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?
The official NASA maps – the ones you can generate yourself – didn’t add this new colour, though. They simply extended the range of dark red on the legend to whatever the maximum anomaly is – in some cases, as much as 11.1C:
The legend goes up in small, smooth steps: a range of 0.3 C, 0.5 C, 1 C, 2 C. Then, suddenly, 6 or 7 C.
I’m sure this is a result of algorithms that haven’t been updated to accommodate such extreme anomalies. However, since very few people examine the legend beyond recognizing that red is warm and blue is cold, the current legend seems sort of misleading. Am I the only one who feels this way?
New research from environmental think tank the Public Interest Research Centre (PIRC) reveals the scale of the green investment challenge facing the UK.
The Green Investment Gap report (pdf) shows that Britain devoted £12.6bn to green investment in 2009-10 – less than 1 per cent of GDP, and less than half the amount needed annually to renew the UK’s ageing energy infrastructure and set it on a course to a clean energy future.
The Green Investment Gap is the first comprehensive audit of UK green investment, launched today by PIRC.
The Coalition Government has declared it wishes to be ‘the greenest government ever’. In a time of fiscal retrenchment and huge cuts in public spending, the surest commitment to the green economy will come through policies to stimulate green investment.
The report highlights the scale of the green investment challenge facing the UK – finding that Britain devoted just £12.6bn towards green investment in 2009-10. This figure amounts to less than 1% of UK GDP; less than what Britain spends on furniture annually; and less than half the annual green investment needed over the next decade to build the green economy.
Yet this challenge also represents a huge opportunity to create thousands of new green jobs, get ourselves off the oil hook and tackle climate change all at once. At a time when the future of our national energy system is being reconsidered, we would be foolish not to invest more in clean energy options. The Green Investment Gap calls on the government to put green investment at the heart of its economic recovery strategy, and recommends that it works with industry and the third sector to:
It is the received wisdom that the UK’s emissions are falling. But this is not the case. As academic studies and government briefings show, the UK’s emissions continue to rise, once you factor in the impacts of the goods and services we import from overseas. As we have outsourced industry, so we have outsourced a large part of our contribution to climate change.
In Parliament yesterday, climate change minister Greg Barker became the latest Minister to fail to understand the size of this problem.
“One of the easiest ways for the United Kingdom to meet its carbon reduction targets,” stated the Liberal Democract peer Lord Teverson in 2010, “is to send offshore even more of its manufacturing and high-carbon-based industry.”
Teverson’s words were intended as a warning rather than a recommendation. But it appears the Government has been following such advice for the past twenty years – because it’s exactly what’s been happening.
As the graph below illustrates, UK emissions as they’re ‘officially’ recorded by Government have been going down. But real UK emissions – the total once you factor in emissions embedded in the goods we consume from overseas – continue to rise.
Recentreports show that the UK”s emissions have risen once our consumption of imported goods and services are factored in. We can now reveal that civil servants, too, have been briefing ministers on this very fact – but that they have failed to do anything about it.