When Gordon Brown spoke of ‘catastrophe’ yesterday, he wasn’t talking about his premiership or worrying about the UK under a Tory government.
Brown has always been rather quiet on climate change. His government hasn’t, but he has. We’ve always had the impression that he went along with the greening of New Labour a tad reluctantly. It’s as if he thought there were more pressing matters, even if he wasn’t quite sure what they were.
He suddenly seems to be making up for lost time…
PM warns of climate ‘catastrophe’
The UK faces a “catastrophe” of floods, droughts and killer heatwaves if world leaders fail to agree a deal on climate change, the prime minister has warned.
Gordon Brown said negotiators had 50 days to save the world from global warming and break the “impasse”.
Fifty days?! Talk about the zeal of the converted.
Radio 4’s The World Tonight summoned climate change secretary Ed Miliband to ask him if Brown was exaggerating:
No, I don’t think he was… The science is very clear about this…
Which would seem like a good moment to remember the cautionary words of climate scientist Mike Hulme:
The language of catastrophe is not the language of science. It will not be visible in next year’s global assessment from the world authority of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)[Note: AR4]. To state that climate change will be “catastrophic” hides a cascade of value-laden assumptions which do not emerge from empirical or theoretical science.
Brown’s catastrophism and the catastrophic state of his premiership and government are linked of course. As his authority continues to melt spectacularly, his desperation to connect with the media, the electorate and his party is forced to the surface. A few strong words about catastrophic climate change are about the only straws he has left to cling to. Not that it will cut any ice at the ballot box. Brown is just one more green obstacle for the electorate to navigate around.
Here’s the entirety of what Brown said:
In every era there are one or two moments when nations come together and reach agreements that make history. because they change the course of history. And Copenhagen must be such a time. There are now fewer than fifty days to set the course for the next few decades. So as we convene here, we carry great responsibilities, and the world is watching. If we do not reach a deal in the next few months, let us be in no doubt. Once the damage from unchecked emissions growth is done, no retrospective global agreement in some future period can undo that choice. By then it will be irretrievably too late. So we should never allow ourselves to lose sight of the catastrophe we face if present warming trends continue.
Only last week we saw new evidence of the rapid loss of Arctic sea ice.
Brown is talking here no doubt about Professor Peter Wadhams’s announcement that the Arctic is set to be ice-free in summer. This was in no way ‘new evidence’, however. Wadham was speaking at the launch of the findings of the Catlin Arctic Survey, and was simply reiterating, in equally vague terms, what has been bandied about for years. His statements were effectively a damage limitation exercise on behalf of the Catlin expedition, an insurance-sponsored venture that spectacularly failed to provide much at all in the way of data.
And in just twenty-five years, the glaciers in the Himalayas which provide water for three-quarters of a billion people could disappear entirely.
What’s happening to the glaciers? If they are melting, then there is no reason why there should be less water for the millions of people who live downstream. Glaciers which neither grow nor shrink must have equal output as input. Meanwhile, if there is a growing water shortage problem (whatever its cause), a global deal at Copenhagen won’t help those facing it to build new water infrastructure. Nor will it give them one
IPCC estimates tell us now that by 2080 an extra 1.8 billion – equal to a quarter of the world’s current population – could be living and dying without enough water.
The only claim to this effect that we could find in the IPCC’s literature was this PDF of a presentation. It says:
A 3°C temperature increase could lead to 0.4 –1.8 billion more people at risk of water stress.
Notice that Brown omits to inform us what could produce the effect, which is a particularly high estimate anyway, and takes the upper range of the effect, which is more than four times higher than the lower. Moreover, the figure is premised entirely on those who are likely to experience such effects being unable to develop any water infrastructure. Even the worst-case projection/scenario considered by the IPCC in AR4 does not estimate that global temperature could increase by 3 degrees until 2080 – 70 years in the future. That’s plenty of time to start building water infrastructure.
If the international community does nothing to assist the rainforest nations in protecting the world’s rainforests, the damage not just to climate, but to biodiversity, to watersheds and to the livelihoods of millions of people will, as you know here, be incalculable.
Which is simply meaningless.
The recent report of the Global Humanitarian Forum led by Kofi Annan suggests that 325 million people are already seriously affected by drought, disease, floods, loss of livestock, low agricultural yields, and declining fish stocks. A further 500 million people are at extreme risk, and every year the effects of climate change are already killing 300,000 people – the number killed by the Indian Ocean Tsunami. And the toll could rise to half a million each year by 2030.
We have looked at the GHF’s claims previously (here and here). And as we showed, there is no reason to take them seriously. As with the WHO’s claim that 150,000 people are killed by the effects of climate change, each and every single one of these deaths would have been avoided had there been the level of development in those regions as there is in the West. It cannot be argued, therefore, that climate change is responsible for those deaths. Poverty was responsible for them. Moreover, the number of deaths attributed to climate change is lower than for any other effect of poverty according the UN’s very own figures. Here they are again:
More than 26 million people seem to die prematurely in the developing world, yet Brown thinks their biggest problem is climate change.
98 per cent of those dying and otherwise seriously affected live in the poorest countries, and yet their countries only account for 8 per cent of global emissions. This is the great injustice of climate change. Those being hit first and hardest by climate change are those who have done least to cause it.
Brown seeks legitimacy for his climate change policy-posturing by claiming to be interested in helping the world’s poor. Yet at the same time, it appears that he is not making an argument for the world’s poor to enjoy our lifestyles, and our level of wealth. Thus he is not making an argument for them to be equipped with the means to make themselves less vulnerable to the effects of climate, and of climate change. To what extent then, is Brown making an argument for the defence of the interests of the global poor?
Brown isn’t interested in them at all. What Brown is interested in is sustaining his own role and his own function. He is clothing himself in scientific factoids and dubious statistics so that he can make-believe that he is a planet-saving super-hero. Transparently, he fails.