – but the net effect of all these pollutants remains very poorly understood.

Fifthly, there is now a greater understanding of the range of potential climate change impacts, their regional variation and the possibility of abrupt or irreversible changes. These analyses also suggest greater damages once temperature increases become significant.

Ah yes, it’s always a good idea to squeeze ‘abrupt and irreversible’ into alarmist reports on climate change. But, as we’ve shown before, the phrase’s currency owes more to silly newspaper articles about AR4 than it does to AR4 itself.

Finally, latest global emission trends are higher than those anticipated in most IPCC scenarios, largely because of higher economic growth and a shift towards more carbon intensive sources of energy.

Higher economic growth? How can a man who chairs the Financial Services Authority claim that we are experiencing ‘higher economic growth’? Secondly, ‘higher economic growth’ than anticipated means greater resilience to climate change, as is shown by the difference in outcomes between ‘natural’ disasters experienced in the industrialised world, and those in the developing world. Thirdly, a ‘shift towards more carbon intensive sources of energy’ means not burning wood, and dung, which contribute to deforestation and poor health. In other words, it represents progress. As a reason for increasing the UK’s cut of CO2 emissions it’s also rather poor, because the 60% figure and the targets outlined by Stern and Kyoto, for example, are predicated on the principle that emissions from developing nations will increase. These factors could therefore equally be given as reasons not to increase the UK’s target.

It seems that the CCC’s recommendation owes less to climate science than it does to climate headlines from the last 18 months. Headlines which, almost without fail, have painted a far more drastic and alarming story than the science warrants. ‘Sceptics’ are often criticised for placing emphasis on single studies whose findings fall outside of the opinion of the consensus, represented by the IPCC reports. Yet the CCC seem to have based their recommendation on whatever alarmist literature they can find.

The broader view of future climate in 2007 is arguably more positive than it was in 2000. Yet the CCC want us to believe that things are ‘worse than previously thought’ in order to justify an increase of the UK’s emissions reduction target. To do this, it waves scientific factoids around in a process which owes more to some kind of pagan ritual than to good science. Like the protesters at last year’s Climate Camp who turned pages from a climate change study into gloves, and marched under the slogan ‘we are armed: only with peer-reviewed science‘, the CCC seemingly wave science around to legitimise policies which will have far-reaching effects on society, and to justify the existence of a political elite which is increasingly estranged from the public.

This voodoo science ritual is being used to arm politicians with something that they desperately lack: direction. The climate change aristocracy now sit and dictate what the terms, values, and principles of UK politics ought to be. And as their influence increases no doubt, so do their cash returns. While their influence extends, so the opportunities to challenge environmentalism through the political process diminishes. Now all a politician has to do to answer critics of environmental policy is say that an ‘independent’ committee has produced its findings.

Politics: available in any colour, as long as it’s green.

All the World's a Cage

Posted by admin on September 11, 2008
Sep 112008

According to World Water Council‘s director-general Ger Bergkamp, Australia is ‘the metaphorical canary down the coalmine when it comes to climate change‘:

In Australia, what was projected to be here in 20 years from now, in terms of the drought, is already here as we speak.

Now where have we heard that one before? It’s not just Australia that is still clinging to its perch only because somebody has nailed it there. If climate alarmists are to be believed, there are as many ‘climate change canaries’ out there as there are canaries in the Canary Isles: penguins, migratory birds, the Antarctic, the Arctic, Tuvalu, sea turtles, Kenyan pastoralists, islands, polar bears, Australian ski resorts, US ski resorts, Australian vineyards, Napa Valley vineyards, Canada’s Inuit, Alaska, mountain ecosystems, tropical ice-caps, Greenland, pika, naturists, the Bering Sea, intertidal zones, coral reefs, to name but a few.

‘Climate canary’ is the perfect metaphor in the age of the precautionary principle. Especially when it can apply to anything you want it to. Because, when you’re watching everything for signs of catastrophe, it follows that you can’t do anything without at least one of your canaries karking it.

Trouble is, it doesn’t quite work. While actual canaries were once very useful for alerting miners to the presence of deadly gases – first they stopped singing, then they keeled over – there is little reason to believe that any of our climate canaries serve their putative purpose. Despite the ‘fact’ that ‘climate change is real and is happening’, none of them seem to have actually popped their clogs yet, or even to have stopped singing. All a climate canary has to do to justify an alarmist newspaper headline is hop metaphorically from one side of its cage to the other, or look at us in a funny way. Like that other favourite metaphor of the risk-averse, the ‘ticking time-bomb’, the climate canary is predicated on the idea that nothing terrible has happened yet, but you can’t rule it out.

The metaphor also fails on the basis that while canaries were used to make mining safer, the climate variety are deployed to encourage us to stop mining completely – and stop doing everything else for that matter – because it might possibly be harmful to canaries.

Its ubiquity means that even the likes of Gristmill have recognised that the climate canary is a dead parrot – that we need something bigger and scarier. We suggest that, next time, Ger Bergkamp might consider ‘Australia more like a climate change canary than previously thought‘.

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