A version of this piece, by Alex Randall and Guy Shrubsole, first appeared on Liberal Conspiracy.
The news that global emissions continue to skyrocket is a solemn reminder that climate change, though absent from the headlines of late, remains the world’s most intractable and urgent problem.
One might think, given the government’s recent announcement of targets to cut Britain’s emissions in half by 2025, that we have our own house fully in order. Think again – the new targets contain a major loophole allowing our emissions to carry on going up, even while the government claim they are going down.
In yesterday’s Guardian, Sir David King, former Government Chief Scientist, called on rich nations to tackle the emissions they outsourced overseas:
Sir David King, director of the Smith School of Enterprise at the University of Oxford and former chief scientific advisor to the UK government, said the emissions rise showed how developed countries had exported their greenhouse gases to the developing world. This is because the migration of heavy manufacturing industry to developing countries has raised emissions in emerging economies, while rich countries still benefit from the results as they buy back the manufactured goods. More emissions are associated with the manufacture of most modern goods than with their use… Forthcoming research led by King that sets out these problems in detail chimes with studies from the Carbon Trust and others that have found similar effects.
Stop using fantasy carbon accounting that allows rich countries to “offshore” their emissions. The current system dumps responsibility for the pollution created by manufacturing goods on the exporting country, not on the country that demanded and ultimately consumes the product. It allows countries like the UK to look much better than we really are, creating an illusion of progress and resulting in complacency.
The Carbon Trust has today released new data revealing how the UK’s total carbon emissions are likely to rise into the 2020s, despite legally-binding targets to cut domestic emissions by a third.
The figures, shown in the graph below and available for download here, have been calculated by including emissions embodied in the goods and services that the UK imports – often called ‘outsourced emissions’ – and adding these to the official tally of domestic emissions.
This is a guest post from Friends of the Earth Scotland’s Energy Campaigner, Beth Stratford.
The Scotsman printed a two page spread in the lead up to the Scottish election warning that the SNP’s target for 100% renewable electricity by 2020 would ‘wreak significant damage on the Scottish Labour market’, citing as evidence a report called ‘Worth The Candle?’ by Verso Economics, which concluded that for every job created in the renewable sector, 3.7 are destroyed elsewhere in the economy.
But this head-line grabbing statistic, which has been picked up at full tilt by nimbies and climate sceptics, deserves some closer scrutiny.
We were founded in 1971 by campaigner Charles Medawar and veteran social entrepreneur Michael Young, who also set up, amongst many other organisations, the Open University. PIRC’s creation was inspired by the work of legendary US civic activist Ralph Nader, and it was his brand of activism – using careful research and cogent advocacy to empower citizens and hold governments and companies to account – that Medawar and Young sought to bring to British shores.
PIRC in its 1970s incarnation, replete with cool hair. Read more
Ro Randall is founder and director of Cambridge Carbon Footprint, a Cambridge based charity that uses approaches drawn from psychotherapy and community work to engage diverse audiences in work on climate change. She blogs at rorandall.org.
Behaviour change is the new black – although the idea has been around for a while it is increasingly the mantra of those working on climate change. Funders are interested in it. Government swears by it. Researchers puzzle over it. Voluntary organisations take it as their agenda. What’s not to like?
Factoid of the day: China builds about 8 coal power stations a month. Lesser known fact: roughly 2-3 of these power stations are built to make stuff for us in the rest of the world to consume. That’s right: between a quarter and a third of China’s emissions are ultimately the responsibility of us shoppers in the west and elsewhere. China may be the world’s biggest emitter, but it is also the world’s workshop – meaning we’ve happily outsourced a big chunk of our carbon eastwards.
The UK’s total emissions are set to rise, PIRC can reveal – as shown in yet-to-be-published calculations by the government’s Carbon Trust.
Whilst on paper, Britain’s carbon emissions have declined, in reality they have grown – once emissions from imported goods are factored in. From a consumption perspective, the UK’s emissions have risen by 19% since 1990. New data from the Carbon Trust shows that by 2025 the UK’s total carbon footprint could actually be bigger than it is today, despite legally-binding targets to cut it by a third. Whilst domestic emissions will look smaller, almost half of the country’s footprint will be unseen, as the emissions will originate overseas.
A striking new study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Scientists finds that rich countries’ emissions cuts under the Kyoto Protocol have been far outweighed by the growth in outsourced emissions driven by rising consumption. Duncan Clark at the Guardian reports.
There is no shortage of authoritative documents advocating for a low carbon future. Nick Stern gave us a price tag for decarbonisation. The Sustainable Development Commission (RIP) gave us ‘scenarios’ and ‘pathways’ to a low carbon future. And dozens of engineering and policy analyst groups have put together compelling estimates of the sorts of energy technologies that might power our low carbon world.
So, we have some pathways to a low carbon future, we know what types of machines might be likely to inhabit that future, and we are told that it will be cheaper if we get on with this low carbon future sooner rather than later. This is all valuable information, and activists have made good use of it to persuade people to take climate change seriously. But does any of it tell us anything about what this ‘future’ will be like?